Egypt’s Hot Rising Stars


 

Every few years, a select number of young actresses take over our screens with their talent and their fresh take on Egyptian drama, reinvigorating the scene and adding a different perspective to the entertainment industry. The three actresses in our cover feature are all well on their way to becoming the next big thing; yet, their career paths could not have been more different. While Mariam El Khosht started out, and still is, a radio host, May Elghety started her journey as a child actress, and Hend Abdelhalim launched her acting career on the stage. Judging by the success they have already achieved on the screen, it’s safe to bet that stardom is on the horizon for every one of these three young dynamos. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham sat down with each of these beautiful, accomplished actresses to hear all about their career journeys and dreams for the future.

Mariam El Khosht

Given the success she has achieved so far, it was a surprise to learn how reluctant Mariam El Khosht initially was to explore acting. Today, the accomplished actress boasts a number of highly rated roles, including Shahira in La Totfea’ Al Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun), Nabila in Layalie Eugenie (Eugenie Nights) and Laila in Zay El Shams (Like the Sun).

For many years, the artistically inclined El Khosht was consumed by a variety of passions, including singing, painting and, most importantly, acting. However, despite her love for acting, she held herself back from pursuing this path predominantly due to a fear of failure. While for some, that fear could translate into a strong drive to succeed, for El Khosht it had a different outcome. “When I’m afraid to fail at something, I will probably not even try it. I can’t accept being mediocre; I have to excel at what I do, or I won’t do it at all. I know it’s stupid, honestly, because it limits me,” she admits.

Having been raised in an artistic family, it was natural that El Khosht would find her way to the creative field. Her dad has his own cooking show on TV, while her mum writes for some of TV’s most popular children’s programs and is one of Disney in Arabic’s main translators. When she was just 10 years old, El Khosht started doing voiceover and dubbing work for some of the most iconic children’s animations and foreign language TV shows in the region. She carried on in this line of work well into her college years and beyond. “I remember working on a 260 episode Spanish show. It was so time consuming, that it marked the first time I failed a course in college,” she recalls with a laugh.

To satisfy her creative streak, El Khosht majored in painting at the School of Fine Arts. However, by the time she graduated, this artform had lost its spark for her. “After graduating, I took a year off for myself and began doing some independent theatre,” she recalls. She did numerous theatrical gigs, including some at the American University in Cairo’s theatre. It was there that she became friends with fellow college student and later, leading actress, Amina Khalil.

In hindsight, it seems that all that El Khosht really needed to overcome her fear was a little nudge out of her comfort zone. That nudge came from one of her closest friends, radio and television host Sherif Nour El Din. “Sherif called me one day and asked me if I wanted to work in radio, and I declined. Two days later, he asked me if I would record some voiceover material for him. I went, and I loved the friendly environment. So, when he asked me again if I would work there, I said yes. It turned out that the voice over I had recorded for him was actually a mic-test!” exclaims El Khosht, who now has her own radio show. “I remember the first time I was on the air alone, I was so tense because I was interviewing a very talented star that I looked up to,” she recalls. That star was none other than the acclaimed actor, Mohamed Mamdouh. Little did El Khosht know that, not long after, she would be acting opposite him in her first role on TV.

While the ultra-successful 2016 Ramadan TV series, Grand Hotel, is memorable to practically all who watched it, it is of particular significance to El Khosht. Before the series came to light, a friend of El Khosht who worked with screenwriter Tamer Habib, called her to tell her about a promising television drama that Habib was working on, which included a character that El Khosht would be perfect for. Surprisingly, the cautious El Khosht was sold on the idea. However, when her friend never called back, El Khosht was too shy to actively pursue it, something she later came to regret. “When I watched Grand Hotel, I felt like I had missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. It immediately made me vow to be in a TV series the following Ramadan,” she recalls. And that is what she did.

The opportunity for El Khosht’s first TV series came through her good friend Amina Khalil. “Amina put up a Facebook post saying that her new Ramadan series was looking for a fresh face. Although I was hesitant to contact her, I wasn’t going to let this chance go!” says El Khosht with a smile. Next thing she knew, she was auditioning for the role of Mohamed Mamdouh’s love interest in La Totfea’ Al Shams.

