Nathalie Issa Opens Up About Meeting Olympian Yusra Mardini Before Filming Netflix’s The Swimmers

I’d imagine for actors playing a real person is an intimidating task, especially when the person they’re portraying is still very much alive. For Nathalie Issa, she got to meet the woman she portrayed in the 2022 Netflix film The Swimmers early in the process of making the movie, and she opened up to CinemaBlend about what it was like meeting Yusra Mardini for the first time. 

The actress explained she was a bit intimidated by the idea of meeting Mardini at first, because she had done so much research leading up to their first interaction. Issa explained that she was able to travel to Germany to meet the Syrian swimmer the Netflix film is based on and said she was really nervous at first, explaining: 

I had the chance to sleep over at her place in Hamburg. And we, you know, because I Googled her a lot, I read her book, I was really intimidated at first when I met her. I was like, ‘Okay, shit, like, I hope like, you know, because I was scared a bit. I was like, I hope I will do a good job portraying her, I hope she will be happy.’ And I had her in my mind the whole shooting process.

I’m sure she did feel pressure playing this role, simply because of how incredible the story is. Yusra Mardini and her sister Sara Mardini are the main characters in the film. The sisters swan across the Aegean Sea to flee Syria, and they ended up in Germany as refugees. Eventually, Yusra became an Olympic swimmer for the refugee team at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, and the two sisters, and this film, have done a lot to help raise awareness about the refugee crisis

Issa then told the story of the first time she met Yusra, saying after a few minutes her nerves subsided, and they clicked really easily. The actress recalled the first moments of their initial meeting, as well as Mardini’s reaction to the film, saying: 

So I met her and like five minutes later, we were really getting along. We were telling each other like everything [about] our life. And it was such a good connection. And I'm happy she trusted me. And I'm happy we enjoyed each other's company. I think it was really important to build this connection before shooting because as I said, I had her in my mind I was putting all my love into the project, and what's really important for me is that she likes it. And when she told me she loved … I felt so much lighter. I was like okay, at least she liked it.

Yusra has been extremely vocal about her love for the movie, taking to TikTok to answer fan questions about The Swimmers and posting adorable reactions to various scenes in the film. 

Along with Issa, she was joined by her real-life sister Manal Issa who played Sara Mardini. German actor, and Amry of Thieves alum, Matthias Schweighöfer also joined The Swimmers cast as Yusra’s coach Sven. The actors were able to play three incredible people, and help highlight this important story about the Syrian refugee crisis. 

If you are interested in watching Nathalie Issa play Yusra Mardini in this moving film on the 2022 movie schedule, all you need is a Netflix subscription

Riley Utley
Weekend Editor

Riley Utley is the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. She has written for national publications as well as daily and alt-weekly newspapers in Spokane, Washington, Syracuse, New York and Charleston, South Carolina. She graduated with her master’s degree in arts journalism and communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. Since joining the CB team she has covered numerous TV shows and movies -- including her personal favorite shows Ted Lasso and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She also has followed and consistently written about everything from Taylor Swift to Fire Country, and she's enjoyed every second of it.