Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’re sure to know the name Amina Khalil. The young actress started popping on our radars roughly six years ago, with supporting roles in TV series like Sharbat Loz (Almond Sherbet), Taraf Talet (Third Party) and Saheb El Saada (His Excellency), and the films, Asham, Khetta Badeelah (Plan B) and Sukkar Mor (Sour Sugar). However, her breakout role came in the 2016 television hit, Grand Hotel, and there’s been no stopping her since. Khalil graced eniGma’s cover twice before; the first time was in 2012 (with then fellow fresh faces Dina El Sherbiny and Reham Ayman, introducing them as the year’s ‘Rising Screen Stars’), and the second was in 2016, just as Grand Hotel was about to premiere and right before Khalil’s professional career soared to the next level. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham caught up with the star as a new chapter in her career was unfolding, with her astounding leading role in Ramadan’s recent huge success, Layalie Eugenie (Eugenie Nights), and with her two upcoming films that are already making a buzz.
I remember attending a student conference at The American University in Cairo in 2015, where Amina Khalil was a guest speaker. Admittedly, she blew me away with her inspirational speech to young students about dreaming big and not losing focus, and I remember thinking that this girl is going places. Flash-forward to three years later, I met Khalil on the set of this issue’s cover shoot. Although exhausted and drained from too much work and too little sleep, she looked like a vision as she strolled onto the set amidst the palm trees and the nearly setting sun in a gorgeous floral dress, with full hair and makeup, and flip-flops in her feet and shoes in her hand. The photoshoot took place just two days after Khalil had wrapped up filming Layalie Eugenie. She had to finish the eight-hour shoot and rush to do some extra voiceover for the series. You could easily tell how hectic and grueling her schedule was. You could also tell that Khalil was a bit shy, butconfident enough to make direct and uninterrupted eye contact when she talks to you.
“Sometimes, people think I’m stuck up, and that’s really not true. I’m actually a little shy. I just really like my comfort zone and I feel a bit awkward when I’m out of it,” she reveals. With the commotion of the photoshoot, my task was to set up an in-person interview at a later time. However, Khalil laid down her busy schedule for me and convincingly explained how she wouldn’t be in town for the coming days. I was disappointed, of course. I had no choice but to agree to an over-the-phone interview.
After about five days of attempts at scheduling and rescheduling a call with Khalil, I finally managed to squeeze myself into the star’s crazy life for an hour or so. This was not an easy task. “I have zero sense of time. I work so much and I don’t have a proper differentiation between night and day. Everything has just become a series of long hours that have melted into each other, and I think I’ve taken that with me into my life,” Khalil jokingly explains. “All my friends get it, though, and they understand. I’m just chill,” she quickly adds, with a laugh. Khalil was surrounded by her friends for a big part of the phone call, and it was clear that she was a different person around them, more lively and outspoken.
Amina Khalil can easily be described as a young Julia Roberts with her unconventional charm, undeniable talent and light-speed rising career, but she did not welcome the comparison. “I don’t want to be anyone else. I just want to be me, with whatever I have to offer. It might be better, it might be worse, but at least I’ll be completely myself,” Khalil proclaims. It was evident that she has arrived at a point in her life where she knows what she does and doesn’t want.
In the two years since eniGma last spoke with her, Khalil has become one of the most high profile names in the entertainment industry, and while she may be doing her best to keep her personal life intact and unaffected, her professional one is undoubtedly changing. “I’m still me. I still have the same friends, the same family, do the same things and have the same hobbies, but my career has changed for sure. Working with different directors, you grow up and you mature, both as a person and as an actress. I had great opportunities in the last few years. I’ve worked with directors, like Amr Salama, Tarek El Erian, Mohamed Shaker and Hany Khalifa. These are people you learn something from every day, and with all these experiences, you end up discovering different mindsets and techniques, and you just kind of evolve,” she explains. “Growth is not something that ends at any point; it’s a continuous learning process. You learn from the people around you; you learn from your family members, from your friends, from travel, from everything in the world. You keep on taking these experiences and putting them into your bag of life,” she adds.
