Egyptian cinema has always welcomed talent from all over the Arab world, and budding Arab actors seeking fame and fortune have always flocked to Egypt to realize their dreams. Two of the most popular stars in Egyptian cinema and TV came from Tunisia. First came the beautiful and talented Hend Sabry, a lawyer by training, who landed in Cairo several years ago and achieved success with an impressive array of roles. More recently, the handsome Dhafer L’Abidine, a former soccer player, burst onto the Egyptian TV scene, winning the hearts of fans and going on to important roles in cinema as well. eniGma sat down with the two beloved movie stars, who are collaborating in a TV series this Ramadan, to track their remarkable journeys.
Sabry and L’Abidine’s career journeys differ from those of most actors in the Middle East. They both acted in international productions before making it big in Egypt and the region. L’Abidine participated in such international hits as “Children of Men” and “Sex and the City 2,” while Sabry delivered moving performances in “The Silences of the Palace” and “Whatever Lola Wants.” L’Abidine notes that he tries to work in both worlds. “Of course, the topics of the work I do in the Middle East hit close to home and are very fulfilling because I am from an Arab country after all. However, both the international and regional movie industries complement each other well. It’s refreshing to try different things in different parts of the world. There are great projects and great people to work with everywhere. The cultures and expectations may be different, but you just have to adapt,” he explains.
Sabry began her career when she was discovered by the great Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli, who gave her the leading role in the film, “The Silences of the Palace.” “I was still quite young. When the film was a success, I realized that acting would be my career of choice,” she recalls. Sabry went on to university and pursued a law degree first, before going on to pursue her acting career. For L’Abidine, acting was actually his second career. Following a glorious run as a professional soccer player, he was forced to retire after sustaining an injury and having contract issues. Subsequent developments proved that there was a silver lining to this misfortune. L’Abidine recalls, “I decided to find something else that I could be passionate about. It’s never about materialism for me, but rather a calling; a purpose that would make me wake up in the morning and look forward to doing my job. It took me a couple of years, during which I worked as an assistant film director, to fully understand how the movie industry worked and to decide on the part that I wanted to play in it. I found my passion in acting and decided to pursue it.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Celebrity status and fame are only secondary perks to these two stars. What drives them is their belief that what they present to the public can have a huge effect. On a personal level, acting gives Sabry and L’Abidine a chance to spread their wings and delve deeper into their life experiences to be able to portray characters as genuinely as possible. “The many lives that I get to live while acting make up for the fact that it’s exhausting and time-consuming,” says Sabry. L’Abidine adds, “With acting, you never know what’s going to happen. The thrill of starting a new project that you feel is impactful can be quite exhilarating. The best part is the continuous learning process. You have to strive to understand your characters and why they are the way they are. You use your imagination and your life experience to give the best of yourself to the role that you’re playing. The emotions are real, so there’s a bit of me in every character I play.”
It comes as no surprise that these two accomplished actors give a lot of thought to the projects they take on. They each have a very specific approach. Sabry explains that she carefully selects roles that will add to her career; ones to which she feels connected enough to allow her to develop the character, making it more personal and believable. L’Abidine emphasizes, “I don’t take on roles for commercial reasons; I have to believe in what I am doing. It’s all about the script for me. Then, I factor in the producer, director and actors. Sometimes, I make a few adjustments to my character, but never to make it bigger, only to make it more authentic.”
Both Sabry and L’Abidine proved themselves to be well-rounded actors, and they both attribute that, in large part, to their passion for their vocation. According to L’Abidine, “Finding one’s passion is quite challenging. You have to open yourself up to new experiences and try different things to discover who you are and what you really want. Once you do, you have to muster up the will and perseverance to achieve it.” Sabry agrees with L’Abidine, and her advice to others is to seek out their dreams with persistence. She adds, “Dreaming without actually doing anything to achieve our dreams will get us nowhere; and if we give up halfway, we’ll only lose. We have to seek out our dreams and not surrender to hopelessness.”
With great success, can come a few regrets, but not for these two serious stars. “The whole point of life is that there will always be ups and downs. You will inevitably face difficulties, but it’s all in how you look at things. You have to be able to stay positive in order to enjoy it. The tough moments make the good ones seem so much sweeter. Not being able to play football taught me that, sometimes, things don’t last. It also gave me a lot of life experience that I now use in acting. So, if for some reason I am unable to continue my acting career, I will find something else that I am passionate about and go for it! I try not to dwell on the past. I always try to make the best of every situation at the time. The most important thing for me is to do my best each time. If things work out, then great; if not, you try again,” he says enthusiastically. Sabry has no regrets when it comes to her career. Her aim is to always make a difference in people’s lives, which is why her most recent role is very dear to her. “My latest role in the film ‘Zahret Halab’ (Flower of Aleppo) is the one I relate to most, due to my interest in humanistic causes in the Arab world, and that is also why it was the first film that I co-produced through Salam PROD,” she proudly states. Her role in the film “Asmaa” is also one of her favorites because it tells the story of a woman struggling with AIDS and aims to change how society views people who suffer from this disease. Her choice of roles that affect people also means that she greatly values the feedback from the audience.