While she is, of course, proud of her success in her role as the kind-hearted Shahira in La Totfea’ Al Shams, El Khosht was determined that her next challenge had to prove she was not a one trick pony. “I was afraid to fall into the trap of being typecast as the “cute/kind” girl that the guy always falls for. That’s why I wanted to do something different,” she says adamantly.

She got the chance she was looking for when director Hany Khalifa cast her as the malicious Nabila, in the TV series Layalie Eugenie. “Khalifa believed in me. I didn’t audition, and was offered the part with no résumé to guarantee that I could execute such a role,” she recalls. Surprisingly, the ‘different’ role she had been so keen to take on, and for which she has received much critical acclaim, nearly pushed the young actress to breaking point. “The role was emotionally draining, and things were made worse by people’s aggressive response to my character; although the fact that they hated her so much meant that I had done a good job!” she explains. “I was also acting in Kalabsh 2 at that time, in addition to my regular radio show, so it was a really hectic time. However, working with the genius Hany Khalifa and the great cast was truly amazing,” shares El Khosht.

This past Ramadan saw El Khosht once again land a role in the most talked about series of the season, Zay El Shams. Recounting the experience, she says, “I had always wanted to act opposite Dina El Sherbiny and to be directed by Kamla Abu Zekry; both of my wishes were fulfilled by this project. Dina is one of the most talented actresses around. And Kamla has a way of making you really understand the emotional gravity of a scene. I was also very lucky to work with two other directors, Sameh Abdel Aziz and Ahmed Medhat. I learned different valuable lessons from each director.”

Although El Khosht’s acting career is clearly taking off, she insists she doesn’t plan on quitting her day job in radio. “It’s become a constant in my life and the people there are my family. No matter what happens with acting, I will always try to make it work,” she affirms.

El Khosht’s ultimate dream, however, is something she is yet to explore. “I want to be the most important TV host in the Arab world!” she exclaims. “I want to be the next Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres or Esaad Younis. They are true icons that have proven they can do it all,” she proclaims. She is quick to add, however, that she would first make sure people understood that this was something she wanted to do, and that it’s not just an alternative to acting.

El Khosht’s next opportunity to prove herself is an upcoming project that she is still keeping under wraps. “It’s a comedy, but I can’t talk about it yet. It will be the first time I try my hand at comedy,” she says, adding, “I also want to do a horror movie. I am someone who scares easily, and I want to challenge myself.”

eniGma Questionnaire:

Who is your dream dinner guest?
Bruce Lee.

Who is your greatest role model?
My mum.

Where is your favourite place to hang out?
My couch or my friends’ couches.

When you’re not working, what is one thing that you like to do?
I hang out with my cat and dog.

What is your worst habit?
I don’t believe in myself half as much as the people around me believe in me.

What is your favourite part of your job?
Interacting with people.

What is your hidden talent?
I tailor clothes. Most of the time, I make the stuff that I wear. I also love baking desserts.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing right now?
I’d have my own animal shelter. I want to start a retirement home for service dogs.

 

May Elghety


You could say that May Elghety was destined to be an actress from birth. Born to writer, journalist and TV presenter Mohamed Elghety, and writer and TV presenter Mona Barouma, feeling comfortable in front of the camera seems to have come naturally to her. In fact, from her start in acting as a toddler in some of her father’s projects, she has gone on to become one of her generation’s top rising stars. Elghety already has more than a dozen acting credits under her belt at the young age of 20. She is best known for her roles in Al Qasirat (The Underage), El Gezira 2 (The Island 2), Grand Hotel, Eshtebak (Clash), La Totfea’ Al Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun), Tayea’ and most recently in the online series, Zodiac.

Being a child actor, Elghety did not initially consider it a job; it was rather role-playing or a fun day on set. “When directors needed a little child for a couple of scenes, they would use me,” she recalls. The turning point for her came when she was 12 years old and played the lead part in the musical play, Badr El Bedoor (Full Moon). “From the first day of that play, things became serious. I started to consider acting as my job,” she says. She starred in the play for a couple of years, before her career skyrocketed in 2013 with her role in El Qaserat.

