With one hit TV series after the other, one controversial news story after the other, and one success after the other, Ghada Abdel Razik has been in the spotlight for the last few years. eniGma’s Omnia Zaied talked to Murex D’or’s Best Actress for 2013, about her being constantly in the news, on making movies, and on happiness.
Disclaimer: I have never actually met Ghada Abdel Razik. I would have loved to. We had actually scheduled an interview at her home, but unfortunately, after waiting patiently for her in the garden of her villa, we found out that she was stricken with a toothache which prevented her from doing the interview. Twenty four hours later, I was on the phone with Abdel Razik giving the interview a second try.
A calm and collected Abdel Razik picks up the phone. The voice is instantly recognisable. It is the same voice that kept you at the edge of your seat the past few Ramadans with hit TV series such as Samara, 2011, Maa Sabk Al Esrar (Premeditation), 2012 and most recently Hekayet Hayah (The Story of Hayah), the show that stirred controversy all over the region. Hekayet Hayah tells the story of Hayah, a woman who suffers from schizophrenia and thinks she is being betrayed by her whole family who took away her son. “Aren’t we all schizophrenic to an extent?” she asks me. Abdel Razik believes in the dark side. She believes we all have two lives, the one we’re living and the one we wish we were living. “Hayah is a real person. The conflict between the two lives is just bigger in her case, and she reached the point of no return. That’s why right after we finished shooting I got depressed because I felt really bad for Hayah,” she says.
The controversy surrounding Hekayet Hayah went beyond the series with its unusual décor, its daring language, and the unorthodox plot itself. It was also off-screen with the disputes that took place between Abdel Razik and the director of the show. The dispute became so big that both parties took legal action against each other. But because they are professionals, they agreed to put work first and complete the show then deal with their personal issues. “I believe God made this happen so I can see the reality of the people around me. I learnt a lot from this lesson and I am glad it happened sooner rather than later,” she says. “It was all about the show for me. The character was very difficult and I was determined to present it in the best way possible,” she continues.
In fact she has become quite the expert on mental illness. She researched the role, talked to psychiatrists, and learnt how Hayah should speak, act, and how she should end up. This is what makes Abdel Razik stand out among her generation of actresses. She is skilled at transforming the characters in the script into real personalities. This takes very hard work and hard work is her secret power.
It was her hard work that got her where she is today. Abdel Razik suffered through a lot in her life before getting to this moment; including an early marriage at the age of 17 and having to raise her only daughter, Rotana, alone while she was still just a child herself. “We grew up together,” she says. “And I was both a mother and a father to her. I am very proud of that,” she continues. More marriages and more disappointments followed, but Abdel Razik never lost hope in happiness. She then met and married Mohamed Fouda. Even though the marriage didn’t last for long, Fouda remains a very close friend and she thinks very highly of him. Abdel Razik feels that despite her experiences, she is not a quitter; she is a believer. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe God loves me and he wants the best for me. So I am happy with whatever comes my way,” she says.
That last sentence got me a bit confused about who the real Abdel Razik is. Is she the fierce, strong woman you see on TV? The controversial character you read about in newspapers, having all sorts of heated arguments with others and seemingly often in the midst of some conflict or other? Or is she the calm woman who’s talking to me right now and who seems to be at total peace with herself? “I am just a person who is capable of making her own decisions. This is what life does to you, it makes you stronger. But I am actually very peaceful; I am definitely not as strong as the characters I play. Sometimes I feel weak, sometimes I feel vulnerable, sometimes I feel alone, that I really need someone by my side,” she says simply.
Life hasn’t always been kind to Abdel Razik on the professional front either. For a few years she struggled as she tried to get her big break. “Like any other Egyptian family, it was very difficult for them to understand my love of acting. But acting is what I always wanted to do. It was the only thing I was passionate about,” she says. Abdel Razik would sneak behind her parents and take one small part after the other till she managed to get her big break in A’elet Al Hag Metwally (Hag Metwally’s Family) in 2001. The role placed her on the path to stardom and made her family accept the fact that their daughter was meant to be a star.
She worked hard for her stardom and she is adamant about enjoying it. For her, the pressure, the conflicts, the fuss, it’s all just part of the package. “To have people love you unconditionally, that’s priceless. It’s a great honour and I just feel it’s a blessing from God. The responsibility that comes with it is huge; you can’t just enjoy the good and complain about the bad, it comes as a package. Once you become famous you have to always keep in mind that a lot of people consider you their role model and you always have to set a good example for them,” she says.
According to Abdel Razik, you don’t get just one shot at success; you get several, and with each one you develop some sort of stability, but you should always be prepared for the next one. “Hag Metwally was definitely a turning point in my life, but only one of many. The films Heena Maysara (When Things Get Better), 2007 and Rayes Omar Harb, 2008, then the TV series Zohra Wi Azwagha Al Khamsa (Zohra and Her Five Husbands), 2010, Maa Sabk Al Esrar (Premeditation), 2012 and Hekayet Hayah, were all turning points for me. With each of them I learnt something new, I grew artistically and got one step closer to the audience,” she says.
And now it’s time for a new turning point in her career: production. Hekayet Hayah was the first TV series which Abdel Razik co-produced with producer Maha Selim. Abdel Razik decided to start the company GM with Selim and to produce her own series as a trial. But producing for
herself is something she tells me she’ll never do again. “When you produce your own work, you allow for a lot of extra expenses any other producer wouldn’t. That’s why I will be producing series, TV programmes, and movies, but not for myself,” she says. In fact, she is preparing for what she described as “a new kind of talent show” right now.
On top of all that, Abdel Razik has already started preparing for her new TV series. This time she takes on a different kind of challenge, playing the role of none other than the controversial Egyptian Queen, Shagaret Al Dorr, the slave who married the Ayyubid Sultan, Al Saleh. Her new film Garconniera is also set to hit theatres within the next couple of months.
Now that we’re done talking about work, I ask Abdel Razik about how it feels to be a grandmother; and that’s when, for the first time during the 45-minute long phone interview, Abdel Razik laughs. It’s a laugh that she seems unable to control every time she mentions her grandaughter’s name, Khadija. Khadija is Abdel Razik’s biggest love. “My mum used to tell me that grandchildren are much dearer than your own children. I was only able to really understand what she meant when Khadija came into my life,” she says. Six-month-old Khadija is the joy of the family and there’s absolutely nothing Abdel Razik wouldn’t do to make her happy.
At the end of the day, Abdel Razik notes, happiness is all that matters. She acts because it makes her happy, she takes on challenging roles because it makes her happy, and now she is in the field of production because it makes her happy. She realises that with all the decisions she’s made in her life, some were right and some wrong. She says she laughs off her mistakes and remains positive. She concludes, “happiness is a choice. If you’re faced with an obstacle it’s just God’s way of telling you you’re not on the right track; God doesn’t put anything bad your way.”
ART DIRECTION & STYLING: Maissa Azab
PHOTOGRAPHY: Khaled Fadda