By Laila Marei
Glamour is all about attitude, and it takes strong, confident women with plenty of chutzpah to pull it off. With talent, charm, class and honesty, Yousra has managed to light the Egyptian screen, attain popularity and become Egypt’s leading female star; despite the abundance of new actresses on the scene..
“There is love and trust between me and my public. They have shared good and bad times with me, and I hope they won’t replace me in their hearts. Look at the great star Faten Hamama, despite the years and the younger generation of actresses, she remains an icon.” In her 25 years on cinema and TV, one of Yousra’s biggest successes has been the tremendous love and admiration she receives from the public. Since the beginning she realised the importance of her role as an artist, as an ambassador to her country and worked hard to live up to these roles. When asked to talk about herself for this interview, she answered, “I am a person full of contradictions.” Her kindness, warmth and vulnerability disguise a strong sense of determination, incredible tenacity and sometimes even anger; perhaps a product of her strict upbringing.
As a young girl, Yousra dreamt of becoming a doctor, yet her dream was not realised as she soon found out it was beyond her capacity. She also dreamt of entering the diplomatic core, but that was not to be. “At the time I liked the idea, but did not know what it really entailed.” Yet fate was to have an even greater dream in store for her. She was to become Egypt’s number one super star. The young girl developed into an actress who gravitated into stardom in over 70 films. Full of emotion, sincerity and spontaneity she portrays her varied roles with elegance, confidence and accuracy. According to the director Magdi Abu Emera, “Yousra is a very sensitive actress. Despite the fact that she is a star, she is modest and responsible with a big heart.”
Yousra’s first films were Kasr Fi El Hawaa (Castle In the Air) by Abdel Halim Nasr in 1980, Fa-Ta Tabhath Ann Alhob (A Girl Looking for Love) by Nader Galal in 1977, Alf Bossa Wa Bossa (A Thousand and One Kisses) by Mohamed Abdel Aziz in 1977 and Ebtessama Waheda Takfi (One Smile is Enough) by Mohamed Bassiyouni in 1978. These were followed by a number of successful films with Adel Emam such as Shabab Yarkoss Fawk Alnar (Youth Dancing on Fire) by Yehiya Al Alamy in 1978, Al Ensan Ya-eesh Mara Waheda (Man Only Lives Once) by Simone Saleh in 1981, Ala Bab Al Wazeer (At the Door of the Minister) by Mohamd Abdel Aziz in 1982, Al Avocato (The Lawyer) by Raafat Al Mihi in 1984, Al Ins Wa Algen by Mohamed Radi in 1985, and Karakoun Fi El Shareih.
Later Adel Emam and Yousra worked together in three different movies: Al Mansi (The Forgotten) Al Irhab Wal Kabab (Terrorism and Kebab) and Toyour Al Zalam (Birds of Darkness). In all three movies comedy was used to deliver an underlying political message to great critical and public acclaim.
A very important milestone in Yousra’s career was working with the famous Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. She acted in Chahine’s Hadduta Masreya (Egyptian Story) in 1982, Iskanderiya Kaman we Kaman (Alexandria Again and Again) in 1990, and Al Mohager (The Emigrant) in 1994. Yousra was very impressed with Chahine’s work, stating, “Youssef Chahine affected me on a personal and professional level. He is a school for anyone who works with him.”
On the day to day level, Yousra rarely has a moment to herself. Between her work and personal commitments she is always on the run; and this interview was no exception. While trying to answer the questions, Yousra was frantically running around getting ready for a dinner engagement, packing for a work trip, and being as attentive as possible. Watching her in action, keeping in mind her long successful career, one would think she is a bionic woman. Does this impressive figure have any fears? For a moment, which seemed like hours she paused, then answered, “I fear sickness and tomorrow. No one can tell what will happen tomorrow, and I fear the unknown.”
But her achievements are a known commodity and with confidence she says, “I think my greatest achievement is being who I am. It is a blessing from God to be famous, trusted and loved. With this blessing I can help those in need by conveying an important message through my work, and actually have people interested in what I have to say.”