While her professional career is rapidly progressing, Khalil wants to make sure it does not affect her personal life. She likes to keep her two worlds separate. “People now stop me on the street, since I’m obviously much more noticeable than I was before. At the end of the day, I know it’s out of appreciation for my work; it’s a very gratifying feeling, and I’m thankful for moments like these,” she explains. “Occasionally, however, it can get a bit intense and I’ve had to draw the line, like when I’m stopped at a café, and I’m sitting with one of my girlfriends having an intense conversation about her problems, and then suddenly we are interrupted. In moments like these, I just apologise and ask the person approaching me to wait for 10 minutes, if they can, because I still need to respect the people that were in my life before I became an actress,” Khalil stresses.
The role that has most recently garnered Khalil huge praise and recognition is that of Kariman in Layalie Eugenie, which further showcased the actress’s acting chops. “It was such a difficult role, probably the most difficult for me to date. I remember one of the most challenging scenes for me came at the end of the first episode, the one where Ismail, my husband, tells me he has taken our daughter away. That was very difficult. The scene where Ismail ends up coming back was also very scary. Pretty much the whole storyline with Ismail was an overwhelming challenge. Plus, Khaled Kamal is a very intense and talented actor. Just his physical presence in the room carries energy. When he starts speaking, he emanates a wholly different atmosphere, and the way he’d look at me put me on another level,” she says, recounting the experience. “I also still needed to put in much effort in the rest of the scenes, because the character itself is very challenging. Kariman had to lie in order to cover up her act. Every lie that she came up with came out of fear. She’s not an evil person who enjoys lying to people. That’s not her truth; it’s not where she comes from,” she explains.
Although already a seasoned actress with many projects already tucked under her belt, Khalil still finds herself learning from her co-stars, even the younger ones. “Ahmed Malek, who’s like a little brother to me, always dazzles me with how he truly loses himself in a character. When he’s in a scene, it’s just so real. He’s one of those people who truly show you the beauty of acting. He has zero reservations, physically and mentally. That’s something I respect and will always look up to; it surpasses age and experience. I’ve also had the chance to work with huge stars, like Youssra, Adel Imam and Samir Ghanem, who are all amazing actors with a rich experience and an amazing repertoire of work. Then, you have Malek, who is very young, and is an incredible actor,” Khalil explains, reiterating her praise for her La Totfea’ Al Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun) co-star. In addition to Malek, Khalil also applauds actor Mohamed Mamdouh, with whom she has worked on a number of projects. “He’s also one of my very good friends who taught me to be focused, to dedicate myself to a role, and to lose myself for those few moments in a scene and just genuinely be the character,” she declares.
In addition to acting, Khalil has made a name for herself as a style icon in the contemporary fashion world, often appearing on the best dressed lists on the red carpet. “It’s all my own, but I think I’m lucky that my best friend is a stylist. Like other girls, I call my best friend and ask for her opinion. My best friend happens to be a stylist, though, so she knows what she’s doing,” Khalil says, proudly.
Today, Khalil seems to effortlessly exude poise and confidence, but she explains that it wasn’t always easy feeling comfortable in her own skin. “I think defying society’s expectations of what makes a woman beautiful was one of the challenges I faced earlier in my career. After a while, I understood myself more. Once I became true to myself, it wasn’t a challenge anymore. I still have moments when I’m about to go out, I stand in front of the mirror and I think, “Oh my God, I don’t look good,” and I get washed in self-doubt. The thing to do in that moment is to stand there and think through it, be true to yourself and go through the situation. When you do that, you’ll be reminding yourself of who you are, and you keep going,” reveals the self-assured Khalil, who in addition to being an activist against animal cruelty, is also a known supporter of women’s rights.
