An iconic star known in the Arab world for her screen presence, charming looks and charisma, Madlen Tabar has stood the test of time. Proving she is a master of more than one craft, she started out as a TV host in Lebanon, before venturing into acting on both the big and small screens. She has had important roles in several successful productions, including the memorable El Tareek Ila Eilat (The Road to Eilat). Recently, Tabar returned to TV presenting and hosting, with a new talk show, Mesa El Ward (Blessed Evening). eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham sat down with the versatile star to catch up on her news and her latest ventures.
As I was waiting for Madlen Tabar in Zamalek, I saw her from a distance dressed in different shades of magenta, which seems to be her colour of choice in most of her public appearances lately. Tabar really does pull it off quite well, especially as it complements her fiery-red hair and her outspoken and fun personality. She waved at me from afar, like she had known me for years, even though I had only met her briefly at an event, an encounter which I’m sure only I remembered.
Tabar had just finished a day’s work filming her talk show in 6th of October City. She told me she was famished, as we walked to the restaurant of her choice – a fried chicken place. As we walked, pedestrians would stop her to take pictures with her, and Tabar happily gave each and every one of her fans her time and attention. She also stopped at several shops along the way to greet owners and salespeople she seemed to be friends with. She revealed to me that this neighbourhood was close to her heart, as she had lived there for many years before moving recently.
While very lively, the restaurant, was crowded and loud, so we chose the quietest corner we could find and sat there. When I asked her why she chose this place specifically, she answered with a smile, “This place reminds me of my time studying for my Master’s degree in New York. This is originally an American restaurant that I frequented there.”
Tabar had already worked in entertainment before she headed to New York for postgraduate studies. “My uncle was a musician who performed alongside famous Lebanese singer, Fayrouz, so I was always into performing arts. When I was 16, he wanted me to enter beauty pageants, believing I could become Lebanon’s beauty queen. So, we practiced my walk and worked on my appearance. He thought I was so beautiful that he raised my confidence about my looks,” recalls Tabar with a slight laugh.
However, fate had other plans for Tabar. In the middle of this journey, a local Lebanese channel was looking for a TV presenter. “Why don’t you try? The pageant can wait, but you have to seize this opportunity,” her uncle advised her. Tabar ended up forgetting about becoming a beauty queen and delved into this new path. “I lied about my age, because you’re not allowed to be a TV presenter if you’re under 18. I was put the last in line for the audition, because I hadn’t had my hair or makeup done, and I was in very messy clothes, but was confident, nonetheless. They kept me till the end, as they thought I looked like a lost cause. When it finally was my turn, they even made me sit behind the camera, with no material to read. So, I got mad and grabbed the newspaper from the camera man and started reading. Unbeknownst to me, the president of local television in Lebanon was watching the auditions through a screen from his office. All of a sudden, he came out and chose me on the spot, because he loved that I stood out from the rest,” recounts Tabar. She ended up marrying the cameraman she met there, Andre Khoury, and went on to study media at university, while working as a TV presenter.
“I was very young at the time, so I was intrigued by the money, the fame and the power that I had all of a sudden. I applied for a job in ARABSAT as soon as it was established, and I was chosen as one of the best TV presenters at the time,” she recalls. Tabar started feeling full, like the feeling you get when you’ve had too much of your favourite meal, so you stop enjoying it. “I felt lost, which tends to happen to young people who have started their careers early on,” she adds.
The first inkling that she could do something different came to Tabar when she was hosting a show with acting legend Nour El Sherif as her guest. “After the interview, he told me that he felt like I was destined to be an actress. He wanted me to go to Egypt with him. I regret rejecting his offer then, because I could have saved one more decade of remaining confused,” she reveals.
The perfect opportunity ended up presenting itself to Tabar years later, when director Rafik Haggar, from Moscow, came to the then TV presenter with an offer for a part in a political movie that most Lebanese actresses were too scared to do. “He thought I’d be perfect because I’m fearless. He sent me the script, and I was hesitant at first because I couldn’t imagine acting on camera. He promised to help me though, so I imagined myself on the silver screen and suddenly I was sold on being an actress,” she says with a laugh. Tabar would go on to become the leading lady in four Lebanese films, one of which was an award-winning role in Kafurun, opposite iconic actor-director Doreid Laham. Shortly thereafter, she made her move to Egypt, and took part in important films over the years, such as El Tariq Ila Eilat (The Road to Eilat), Partita and Reklam, and in television series, such as Wagh El Qamar (Face of the Moon), Zayzina 2, Meshwar Emra’a (A Woman’s Journey), Mahmoud El Masry, Reesh Na’am (Ostrich Feather), Wahet El Ghoroub (Sunset Oasis) and Saheb El Sa’ada (His Excellency).
“When I came to Egypt, I was determined to enhance my image as an actress, more than a TV presenter. The more I acted, the more confidence I gained, and eventually I started missing presenting a lot. After 30 years of living in Egypt, I started getting the same feeling I had before. I wanted to prove to people that I can be an amazing TV presenter and actress at the same time,” explains Tabar, who ended up getting her own talk show on El Nahar.
“I wanted to create a diverse show which would include comedy and performing arts, such as music and dance. I also wanted to interview doctors, philosophers and experts from different fields. However, very few channels have excellent producers and can air such a high-budget show. I had been pitching this idea to so many channels for a couple of years, but nothing stuck, until Khaled El Ghoneimy, former president of LTC, approached me with an offer to air my show on El Mehwar, and that’s how Mesa El Ward (Blessed Evening) came about,” she reveals.
Tabar is not done with acting, however, still finding herself exploring new firsts. “After 30 years of a film career in Egypt, I never thought of taking part in a short movie. However, as I started attending many international film festivals, often as a jury member, where numerous short movies were competing, I started liking the genre. Karim Kabara, the producer, musician, writer and director, wanted me to star in his 15 minute, one-woman film. I read the script and was instantly sold on the part,” says Tabar about Hodn W Bas (Just an Embrace), the short film that is set to premiere at the Cairo Film Festival at the end of this year.
Tabar can also currently be seen on El Daher, the TV series airing on Al Hayah. “I loved the way director Yasser Zayed portrayed this story. It was also a blast working with the cast, Mohamed Fouad, Raghda, Firyal Youssef and Hassan Youssef. We were a lovely team,” she says.
After this constant back and forth between TV presenting and acting, there still seems to be something that Tabar feels she wants to explore further. “I want to try out a more theatrical route. In my school days, I played parts in many theatrical productions, and often was the lead. When I first came to Egypt, I started testing my passion in theatre but it was not recorded. A play called Asha El Emyan (Dinner of the Blind) was one of my earlier projects, where I worked alongside producer, Hossam Salaheldin. I would love to revisit that route,” says Tabar who has also done voice over work for animated productions throughout her career.
After the interview was over, Tabar asked the waiters to get her all the leftover food they had. “I want to feed the stray dogs in my neighbourhood,” Tabar said, as we went on to wrap the food to take it with us. As we reached her car, I could see she already had a huge pile of leftover food in the trunk which she said she keeps so as to feed the stray dogs. Her kindness to animals demonstrated to me another facet of Madlen Tabar’s interesting personality. I came to realise that you cannot pin down Tabar under one adjective. She is kind but not gullible. She is incredibly seasoned, passionate about her work and content with her achievements; yet, still a young, curious, free spirit who walks with a big smile on her face greeting strangers on the street.
Photography by: Mostafa Sarhan