Following the great success of this year’s Ramadan series, Layalie Eugenie (Eugenie Nights), eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham and Hana Sabah sat down with Injy El Mokkaddem, who played the role of the charming Sophia in the series, for a quick Q&A. From the very first episode, the alluring and mysterious Sophia, an Italian living in Port Said, Egypt in the 1940s, attracted viewers’ attention, due to El Mokkaddem’s brilliant portrayal of her complicated character. From how she seemed fluent in Italian, to how she prepared for the complex role, this interview answers all the questions you’ve been itching to know.
What attracted you to the role of Sophia?
What attracted me so much to the role was the director Hany Khalifa. I have been a huge fan of his work, ever since Sahar El Layaly (Sleepless Nights). Also, I was intrigued by the complex character of Sophia: an Italian woman living in Egypt in 1946, who owns a patisserie, has an old love story, and is waiting for someone to return, and we don’t know who he is. She is so enigmatic, in general. You discover her character bit by bit and not everything is crystal clear from the beginning.The choice of time period was also a very attractive point for me, because it’s rare to get the opportunity to act out a 1940s persona, to wear, to speak and to walk the way they did then. It’s not easy and it doesn’t come up often.
As an actress, what are your standards when it comes to choosing a role? What do you consider to be limitations?
Before reading about the role, I look into who the writer and director are. That’s very important to me. The director is the one capable of bringing out your best capabilities. What I look for in the role itself is, first off, its effectiveness and importance to the storyline, if the character moves certain events and if it impacts the other characters around it. I see if the character has its own storyline, so people wait to see what it’s going to do next. In terms of limitations, I don’t like roles that are cheap. You can be seductive, by the way, without being cheap, and I also don’t like roles that just don’t contribute to the storyline.
What’s the first thing you look for in a role?
A role that I haven’t done before. I don’t like to be repetitive.
What are some preparations you had to go through for the role of Sophia?
I had to learn Italian, of course! That was number one, but I had to memorise my scenes, not the language. I didn’t learn the language in two months. No one’s going to learn an entire language in just two months. I learned my scenes. I sat with my friends who speak the language and have lived in Italy. I brought them the scenes, and asked them to translate. A friend taught me how to read my lines, but she was too busy. Eventually, the company hired an Italian living in Egypt, John Pierro, who coached me through it all. I sat with him extensively, every week at least 3-4 times. He spoke so fluently, and at first, I was so worried. He recorded the lines for me, and I would listen to them every day and recite them. Of course, he was always on set to correct my pronunciation. Honestly, I owe it all to him.
Were there any other preparations you had to do to get into the character of a woman in the 1940s?
Mr. Hany had provided me with a list of old Italian movies that I had to watch. As I watched them, I would observe the way they walked and talked. I would also observe how foreigners living in Egypt felt and how they adapted to the society they now live in. I also absorbed details by observing the way Italians behave, like how they speak with their hands. Also, the idea that Sophia works at a patisserie had its own tiny details: the way she stands up all day, baking and working. I would stand with my hand on my waist as if I was supporting my aching back. I would wipe my hands on my apron as I walked out. Small details like these gave my character some richness.
What was your favorite scene and what was your most challenging one?
My favorite scene was the confrontation scene with Magda. The most challenging scenes were those in Italian, because I had to talk really fast, pronounce correctly and act, while also understanding what I was saying.
You played very different roles in last year’s shows, 30 Youm (30 Days) and La Totfea’ El Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun). Sophia seems like a great advisor, what advice would you imagine Sophia would give your previous characters?
To Zizi from La Totfea’ Al Shams, she would advise to leave her cheating husband, of course. She would tell her, “Why would you endure all of this? You love him, yes, but there are some things that are more important, like your pride and dignity.” As for 30 Youm, she would appreciate Taghreed. In one sentence, she would tell her, not to leave, but maybe, be a little bit harsher on her husband, Tarek.
How did you relate to the role of the anxious and heart-wrenched mother, whose son had gone to war?
I’m a mother, so I can imagine what a mother would feel in that situation, God forbid. The woman, who helps me out in the household, had a son in the military during a dangerous time. Thank God, nothing happened to him, but I would see how much she was in pain. I would also see how patient she was, despite that pain, and how she didn’t allow herself to think of anything negative or bad. She was always positive.
How do you feel after the success of Layalie Eugenie? How has it changed your life?
I’m so happy and overwhelmed, and it’s the first time that I feel that way. Of course, there were roles I did before that were successful, but not to this extent or scale. I’m both happy and scared. I’m afraid of the next step. What am I going to do? What’s it going to be like? Even I don’t want to have such high expectations for myself. This kind of success doesn’t come with everything you do, but because I’ve seen it and tried it, I now want it every time.