If you’ve watched the successful Egyptian series Betloo’ El Rooh (Backbreaking), you will have noticed the captivating upcoming star Hagar El Sarrag, who portrayed Lina, or Um Osama, the wife of the ISIS leader played by Ahmed El Saadany. Her performance as a kind and loving character in the middle of the chaos and turbulence of the situation, as well as her strong presence and her good looks, captured the hearts of many viewers. eniGma’s Rola Khalil sat down with the rising star to learn more about her career and her plans going forward.
Watching black and white movies from when she was just a child, Hagar El Sarrag had a lifelong passion for cinema and filmmaking. After studying filmmaking at New York University (NYU) in New York, she returned to Egypt and began working as an assistant director on advertisements and TV shows. Working on set helped her understand acting from a director’s point of view and with that, her interest in acting grew. Being naturally shy, acting had seemed intimidating to her and she hesitated to put herself in front of the camera.
With time however, she grew more confident and let go of her fears. “Curious about what the experience of being in front of the camera was like, and eager to discover my acting side, I joined several acting workshops,” says El Sarrag. The workshops helped her feel comfortable in her skin and she built a network that facilitated auditioning for roles. After taking on roles in advertisements and short movies, she landed a small role in Ded El Kasr (Unbreakable) starring Nelly Karim during Ramadan last year. Following that came her role as Lina in Betloo’ el Rooh.While El Sarrag’s family is Syrian, she was born and raised in Egypt, and was fluent in the Egyptian dialect while also versed in Syrian Arabic. Because her previous acting experiences prior to Betloo’ El Rooh were in the Egyptian dialect, she found it rather challenging to perfect her role as Lina. To prepare for the role, she practiced the dialect with her mother at home and watched a lot of Syrian shows. Moreover, the set was in Lebanon so she practiced with the crew there.
Although she is still young and at the beginning of her acting career, El Sarrag knows exactly what to look for when selecting her roles. “When choosing a role, the most important factor for me is the conflict within the character. I like hammering on the character’s inner or external struggle as it adds depth and goals to the role, which makes it more meaningful to me,” she explains, adding, “I focus on the character’s unspoken intentions and the underlying subtext. The subtext adds depth to the character, and allows me to accurately channel it. In life, we never say things as they are, there are always inner struggles and desires that influence what we say.” Hagar is also interested in dancing. She took a three-month Contemporary Dance program at the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center (CCDC), where her passion for movement was born. To her, learning dance was an alignment to acting. “Dancing has allowed me to discover my body and express myself both physically and emotionally. I hope I get back to it in the future, since it complements acting,” she explains.As her first important acting experience, Hagar initially felt intimidated on the set of Betloo’ El Rooh. “My first day of shooting was actually the first day on set, which was extremely unnerving. However, in the first scene I shot, I had one line and my face was not showing, so it was less stressful,” she says. Working with a talented cast and crew also helped her feel at ease despite the difficult circumstances she was shooting in, namely, being in a new country for three months, acting in a different dialect, and playing a role as a member of ISIS! “Kamla Abu Zikry, the director, is an incredible person to work with and learn from. Moreover, Menna Shalaby and Ahmed El Saadany were really friendly and very supportive. I am extremely happy with how it turned out and how people received it,” she says of the experience.Although she loves cinema and would love to work in movies someday, El Sarrag is currently focused on TV shows and is excited to be participating in a variety of things on TV. She is grateful to have worked with Menna Shalaby this early in her career and hopes that in the future she will get the chance to act with Mohammed Farrag, Eyad Nassar, Hend Sabry, Riham Abd El Ghafoor, and other big stars.Currently, El Sarrag is working on a new WATCH IT series called Etzan, a 12-episode psychodrama, directed by Shady Abd El Salam and starring the fresh duo from Rivo: Rakeen Saad and Sedky Sakhr, along with seasoned actors like Nabil Eissa, Safaa El Toukhy, and Zeinab Gharib. Her role this time is Egyptian, which, she explains, is a good opportunity to show people that she has a different side, and that she can do Egyptian roles as well. “In Egypt I feel that when someone is identified as Syrian, then they are normally confined to specific roles, even if they speak Egyptian Arabic well. I am very excited for the series to be out and I hope people will like it,” she exclaims.
Photography by Lamba
Styling by Lamis Khalil
Art Direction by Mayane Hesham
Makeup by Duha Mukhtar
Set by Maison Molak