For a number of years, Mai Omar was known as a talented and beautiful fresh actress who gave off the ultimate girl-next-door vibes. Flash forward to 2021, and suddenly we are seeing Omar in a totally new light. She’s now a fierce leading lady who comes off as unattainable in the best of ways. This amazing change came with her starring role in the TV series, Lu’Lu’ (Pearl), which had everyone glued to their TV screens to watch her starring as Pearl, the rags-to-riches pop singer. All of a sudden, we found ourselves living in Mai Omar’s world. Naturally, eniGma is just as fascinated by the star as the millions of her fans; and we are delighted to have her grace our cover in this issue dedicated to inspiring women. Not only has Omar achieved great success as an actress, she’s done it while being a busy hands-on mother for two lovely children. Her story is an inspiration, if we’ve ever seen one. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey had the chance to sit with Omar for an in-depth chat to discuss her recent success, her plans for the future and motherhood.
To be quite honest, it was a bit intimidating to see Mai Omar in person on the set of our cover shoot. Arriving in leather leggings, a black top and black sunglasses, the stunning actress could have started posing as soon as she walked onto the set. She sure didn’t look like she needed any makeup and hair done. She looked absolutely gorgeous. Nevertheless, Omar took her time glamming up, with her laughter and non-stop chatter with the crew indicating she was feeling totally at ease with all the attention surrounding her. When she was done, she appeared in a gorgeous black and gold polka dot dress, and before the photographer had adjusted the camera and lighting she was already posing like a runway star.
Kidding aside, Omar is indeed a runway star, and a fashion icon to boot. Last year, she wowed the audience at Hany El Behairy’s fashion show when she floated down the runway wearing his special one of a kind 15 miliion dollar wedding dress!
Looking back, the story of Omar’s rise to stardom would not be so unusual, had it not happen right before our eyes in the span of just two months. It was a fascinating story of “before and after Lu’Lu’”! The series changed the pace of Omar’s career.
It was at university, while studying for a degree in Mass Communications, that Omar had her first taste of acting. However, thinking it was a long shot, she didn’t pursue it, and instead took a job as a TV producer after graduation. It was also at university that she met her future husband, Mohamed Samy, now a prominent director, who would encourage her to take acting seriously. In fact, it was her husband who offered her her first role in his series, Hekayet Hayah (Hayah’s Story) in 2013, alongside the iconic Ghada Abdelrazek. Omar didn’t stop there, however. Her passion for acting, which she had somehow kept bottled in, was now in full view for all to see.
“I love being on location surrounded by cameras and lights. Back when I was a TV producer, I was always on set, so when I got my first role, I wasn’t intimidated at all. If anything, I wanted it more. I felt right at home!” recalls Omar.
She continued taking on supporting roles in one Ramadan hit after the other, and loving it. Then, everything changed when she took on her first lead role in Lu’Lu’, which premiered in early 2021. Lu’Lu’ became an immediate social media phenomenon, something which previously only happened with Egyptian TV series that air during Ramadan season. Except this series wasn’t airing in Ramadan, and despite that, it made such a splash! Omar played a singer who climbs her way up, and becomes the biggest popstar in the Middle East. She is then betrayed by the people closest to her and even experiences an attempt at her life. It’s the perfect rags-to-riches tale which Egyptians simply eat up.
“I think that if a show is good, it will be watched by audiences any time of the year,” says Omar, who delighted in seeing her first solo lead role take over Facebook and become the talk of the town. “We worked really hard on Lu’Lu’, sometimes for 28 straight hours. I wasn’t worried about the timing of its airing on TV, or on which channel. When a show is good, people will always find a way to tune in,” she explains.