Though she has profoundly exposed herself in her career, Yousra is quite protective of her private life. “Life has taught me to keep things to myself. Sometimes we all need to talk; yet in some cases it is better to keep things private. Life has also taught me how to deal with people, and accept them the way they are and how to be compassionate.” With a big naughty smile she continues, “As for my career, I have learnt not to talk about any future projects.” However, she briefly talks about her new film with Chahine, Al Ghadab (The Anger) stating, “The only thing I can say is that my name is Ginger, and the story has to do with Chahine’s biography and September 11th. The shooting will take place between Venice, Egypt and the U.S. and the cast includes Nour Al Sherif, Sawsan Badr and Lebleba.”
The concept of a mother in the Egyptian cinema is usually played by elderly stars (such as Fardous Mohamed, Mary Mounib and Karima Mokhtar), yet Yousra has had the courage to portray the mother figure with a modern approach. She has succeeded in playing the role of the modern mother in three different serials (Hayat Al Gohary, Awan Al Ward, and finally Ayn Kalby) and the film Al A’sefa by Khaled Youssef; a new introduction to Egyptian cinema and television that is more realistic in this day and age. Yousra explains, “I tried to present a modern image, because I believe that not all mothers look old, submissive and neglect themselves. All my friends who are my age, and have children in their teens and twenties, work and still have time for themselves. Being a mother shouldn’t be in contradiction to being a woman, and should not be viewed as the end of a woman’s personal life. Every woman should understand that motherhood is a new phase and a continuation of her life. My main difficulty portraying a mother on screen (with all her duties, feelings and experiences) is being believable, as in reality I am not a mother.”
Just as she likes change in her personal life, Yousra has acted in a large variety of roles and genres throughout her career. As she explains, “All the roles I act in usually have a meaning for me, show a side of my character or a moment I have lived. I love all my roles, am proud of them and respect everything I’ve done in my career. I am always prepared to do anything new that will add to it.” So how does she choose her roles? “If I like the character I will feel it. If I start imagining how am I going to portray a character while I am reading then I am hooked.”
Yousra expressed her joy with tears after the private showing of director Marianne Khoury’s documentary Les Passioné es du cinema. That day, she told the director. You made me proud of being an actress.” The public’s reaction to Yousra’s work has been overwhelming, and Yousra believes that the perception of the Egyptian public towards the acting community has definitely improved throughout the years.
Having just returned from an Omra (mini pilgrimage), a deep and spiritual experience, I asked Yousra whether her career conflicts with her religious beliefs. Astonished, she replies, “Never, my faith is the only guaranteed constant in my life, and my career will never conflict with my religious beliefs.” Then what are her views on the recent trend of Egyptian female artists who are putting on the veil and abandoning their career completely? Immediately she answers, “They are free and I totally respect their decision, but I am disappointed in their view that acting is the reason for their mistakes. Whether you make mistakes or not, has nothing to do with our profession.”
Many believe the older generation of Egyptian movie stars seemed more confident with a message to convey. Yousra agrees, “The older generation were lucky to work in the golden age of the Egyptian cinema. The climate they worked in was less stressful. Life was a lot easier, which gave room for creativity and romance. Comedy is not a new trend, however, producing comedy for commercial reasons is a different story. We should be able to have a film industry that includes comedy, romance, musicals, period pieces, action, science fiction, but unfortunately we do not. Today producers usually follow the trends of the market.” To those who only know Yousra ‘the star’, glamorous and aloof as icons often are, Enigma’s photo shoot should provide a rare glimpse of a woman who is young at heart, carefree, spontaneous and modern. As our photographer Youssef Nabil snapped away, Yousra paid little attention to her own personal preferences, was and focused only on the final result.
Yet Yousra is more than a glamorous icon for the Middle East. Despite obstacles, she has always managed to pull herself up into the limelight. Recently many people have acknowledged that Yousra has reached a point of stardom where anything she has to say will be heard by more people and to greater effect than even those in authority. And these days, Yousra has a lot to say. She is concerned about the negative image Westerners have about the Arab world and Islam. As she explains, ” I wish that the true image of Islam without any misconceptions, be known to the world.” When asked what her wish is on a personal level, Yousra stares into the distance for a moment then replies, “I wish to offer my society and all the people who have trusted me, a body of meaningful work that will last after I’m gone.”