Last month, the new movie A Day for Women, directed by Kamla Abou Zekri, launched the Cairo International Film Festival to much critical acclaim. The movie, which centres around a poor urban neighbourhood where the youth centre at a local swimming pool decides to have one day a week set aside for women only, features an array of stars including Nahed El Sabaie, a familiar and popular actress from an impressive movie industry pedigree. Granddaughter of legends Farid Shawky and Hoda Sultan, her mother Nahed Farid Shawky is a renowned producer, and her aunt is actress Rania Farid Shawky. El Sabaie’s range covers a wide span of recent dramatic projects, from low budget to blockbuster.
In her career choices, El Sabaie has not flinched from playing controversial or unusual roles, such as the unfaithful wife in Sins of the Flesh, or Sabah in the internationally acclaimed art-house movie Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim, but she also enjoys a mainstream audience, for example in on-going TV epic series. In A Day for Women she gets her teeth into an important role, which as part of this ensemble piece, potentially has the power to initiate discourse on female empowerment at the lower end of the social spectrum. Alongside such notable stars as Elham Shahin, Mahmoud Hemida, Farouk Al Fishawy, Ahmad Al Fishawy and Nelly Karim, El Sabaie brings to a life a fictitious situation that highlights real social issues but delivers them as enjoyable entertainment.
Cairo West Magazine managed to catch up with Nahed El Sabaie between her red carpet appearances and heavy shooting schedule.
The film Ali, The Goat and Ibrahim received three awards at the recent Venice Film Festival. What was special for you about being part of this film?
The fact that I really liked the story, and though I only had a small part in the film it felt good to be involved with it. For me what’s important is working with people whom I respect and have a good rapport.
Which of your recent roles has presented the most challenges in terms of immersing yourself in the character?
Definitely A Day for Women. The character of Azza offered the kind of complex, in-depth role that doesn’t come up every day, especially for female actors. It was the challenging aspects of the character that made me want to play her.
What are you currently working on?
I’m filming season four of Saraya Abdeen. There are ninety episodes so far! It’s a big commitment, but it’s a team I enjoy working with, and the development of the character I play is interesting.
CWM: Nahed, you come from a dynasty of famous industry names. Was there ever any question that you would enter the world of film as well?
NS: Actually, no. It was what I wanted to do from an early age; I never had another dream.
What are your earliest acting memories?
At eight years old, in the 1990’s, I took part in a TV movie alongside my mother. It feels like a long time ago and I actually don’t remember much about it. The first real work I did as an actress was much later (2009) in the movie Tell Me, Shaharazad.
Which actor or actress do you most admire?
There’s a long list. I’ve been inspired by numerous actors; including Meryl Streep, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hanks are a few that come to mind.
Which roles do you enjoy playing most, comedy or something a little darker?
At the end of the day it’s not a question of comedy or drama, it’s about whether the role is a good one or not. I choose my parts according to certain criteria, the most important of which is the director. If it’s someone whose work I admire, I’ll always consider the role.
What moments stood out for you most while filming A Day For Women?
Well, shooting in the pool! That was a totally new and different experience, and made the whole project unique. Physically it was harder, but really enjoyable at the same time.
How was the rapport between the amazing cast –members of well-known stars on set?
For me, it was an honour to be working alongside such great names, and that was one of the reasons I wanted the role to begin with. Also the crew were really excellent; I knew a lot of them from previous projects, and there was a great vibe on the set.
What reaction do you anticipate from Egyptian audiences to A Day for Women. Do you think a film like this can have a big influence on ingrained perceptions in Egypt?
I would like to think so. It’s had an excellent reception from the critics, but until it’s released we can never know how the public will react. It would be nice to think that a film that deals with attitudes towards women in such a fresh and different way could have an influence on our male dominated society. When it was shown at the London Film Festival there was a very positive response; people loved it, but they saw it from a slightly different perspective. Less to do with the role of women in Egypt specifically, and more to do with female empowerment in a general sense.
How do you prepare for a new role?
I have my own techniques. I read the script over and over, sometimes going to sessions with my acting coach for help. By doing research if necessary, especially for a historical character, or possibly spending time in an environment natural to the role. By developing the character and ‘living’ with her for a period of time before shooting.
Who has given you the most helpful advice ever?
My mother has always been my biggest inspiration and also my guiding mentor, helping me choose the best paths in my career, and I have been grateful for her depth of experience and good advice.
Quick Fire Round:
- Favorite item of clothing? Anything bohemian.
- Early bird or late riser? I love early mornings!
- Best holiday ever? Cannes Film Festival. Even though it was not exactly a holiday.
- Ideal comfort food? Mombar… but I don’t know how to cook it myself.
- Three items you always have in your handbag? My wallet, my keys, a bottle of water.
- Yourself in five words? Someone who likes a challenge.