In the midst of their professional success, Sabry and L’Abidine have also started their own families. Sabry met her husband through common friends. “What drew me to him was his self-confidence, but what makes our relationship strong is love, understanding, empathy and tolerance,” she boasts. She considers herself to be a family person to a great extent. She adores her kids and finds that they have made her “more responsible, caring and empathetic.” She acknowledges that balancing her personal life and career can be quite tricky. “It is definitely difficult, but possible. I try as much as I can to keep that balance, especially as I also take on the requirements of my current role as a World Food Programme Regional Ambassador Against Hunger,” she says. Family time is sacred to her, especially in Ramadan when it’s all about “banquets and family gatherings, more cooking, watching television and reading.” When it comes to her own shows in Ramadan, she says, “I try to watch them through the eyes of the viewers during the month of Ramadan. That gives me an in-depth view into my work. But I would be lying if I told you I watch all episodes of my work.”
L’Abidine is married to a British actress and has a lovely daughter. He first met his wife when they were doing a TV interview to promote a project that they had both worked on, but had not had scenes together. “We complement each other. That’s what makes our relationship work. We have the same values and the same dreams. You can’t take each other for granted. You can’t be selfish in a relationship. You have to work at it and learn to fully understand and accept one another by being present and communicating. While I love my job, to me, family is the most important thing,” he explains. His love for his family is never more apparent than when he talks about his daughter. “After I had my little girl, everything became about her. I discovered a new kind of love and a new kind of happiness. She just turned seven, and one of the best feelings in the world is when I turn on my phone and find a message from her,” he gushes, adding, “I spend all of my free time with my family. We can go out for a walk, go out to dinner or even stay at home. The time that I spend with the people I love is so precious. Ramadan is a great time to spend with my family; it brings us closer together. I try to watch my shows during Ramadan, but it can be hard with filming and everything, so I usually watch it afterwards.”
Both Sabry and L’Abidine are admired for their exceptional charm and their stunning good looks. So, how do they stay fit? “First, your looks are your looks; you can’t change them, and you can’t base your career on them either,” says L’Abidine, adding, “Looks change and fade, and in the end, all you are left with is what’s inside you. You have to strive to play different roles and push yourself to the limit to grow as an actor. To answer the question, however, I like playing sports, so I do make time to exercise, and I watch what I eat. I don’t go on diets or anything like that, but I eat everything in moderation. It’s about being healthy more than anything.” As for Sabry, she credits “a healthy diet and exercise” for her amazing physical appearance. “It’s no secret at all,” she remarks.
For the near future, Sabry and L’Abidine have their hands full. Sabry explains, “On a personal level, my daughters are my biggest project. On a professional level, there are still so many projects that I’m going to star in or produce. I am also a partner in Tayarah, an online video content company, and we want to do big things in the future.” L’Abidine has his own unique perspective on life plans. He believes it’s important to have goals, but they tend to change with time. He explains, “This is why it’s important to enjoy the journey. You can’t really plan your acting career because there are too many variables. If you enjoy what you do, then it will be worth it. This is why I don’t focus on awards much. I think true success is doing what you love and being happy doing it.”
The beloved Tunisian duo, Sabry and L’Abidine, collaborated a few years ago in the hit TV series “Vertigo.” Now, their fans are excited to see them this Ramadan in yet another TV collaboration in “Halawet El Donia” (The Beauty of Life), which tells the story of a woman diagnosed with cancer before an important life event. “It’s a great script and a great team. It’s different; it discusses interesting social issues within a romantic story. Despite showing the impact that being diagnosed with a fatal disease can have on someone, the show has many positive messages and an underlying theme of the importance of carrying on and seeing the bright side of life,” explains L’Abidine. He will also be starring in “Caramel,” a Lebanese TV series with several love stories with interesting twists and turns. Sabry also has a new movie coming out, called El Kenz (The Treasure), which has already created quite a bit of buzz in anticipation of its release. Adoring fans of the two stars have much to look forward to.
What words best describe you?
HS: Independent, sensitive, responsible, decisive and achiever.
DL: Open, dreamer and persistent.
Which one aspect of your personality would you like to change?
HS: I would like to be more laid-back, more carefree.
DL: Being angry at times. The more you control your
anger the better.
What is your biggest regret?
HS: I don’t like regrets.
DL: Not being by my father’s side when he passed away.
If you could go back and change one thing about your life, what would it be?
HS: I wouldn’t change a thing. If I had a do-over, I would do everything exactly the same way.
What makes you laugh?
HS: When I see my daughters laughing.
DL: Silly things.
What is your favorite movie?
HS: “In the Mood for Love.”
If there was a book about your life, what would the title be?
HS: A Passerby.
DL: To be continued.
Do you have any hidden talents?
HS: Writing. I also try to learn new things like playing tabla (drums).
DL: They must be really hidden because even I don’t know about them.
What can’t you leave home without?
HS: My phone.
DL: My phone, or maybe my shoes?
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
HS: There is no perfect happiness, only contentment and satisfaction with the present moment. It’s about the journey.
DL: For my daughter to continue being as happy as she is.
What’s your favorite meal?
HS: A Tunisian meal called tajine merguez.
DL: Mom’s food, especially jilbana.
Do you have any pets?
HS: We got the girls a cat, “Mistika.”
DL: No. It wouldn’t be fair because I travel a lot.
What’s your star sign?
What characteristics of the star sign apply to you?
HS: Strength and independence. I am also very sensitive to vibes and energies.
DL: I am a dreamer and I don’t like having a routine.
What is your pet peeve?
HS: The sound of chewing gum.
DL: When people aren’t punctual.
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