Elghety is not what you might expect a young actress growing up in the spotlight to be. She is intellectual, wise beyond her years, and you will almost never catch her without a book in her hand. “I went to six different schools, and during the last three or four years of my academic education, I was homeschooled, which was when I started taking acting seriously,” she reveals. Although many might think that homeschooling isolates a student and makes them less sociable, Elghety explains that the reality for her was the complete opposite. “While you may expect a person who was homeschooled to feel like an outsider when they go to university, I actually found it easy to navigate between different groups of people,” she explains.

Nonetheless, college life at the American University in Cairo, where she is currently enrolled, presents its own new challenges for the actress, forcing her to juggle life on campus with life on set. “At first, it was hard to balance the two. I try to manage my schedule in a way that gives me days or time off. If I have classes in the morning, then I work the rest of the day, but of course that involves arranging a schedule with my executive directors, that is tailored to fit my class hours. I’m pretty sure they hate me for it,” she says with a laugh. “But they are actually extremely supportive. I don’t think I would ever turn down a role purely because of school. If I turn down a role, it’s because it isn’t worth it, especially since I’m not the type to skip classes. I am very strict about my studies,” she adds.

Asked about what she does during her free time, Elghety explains, “My social life is kind of limited to my work sphere. At this point in my life, having one or two close friends is my way of maintaining my social life. It’s a matter of prioritisation, and I would definitely sacrifice going out, if I feel that I’m fulfilling a greater purpose in my life.” One of the people closest to her is her older sister, actress Mayar Elghety. Their relationship is founded on unconditional support for one another, as well as a lack of competition between them. “I would never imagine doing the roles Mayar plays. We have different paths and directions,” says Elghety.

Elghety has been particularly commended for her versatility, being able to seamlessly perfect different accents and portray characters from different social classes and ages. These ‘chameleon’ talents make it easy for Elghety to jump from one role to the next. “When I’m building a character profile for a role, I have to absorb her upbringing, her surroundings and the experiences that helped make her who she is. The culture that the character belongs to differs from one age group to another and across different societies,” the actress explains.

One of Elghety’s most notable roles was that of Habiba in La Totfea’ Al Shams, an innocent girl from a working-class family who falls in love with a boy from a higher social background. “When director Mohamed Shaker called me, he told me he wanted me for the role of Habiba because of who I am, as May. There is a part of us in all the characters that we portray, and you have to bring that out. Our brains have an incredible ability to reach emotions buried deep in our memory. It doesn’t matter if the character is completely different from who I am in real life; there will always be a memory that I can extract,” says Elghety.

While Elghety loves most of the roles she has portrayed, she still has some favourites. Among these is Aisha, which she played in the universally acclaimed film, Eshtebak, directed by Mohamed Diab, and Nada, her starring role in the short film of that name, directed by Adel Ahmed Yehia. “Eshtebak was the first time I did ‘method acting’. I feel like I put so much effort into Aisha. It was an experience on so many levels, aside from the professional. With Nada, I also learnt so much. Although some would say that a short film is not as big a deal as a feature film, it meant a lot to me,” says the actress.

Elghety’s latest role was in the online thriller series, Zodiac, the first Egyptian series to air on a digital streaming service. “I am pleased that there are several successful digital platforms now, since they fit today’s busy schedules. In these modern times, everyone is always busy and constantly racing from one place to another, so having the flexibility to watch artistic content at a time that suits you, makes it easy. Plus, it’s really exciting to have a platform that focuses on Middle Eastern content. That fact made me want to do Zodiac even more,” says Elghety. “Overall, I was excited about the series because I had been wanting to act in a thriller for a while. I also felt that the character of Mariam was different to anything I had done before, and it was very intriguing to delve into tarot-card readings and to explore magic and mystery,” she adds.

“I definitely still want to do black comedy and straight-out horror movies. I also want to be in international films. I’m afraid of getting cornered into things I don’t want to do and want to be able to focus on projects that I feel are artistically fulfilling,” she exclaims.

Looking forward, international projects are definitely in the mix for Elghety. Of the two films she is currently working on, one is Canadian, while the other is Egyptian. “These two projects are still in their early beginnings, but I can disclose that the Canadian film is called Montreal Girls. As for my upcoming Egyptian film, it’s called Banat Thanawy (High School Girls), and I’m excited that a big part of the cast and crew is from Zodiac,” she reveals.

