Since her big screen debut two years ago, Tunisian actress Dorra has been delighting audiences across the Middle East with her cheek and charm. Enigma’s Hassan Hassan uncovered the silver screen’s sweetest star…
The first thing you notice about Dorra is her smile. Even at two o’clock in the morning, held hostage by our chaotic crew, she is ready to flash a grin and welcome me into her encampment. She chats with the hairdresser, laughs enthusiastically at the makeup artist’s (not-so-funny) jokes and is quick to mock her 80s style tousled tresses. She screams that she has fallen in love with a fuchsia dress we’ve out picked for the shoot, and mockingly demands to know who it’s designed by. Dorra, it turns out, is a nice girl. And in the cut-throat ego-driven world of celebrity, that might just be the greatest compliment there is.
Dorra burst onto the silver screen two years ago alongside heartthrob Hany Salama in the Khaled Youssef directed film Heya Fawda (Chaos), and has since starred in several TV shows and blockbuster movies; establishing herself as a full-fledged member of Egyptian cinema’s new guard. Last September she wowed TV audiences and critics alike playing Mervat Amin’s daughter in the hit Ramadan series Tayara Waraq (Paper Airplane) and she’s got plenty more movie-outings up her fashionable sleeve. “I look for roles that can help me grow,” she says. “I’m from Tunisia so many of the characteristically Egyptian roles I’m offered can be difficult, but I love a challenge and relish these sorts of parts.”
After the entourage from our photo shoot has disappeared and she has flattened her hair and changed into flat shoes and cute Capri pants – I can’t help but feel that I’m talking to an old friend. She mocks my lack of Arabic; I attempt French – a decision that was instantly vetoed. But despite language barriers and a whole lot of eyeliner, I feel immediately at ease. She seems willing to do anything and being a Capricorn, she usually does it. “I’m not afraid to try new things, personally or professionally,” she says. “That is why I chose acting; I get the chance to step into someone’s skin, to get outside of myself for a moment. When I was younger, it never even occurred to me to be an actress, but now it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I completely lose myself in my characters. I even love the process of researching a character and understanding what makes them tick.”
And what makes the real Dorra tick is an A plus mind that’s often easy to overlook given the exemplary exterior. With a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tunisia and a Masters from Beirut, she doesn’t rely on her beauty; she just uses it to her advantage. “I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best directors and actors in the Arab world. Working with Youssef Chahine, Khaled Youssef and Hany Salama, not to mention Mervat Amin and Ezzat Abou Ouf in my last Ramadan TV series has been a great experience. I’ve been able to talk to, work with and learn from them, which has been incredible. Mervat Amin is one of the kindest people, with such beauty and grace. A lot of people told me I remind them of her, which is such an honour because she’s so beautiful!” There is definitely something of the Egyptian icon in Dorra, a natural grace and elegance that makes her beauty all the more becoming; but there’s something a little extra as well – approachability. There’s a definite girl-next-door quality about Dorra – a mixture of sex appeal, natural innocence and spontaneity.
“I love dressing up,” she almost squeals when we start talking about fashion. Often times, when the topic of fashion comes up, your typical Arab star will do their utmost to appear sophisticated and stylish by providing a long list of designer names. The resulting answers are often generic and contrived. But with a big grin spread across her face, Dorra doesn’t drop a single name. Instead she starts to chat happily about that most eternal of fashion quandaries – being overdressed vs. underdressed. “I think the most important thing about style is to know that there is a time and a place for everything,” she starts. “There is nothing that bothers me more then being overdressed, in sparkling clothes and high heels, when you’re simply going to lunch. You look ridiculous. I love to dress up, but only if the occasion suits it. I’m much more casual, I love clean lines and great designs, it doesn’t have to be from Paris to be fabulous, it’s the way you wear it that matters; your own personal style.”
We’re now coming up to four in the morning, and Dorra is still all laughter and lightness having now turned her to attention to the topic of sunglasses. “I love a great pair of shades, I feel naked if I don’t have them on during the day, since I’m usually not wearing any makeup.” It’s easy to believe. Nothing about her personal style is over the top: instead she’s a free spirit, not the glamazons we’re used to in Arab cinema. While she might be prepared to enjoy the glitz and sparkle of it all, she certainly won’t sell her soul for it. She looks at the trappings of fame and fabulousness as a means to an end, not the ultimate goal. And with her shrewd sense of humour, she refuses to take the publicity part of the proceedings very seriously. When I ask her how it feels to be considered one of the most beautiful women in Arab cinema, she deflects the question repeatedly with various witty retorts, until finally…“I feel most beautiful when I’m happy,” she starts shyly. “I believe people, women especially, look their best when they are content. A woman can be dressed in an old nightgown with rollers in her hair and feel stunning simply because she’s happy with her life, her love or even just her surroundings.” She smiles and we end the interview. If beauty really does rely on happiness, then Dorra is more than satisfied, both inside and out.