The charming Injy El Mokkaddem started out as a talk show host, then slowly, but surely, took her place as a critically acclaimed actress in supporting roles in popular TV series, such as Soqoot Hor (Freefall), 30 Youm (30 Days), La Totfe’ Al Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun), and most recently in last Ramadan’s blockbuster, Layalie Eugenie (Eugenie Nights). Her brilliant rendition of the role of an Italian woman in Layalie Eugenie seems to have paved the way for bigger roles in the upcoming Ramadan series Wald El Ghalaba (Son of the Poor), as well as in the soon to be released film, Leilet Raas El Sana (New Year’s Eve). eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham sat down with the rising star to hear all about her professional journey and how she made it in the entertainment industry while remaining grounded and down to earth.
It is well known that Injy El Mokkaddem is one of the sweetest people in Egypt’s entertainment industry. Having met her myself a couple of times before and experienced her delightful nature, I was thrilled to learn she was to be our cover star for this issue.
With Ramadan rapidly approaching, El Mokkaddem’s schedule is extremely hectic these days as she rushes to complete filming for her upcoming TV series which will air during the holy month. El Mokkaddem came straight to our cover shoot and interview after a long filming session that did not end till early that morning. Unsurprisingly, she was sleep-deprived and exhausted; yet, she still was very sweet and cordial, greeting everyone with a lovely smile. Knowing how tired she was, I couldn’t help wondering if being nice came naturally to her. I asked her if she often had to make an effort to be so pleasant, especially when she was tired. “I am easy going and I like living in peace without problems. Sometimes this makes me sacrifice my comfort for the comfort of others and I find myself making excuses for people when I shouldn’t. I think it’s in my nature,” she replies. With the film industry known to be hard to navigate even for tough people, the next question that came to my mind was how a people pleaser like El Mokkaddem could make it that big in the industry. But to understand Injy El Mokkaddem’s personality, you have to go back to the very beginning.
El Mokkaddem comes from an all Egyptian Cairene family, studied in the Armenian Catholic Sisters School, and had a conventional upbringing. Her big dream, however, was far from conventional. She dreamt of becoming a movie and TV star one day, but she felt constrained by society’s prevailing restrictions at the time. She went on to study at the American University in Cairo where she majored in Psychology and minored in Theatre, and that was the first time she got a taste of what it was like to perform on stage.
When she graduated, she was still too afraid to apply for acting jobs, due to the negative things she kept hearing about the backend of the film industry. Instead, El Mokkaddem started a career in advertising, working for such companies as Tarek Nour Advertising and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. She also worked as a Graphic Designer for a while. In a way, these experiences helped ease her into the media field.
El Mokkaddem then applied for a job as a correspondent at Orbit’s Al Qahera Al Youm (Cairo Today) on El Youm Channel. While it was her first time to stand in front of a camera, it felt natural to her and she got the job. Soon enough, she was presenting her own game show, El Sellem Wel Teaban (Snakes & Ladders) on the same network. Not long after that, she moved to OTV, where she headlined the talk show Massa’ak Sokkar Zeyada (Have a Blessed Evening), and also made regular appearances on its sibling show Sabahak Sokkar Zeyada (Have a Blessed Morning). With that she became a bona-fide household name in the Egyptian talk show arena.
Still, El Mokkaddem kept her original dream of becoming an actress. Although she got some acting offers, she remained hesitant to take the plunge. Her husband, Talal Swehlie, also shared her worries about the film industry and what it might bring. Not yet feeling ready to take that step, she decided to join acting workshops and see where it would lead her.
“One day a producer approached me about auditioning for a new TV series called Ahmed Etgawez Mona (Ahmed Married Mona), which aired in 2007. She said that my name came up because the character really matched my personality,” she recalls. Eventually, she accepted and that turned out to be her first acting role. The timing seemed to be right, finally. By now, a mother of a five-year-old daughter, she felt much more confident in her ability to cope with difficulties she might face in the field. Her husband, who also became her trusted agent, felt the same way and he helped her navigate her way through the industry, supporting her every step of the way until this day.
“What really encouraged me was seeing people from similar backgrounds like mine in the field. I also felt more comfortable in my own skin and more aware of my abilities. I knew my priorities and felt solid enough that nothing was going to shake me. If I had started acting when I was younger, I might have gotten lost, because I was simply not ready. I took the decision with Talal’s support. He was, and still is, very supportive of my career choices,” says the actress.
“At the beginning, every time I came across a negative review or comment, my first instinct was to give up, but with my husband’s help, I would snap out of it. He helped me realise that I was never going to impress everyone, so I should just work as hard as I could and forget the negativity,” recalls El Mokkaddem. “It was especially hard on me when a project that got negative or average reviews came after one that had been very well-received. I would always blame myself for that,” she adds.
The more roles El Mokkaddem got, the more time she would have to spend away from home and her family. That is why she always made sure to discuss any work offer with her children before accepting it. “When I’m interested in a project, the first thing I do is run it by my kids to see if they are okay with it taking me away from them for months. Only after I get the green light from them, do I consider all of the other variables that come into play,” she says.