When I asked Khalil whether there was gender inequality in the entertainment industry in Egypt, she replied candidly, “I think that if women create really good work and their work speaks for itself, eventually, they get to the point where it’s not about being a man or a woman. I think there are more leading men because more men probably have more experience. But you do have women who are breaking these norms, such as Yousra, Hend Sabry, Mona Zaki, Ghada Adel and many more. Do I think this is enough? No, and as I always say, there is a problem with the writers, who mainly write more male oriented scripts rather than female driven ones. But over the past few years, I’ve noticed that writers have started to pay more attention to very strong female actresses who are capable of carrying works of art alone, to be the protagonist of the story. Of course, whether we like it or not, we do live in a male dominated society, but I don’t think the situation is stagnant. I believe that women are moving, and they’re moving very powerfully towards having more equality in show business. It’s coming along quite nicely.”
Next up, this month Khalil will be seen in two movies which she filmed simultaneously with Layalie Eugenie. The first is 122, where she stars opposite Ahmed Daoud and Tarek Lotfy – a role for which Khalil had to learn all her lines in sign language one month before shooting. “122 is directed by Yasser El Yasry, and my co-star is mainly Ahmed Daoud, who’s an amazing actor and is one of my favourite people to work with,” reveals Khalil, who will also be seen in El Badla (The Suit), alongside Tamer Hosny and Akram Hosny. “It’s my first comedy film actually, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it, because it’s just so much fun. I was doing so much serious work over the past few years, and then this movie came along and I thought, “yeah, let’s go have a laugh!”,” the actress says.
While Khalil has taken on a range of different characters, she still wants to explore more genres. “I want to star in an action movie, Lara Croft style, or like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games,” she reveals. She also spoke about one specific dream on her mind, “One day I want to have my own production company to produce my own films and to give filmmakers a chance to produce their own. I’ve seen how this industry works. It’s very competitive and it’s difficult to be noticed. You need to have connections just to have your script read, and I think that opportunities need to be made available to young filmmakers who don’t have those kinds of connections or experience in this industry. There needs to be a hub for them to share their scripts. There are tons of extremely talented people, but no one really hears about them, because it’s so hard to integrate yourself into this industry. If I can make life easier for them, then that’s definitely something I’d like to do,” Khalil asserts.
While Khalil has clearly made amazing strides in her profession and is not planning on stopping any time soon, she still has aspirations beside her job. “I’m actually still working on most of my dreams that are separate from acting. Just because I’ve fulfilled one dream doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t continue trying to fulfill the others. Things are still moving for me and I’m still very young; I haven’t even turned 30 yet. I’ve still got the time, and I’m hoping to make the rest of my dreams come true,” she concludes.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
Who is your greatest role model?
In the industry, I’d say Marion Cotillard, and on a personal level, I’d have to say my father. He’s the only man I know who really knows how to love life.
Which do you prefer, film or television?
Do you prefer, period pieces or modern day pieces?
If you’re offered the chance to portray a real-life person, who would it be?
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin.
When you’re not working, what’s one thing that you like to do?
I like to be by the beach, kitesurf and just be in the water.
What is the favourite part of your job?
I can say that I love reaching people through the messages in my films, and I like to have young people tell me that I’ve inspired them. But what I really want to say, though, is that I love having this job because it’s really cool and there are so many perks that come with it (laughs).
Who is a director that you’d like to work with?
Kamla Abu Zekry.
What was your first ever job?
I used to teach ballet.
What are some of your favourite films?
Amelie, Nine and The Parent Trap.
What advice would you give to people who are starting in the film industry?
It’s a very serious business, but don’t take it too seriously.
If you weren’t an actress, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be saving the world as superwoman!
Art Direction & Styling: Maissa Azab
Photography: Sherif Mokhtar
Makeup by Aya Abdel Hamid
Hair by Kimmy at Toi Beauty Salon
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