Elghety is not confining herself to acting, however. Her passion for music and singing has led her to venturing into new territory, with the debut of her first ever single coming out soon. “It is an English song, in collaboration with music producers and composers Mustafa Shakaa and Mustafa Wafa. And we are working on the music video right now,” she announces, excitedly.

eniGma Questionnaire:

Who is your dream dinner guest (dead or alive)?
Youssef Chahine and Albert Camus.

Who is your greatest role model?
My dog. He is the most loyal and forgiving creature!

Where is your favourite place to hang out?
Home or Cake Café.

When you’re not working, what is one thing that you like to do?
Watch movies or read.

What is your worst habit?
I need to stop washing my hands out of spite; too much water is going to waste.

What is your favourite part of your job?
Working with really cool people.

What is your hidden talent?
I’m really good at rhyming, and I’m double jointed.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing right now?
I would have my own bookstore/bakery/café in London.

 

Hend Abdelhalim


Although Hend Abdelhalim started acting only a few years ago, with her confident personality, striking good looks and her undeniable talent, she’s obviously got what it takes to be big. It is hard not to be impressed by the way Abdelhalim carries herself. Her down to earth, yet classy, attitude makes her relatable, while also being very distinct and special. In the brief time since her debut, Abdelhalim has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Adel Imam, Yousra and Mahmoud Abdelaziz. While some might credit this to luck, her full-fledged acting chops and work ethic prove otherwise. She has worked in series such as Al Mizan (The Scale), Foq Mostawa El Shobohat (Unsusceptible), Ras El Ghoul (The Ghoul’s Head), El Ab El Rohy (The Godfather), 30 Youm (30 Days), Awalem Khafeya (Hidden Worlds), and most recently in the online series, Zodiac.

After graduating from high-school, Abdelhalim announced to her family that she wanted to be an actress, something that her mum was initially strongly opposed to. Following her parent’s advice, she ended up studying at October University of Modern Sciences and Arts. After two years, however, she decided to drop out and transfer instead to the Egyptian Institute of Theatrical Arts. “My mum didn’t accept the idea at first, and she told me that I wouldn’t like it. Later, when she found how extremely focused I was on acting, she stopped resisting,” says Abdelhalim, with a giggle.

Abdelhalim also likes to sing, and has experimented with vocalese singing with a band called El Masreyeen (The Egyptians), led Dr. Hany Shenouda and Dr. Iman Younis. They have performed in concerts at El Sawy Culture Wheel, as well as at the Alexandria Library. She also found her way into theatre, where she performed in the musical, Antigone for 130 consecutive days. Abdelhalim also participated in the National Festival for Egyptian Theatre, where she won the award for Best Rising Actress. “This was a big deal for me back then,” she says. Encouraged by this achievement, she began going to many auditions and casting calls until she got her first professional acting gig in a four-episode stint in Ghada Abdelrazek’s TV series, El Kaboos (Nightmare) in 2015.

In just one year, Abdelhalim went from acting in just four episodes to acting in four series, appearing in supporting roles in Foq Mostawa El Shobohat, Banat Superman (Superman’s Daughters), El Mizan and Ras El Ghoul, simultaneously in 2016.

Abdelhalim recalls the challenges she faced at that time. Besides having to juggle all four projects at once, she had to cope with the scrutiny and negative comments that came with being thrust into the public eye. “I was under pressure most of the time. The minute I appeared on screen there was a lot of backlash. As most people didn’t know who I was, they would attack me just because they felt I was everywhere on their screens without no past experience to justify it. To be honest, I got a little depressed, but this pushed me to prove that they were wrong about me,” Abdelhalim recalls.

Following that, Abdelhalim went on to appear in a few off season series, including El Ab El Rohy and Ekhteyar Egbary (Mandatory Choice). The following Ramadan seasons, Abdelhalim worked on 30 Youm with Asser Yassin, Taket Nour (Halo) with Hany Salama, El Hob Fi Forsa Akhira (Last Chance at Love) with Dalia El Behery and Awalem Khafeya with the iconic Adel Imam. “It was a huge deal for me to act with the legend, Adel Emam. I consider myself lucky because I have also worked with Yousra and Mahmoud Abdel Aziz. The actor I still want to work with is Yehia El Fakharany. He attended two of my theatre performances before and encouraged me immensely,” says Abdelhalim.