While El Mokkaddem started out doing comedies, such as Harramt Ya Baba (Sorry, Dad) with Hassan Hosny, and Sharbat Loz with Yousra and Samir Ghanem, she didn’t want to be typecast as just a comedic actress. To that end, she started to avoid offers for comedy and soon dramatic roles began to come her way. She acted in drama series, such as Soqoot Hor (Freefall), 30 Youm (30 Days), La Totfe’ Al Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun), Kalam Banat (Girl Talk) and, most recently, in last year’s Layalie Eugenie (Eugenie Nights) in the breakout role of Sofia, which earned her widespread critical acclaim as well as mainstream popularity amongst viewers.
“I love to challenge myself with every new project I do. I don’t like to repeat myself, so I take on roles that are completely different from anything I have played before. In Soqoot Hor, I played the veiled, conservative mother with an axe to grind, while in Layalie Eugenie, I played the confident, free-spirited Italian woman. Although that was a supporting role, it got everyone talking and this made me feel like I was doing something right! This Ramadan, I’m playing a completely different character that requires zero makeup and I have to speak in an Upper Egyptian accent for the entirety of the series, which is a whole new challenge of its own,” she reveals.
El Mokkaddem plays the role of Safeya in the upcoming Ramadan series, Wald El Ghalaba (Son of the Poor) which takes place in Sohag in Upper Egypt. It is directed by Mohamed Samy, written by Ayman Salama and starring Ahmed El Sakka, Mohamed Mamdouh, Mai Omar and Edward. “Safeya is such a strong character to play. She’s very stubborn, sharp, unforgiving and aggressive in her decisions and in her reactions. I’m the type of actress who takes a part of the character home with her. So, having a part like Safeya within me, mixed with lack of sleep due to my grueling filming schedule, I’m afraid makes me have a bit of an attitude at times,” says the actress with a laugh. For the sake of honesty, the bit of attitude she alluded to was nowhere to be seen during our interview.
El Mokkaddem has also recently completed filming Leilet Ras El Sana (New Year’s Eve), which will be in theatres soon. The film is directed by new comer Mohamed Sakr and written by powerhouse screenwriter, Mohamed Hefzy. Described as “socially provocative,” and with a stellar cast that includes Eyad Nassar, Shereen Reda, Ahmed Malek and Basma, besides El Mokkaddem, the movie is making huge waves even before its release. “Although this is Sakr’s directorial debut, after sitting down with him and seeing how knowledgeable and intelligent he is, I had complete confidence in his vision. Not to mention the fact that a big producer and screenwriter like Mohamed Hefzy trusted him with his script, which, by the way, is impeccably written with real characters from different parts in our society,” she explains.
In Leilet Ras El Sana, which takes place all in one day, El Mokkaddem plays the role of Mariam, a posh, wealthy jetsetter married to a charming man, with a young son. Her life seems almost perfect. In reality it is very far from that! There is a hidden secret in the family that could ruin everything, and it’s just a matter of time before this ticking time bomb goes off. “The most interesting thing about Leilet Ras El Sana is the way Hefzy connects the main characters with one another in ways you would never expect. It’s pure genius. By the end of the movie, you realise that all the storylines and character arcs are intertwined,” El Mokkaddem explains revealing a small slice of the idea behind the film.
It’s no secret that El Mokkaddam is under a lot of pressure these days in her quest to live up to the high expectations that come with the success she achieved last year. “I’m very stressed, because after the amazing feedback and praise I got for Layalie Eugenie, there’s this certain euphoria that I don’t want to lose. I feel a huge load on me to deliver, and I don’t want to disappoint,” she exclaims.
After wrapping the filming for her Ramadan series, El Mokkaddem is planning to take a break to rest and clear her head after working nonstop for months. “I definitely want to travel. I love any sort of travel, whether it’s with my husband, my friends, my family, for work or even alone. Although I’m afraid of flying!” she says with a laugh. “I love to travel to new countries, to walk in the streets and just watch the people, taste the food, enjoy the music, and sit in a café on the sidewalk. The next places on my list are Prague and Budapest. I really want to visit them!”
Notwithstanding her upcoming well-deserved break, El Mokkaddem is far from done. After proving herself in drama, she now feels she misses comedy and is interested in getting back to it. However, the genre that she really feels like doing next is romance. She has not had the chance to do a full-fledged romance project to date. “Especially if it’s a romantic comedy,” she exclaims, leaving me with the certainty that her talent, evident in her past roles, will make her ambition come true very soon.
Art Direction & Styling: Gehad Abdalla
Production Management: Yasmin Reda
Photography: Bilo Hussein
Location: Sara’s Organic Farm
Makeup by Soha Khoury
Hair by Toi Beauty Salon
Fashion Coordinators: Omar Hesham & Donya Gaber
D Store: Cairo Festival City, New Cairo, Egypt.
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