Egyptian actress and writer Rosaline Elbay who came to international fame as Amani on the Hulu/A424 series, Ramy, is also known for her debut role as Sara on the acclaimed MBC Masr series Qabeel. The one-time archaeologist, now rising screen star sat down for a virtual one-on-one with us to talk all things acting and activism.
By Aliaa Elsherbiny
Can you tell us how you landed the role of Amani in the global hit series Ramy?
They were doing some of Ramy’s auditions in Egypt, and I received a call from someone on Jehane Noujaim’s team; Jehane had directed the tenth episode of Ramy Season 1. I was briefed on the series, but with minimal detail. I went to audition without really knowing who Ramy is or what the series is about.
I was surprised when Jehane introduced me to Ramy, and because I did not know who he was at first, I greeted him and just did the scene. It was super fun, they told me to improvise and see where it was going to take me. During the middle of the scene I started to realize that Ramy was not an assistant, he was brilliant.
I have gotten used to not having an emotional attachment to auditions because you get rejected all the time. But after this particular audition, I knew I wanted to be part of it. Two days later, someone from the team called to tell me I had a wardrobe rehearsal the next day. I thought I would get to set tomorrow and find out it was all a mistake, and that there was another actress.
Do you see yourself at all in the character Amani?
Amani is a much cooler version of me, I wish I was as cool as she is. I had honestly never gotten a character that speaks to me that much. Acting in different countries and cultures, I got used to having roles that speak to my Egyptian side and some to my other side. With Amani, it was the first time where I’d read a character that spoke to all of me.
Ramy likes to relate the characters to whoever is playing them, so Amani has changed quite a bit since they first wrote her. The fact that Amani is an archeologist was written because I used to be an archeologist, so Ramy wanted her to be one too. It is not that Amani and I are the same person or that we’d make the same decisions, but I understand her and would defend her till the day I die.
You have mentioned that Amani changed a lot, what was your role in changing her and making the character your own?
Ramy has such an amazing generosity in how he works with his actors and how he shapes the characters around them. He likes to make you comfortable and he likes it to be truthful, so during the first season, the two episodes we shot in Egypt it was only Ramy, Adel Kamal, a couple of producers from A24 and I at the reading table.
It was intimate so we were able to change a lot, and as we got to know each other better we would change things about her (Amani). Most scenes would get rewritten one or two days before filming, as we would make better decisions about the characters and their relationship.
There is always a question from Ramy before doing a scene, he would even call and ask, “Does this sound right? Would she say this?” The more that I play her, and I am lucky to go back to her, the more I become very attached. She gets a bit of me and I also get a bit of her.
Is there something specific you want to see Amani do or become in Season 3?
We have always gotten a sense of who she is without Ramy and I love that about her that she has her own life and own priorities. I don’t think that the writer’s room has even started for Season 3 but wherever the journey takes her, I want more of that.
You are a writer too, how are your writing projects moving along and do you have plans in writing for Ramy, the series?
As all of the actors on Ramy, we feel like we are kind of collaborating all the time so that has been lovely and I already feel like I am kind of contributing in the writing of the character.
We love working together and we have talked about other things maybe in the future whether on Ramy or other stuff.
Do you have other international projects in the pipeline?
Yes, but nothing has been announced yet. I am excited for this year because I am also going to focus on producing and writing as well, which is very nice and nerve wracking.
There are a couple of things but with COVID things are a lot slower and things keep getting postponed and you have to settle to a different rhythm. I am a “get things done right now” kind of person, and I am learning patience.
Because of COVID a lot of things have shifted online and became more interactive, have you thought of maybe doing projects of that kind?
At the beginning, I actually judged a competition for the Sawy Culture Wheel for short films made at home, and at first that was sort of the focus and as things took longer than we thought it would, projects that I didn’t have time for before and were in the backburner, I now have all the time for. So we are developing a few things, and one of them is sort of COVID-safe and we could pull it off if we started production while we’re still in semi-lockdown.
One of the things that I really loved out of all of this current situation is that it became more normal to have meetings and lectures online, but also theatre. A lot of theaters started to put their plays online as sort of a “pandemic thing,” then realized that it is a great module and millions of people are watching their plays so they made it permanent. Like the National Theatre, you can now go online get a subscription and watch their whole catalog.
You are very active on social media and outspoken on women’s rights, are you concerned by the audience reaction given the backlash public figures receive speaking their minds?
The short answer is no. I have received so much advice about this from people in my life, some very well meaning and other not very well meaning, suggesting I should just focus on acting.
I do not understand people who suggest we “stay in our lanes.” At the end of the day, we are human beings and even if we chose certain careers if we are talking about issues that affect our or other people’s safety or our right to have an equal shot at life or any sort of discrimination, why would I not have an opinion about that?
Further than that, if we were lucky enough to have been given a platform for whatever reason, then I personally, don’t know what else I would do with that platform. Would I just be posting pictures of myself every week? And I do not take pictures very often so people would be disappointed.
How can we make the industry safer and more accommodating to women?
Ultimately, it is representation, and I don’t only mean in front of the camera, but behind the camera. Industries start to change when the people who run them change. The more female producers, directors and financiers you have, the more these sets are going to start to naturally sort of veer that way.
In the meantime, people should speak up more and I do not mean in terms of putting the pressure on victims to speak-out if something happens to them. I mean that if you are on set and see something that seems inappropriate, and you are a co-star, especially if you are a man or in a position of power, then it is up to you to investigate and make the person feel safe. It is going to take a lot of work and we have a long way to go.
There have been changes in terms of conversation and the vocabulary people use in terms of what is going on, but it also shows how long we still have to go. Putting the pressure on the group that is being victimized by all of this is completely unfair, so male allies are so important.
Actress that inspires you?
Pizza or burgers?
Burgers, I didn’t know that until you asked me
Sea or mountains?
Early riser or late night owl?
I am trying to convince myself that I am an early riser but I am a late night owl.
Yoga or high intensity workouts?
Song on repeat at the moment?
I haven’t been listening to music a lot, I just have Disney movies on in the background while I am doing most things at the moment. It is a mood that I am going through.
Favorite Disney movie?
For sentimental reasons, The Sword and the Stone.
More recently, Moana.