One of the most important projects that Abdelhalim worked on last year was El Sharea’ El Warana (The Street behind Us), where she met the beloved Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk, who is now among her best friends. “We’ve become more than sisters. Thanks to her talent and experience, she taught me a lot and helped me immensely on the job. Outside of work, we go out, we travel together and we visit each other just like normal friends,” she reveals.

Looking back on the diverse projects she has done, Abdelhalim recalls the role that was the most challenging for her. “Everything I did has a special place in my heart, but Awalem Khafeya was the hardest because it was very different. I would have discussions with the director, Ramy Imam, about the character and where to draw inspiration from. To me, Harley Quinn, the villain from the DC Comics, was the closest to that character, but we had to make it more relatable. While it was my most challenging role, surprisingly, the feedback, right from my very first scene on the show, was great. This role really impacted me, because it proved to me that people could see me in a different light. I feel like it is very important for an actor to do roles that are far from their nature.”

This year, Abdelhalim appeared in two series, Zodiac and Le Akher Nafas (Until the Last Breath) with Yasmine Abdel Aziz. Zodiac, in particular, which boasts an ensemble cast of young rising stars, meant a lot to Abdelhalim. “It is very close to my heart. The cast and crew were one family from the start, so acting was extremely easy and we were all comfortable improvising with one another, something which director Mahmoud Kamel gave us the freedom to explore,” she explains.

With Zodiac being the first Egyptian online series to air on a digital streaming service in Egypt, Abdelhalim was slightly worried that it wouldn’t get enough exposure, because not everyone is familiar with digital platforms in the region. “We knew we were going to reach a certain audience, but we were not sure we would reach the rest. Surprisingly, however, word of mouth on social media was great; we were trending on twitter three times in one month. We reached a large audience and achieved more success than we all could have predicted,” she admits.

Abdelhalim is looking forward to exploring other acting genres and challenging herself further. “I want to do some horror and psychodrama, and I want to explore comedy, which is extremely tough and requires real skill. I would also love to portray a character from the slums,” she reveals, adding that her ultimate dream, however, is to do “a successful musical film” and go back to pursuing her passion for music. “Last year there were talks of me having a single released. I actually recorded the single, but then I opted not to release it. After it was done, I felt that this particular song wasn’t the one I wanted to kick off my musical career with. I felt it didn’t represent who I am as an artist. But it’s definitely something I want to explore in the future,” she explains. For now, however, Abdelhalim is focusing her energy on the highly anticipated production of Zodiac Season 2.

eniGma Questionnaire:

Who is your dream dinner guest?
Johnny Depp.

Who is your greatest role model?
Fayrouz and Soad Hosny.

Where is your favourite place to hang out?
By the beach.

When you’re not working, what is one thing that you like to do?
I hang out with my friends or family, and I also love to travel whenever I can.

What is your worst habit?
Being lazy.

What is your favourite part of your job?
Sometimes, it’s being on set and the fun that takes place behind the scenes, and at other times, it’s the feedback you get after the series is done.

What is your hidden talent?
I like doing makeup on my friends, and I also love photography.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing right now?
I would have a photography studio or a beauty center.

 

STYLING
Yasmine Eissa

ART DIRECTION
Aisha Youssef

PHOTOGRAPHY
Emad Kassem

LOCATION
New Cairo villa designed by Mohamed Badr

Makeup by Donia Sedky
Hair by Shady at Al Sagheer Salon
Fashion Assistant: Nada Khedr

Fashion Directory:
Azza Fahmy: Shop no. 58, Galleria 40 Mall, Sheikh Zayed,
6th of October, Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +(202) 01069304511
Maison 69: 15 Ismail Mohamed St., Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +(202) 27372344
Villa Baboushka: 31, Ismail Mohamed St., Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +(202) 27350654
Zeina Hosny Couture
Tel: +(202) 01140052882
Kojak Studio
Tel: +(202) 01008148471
Aquazzura
Tel: +(39) 0557478282
Illesteva
Tel: +(212) 5776040
Schutz
Tel: +(646) 5613550
Isabel Marant
www.isabelmarant.com
Jimmy Choo
www.jimmychoo.com