Omar also contributed creatively in the making of Lu’Lu’. She was the mind behind the concept of the show. “I wanted to star in a show that I also had a hand in making. When I was thinking about a role I wanted to play, the idea of a singer who went from absolutely nothing to becoming the world’s biggest singer came to me,” she recalls, as she reminisces on how Lu’Lu’ was conceived. She convinced Mohamed Samy with her idea, and he supervised the writing and directing. Mohamed Mahran was recruited to write the screenplay and Mohamed Abdelsalam to direct the series. “I’ve been friends with most of the crew of Lu’Lu’ since long before the show. I’ve known Mahran for seven years now. We first worked together on a play very early in my career. Abdelsalam, on the other hand, worked as Samy’s assistant director on El Ostora (The Legend), and I always told him that I would be the first actress he directs. So it was really special making that a reality. A friendly crew always makes for a spectacular end product!” she exclaims.
If you try to figure out the secret of Lu’Lu’s phenomenal success, you realise why it was such a hit, after all. When you mix soapy drama, with an incredible supporting cast that includes Ahmed Zaher, Sharnouby and Edward, and a beautiful leading lady like Omar, you get a gripping and thrilling show that’s perfect for watch parties and discussions online. Lu’Lu’ was quite a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. You have the element of mystery, murder, deceit and romance all in a 40 episode package. While the show’s 40 episode run was a big risk, its soap opera feel helped it keep the audience’s attention for 40 straight days. It’s over-the-top and often unrealistic scenarios proved to be the type of content that people were looking for to get away from the stressful year that they had been going through.
“I was a bit worried about the show being 40 episodes, so we tried to fill it up with as many plotlines, drama and excitement as possible. It gave us the opportunity to discover Lu’Lu’ more and delve into her backstory. The extravagant drama of the show connected with the fans and also helped them escape their everyday lives and the problems that they were facing,” she explains.
A show as big and campy as Lu’Lu’, however, doesn’t come without criticism and especially without its fair share of memes online. Egyptians love making jokes on social media about their favourite shows, and Lu’Lu’ wasn’t exempt from that. The amount of jokes made per episode were really a testament to the show’s success. People were tuning in for each episode, if not for the captivating drama, then for a good laugh.
Taking it all in stride, Omar admits, “I saw a lot of the memes online, I liked some of them and some of them were a bit mean, but that’s just what people do. The show was huge when it was airing, and I don’t think that everyone who watched it is necessarily plugged in to social media. There are a lot of people with no online presence, and they’re the bigger percentage of TV viewership, actually.” She then adds, with a giggle, “What did kind of baffle me is that people thought I got veneers for the show, but I didn’t!”
Whatever you think of the online memes, Omar has now become one of the biggest actresses, with over 7.4 million followers on Instagram. Yet she remains humble and down to earth. Unlike her character on Lu’Lu’, her childhood friends haven’t stabbed her in the back. Some of them even work with her to this day. She’s not afraid to share the spotlight with them and to invite them along on her crazy ride to fame. She reveals, “I’m very lucky that I’ve never had a friend change on me. My friends since college are still my friends and they still treat me the same. I work with a lot of them actually. I’m friends with my entire crew. I just believe that if the crew is good, why change them?”
While Lu’Lu’s success was a remarkable milestone in Omar’s career, filming and working so hard on the show caused a strain on her family life. “I missed my kids so much while filming. I was the main character, too, so it was tough balancing the time at work and the time at home. I felt terrible that I was away from them for that long time. They’re at a very critical age, where being present for them is crucial. I’m working on making it up for them and being completely there now,” she confesses.
Omar is not exaggerating her hectic work schedule; we saw it first-hand. She showed up for our cover shoot with just two hours of sleep, after spending all night shooting an upcoming Ramadan series. She then had to quickly rush back after our shoot to continue filming. “This was nothing compared to the hours I usually work,” she explains, adding, “I’m used to it. I love my job so much, and I enjoy the long nights. I’ve always been a workaholic, even before I was an actress. It just gives me a buzz that I can’t describe.”
At this point in her career, Omar knows it will be challenging to keep her momentum going. She knows that, as much as people love their favourite stars, they also love turning on them. Tides can change easily and Omar is well aware of this scary fact. She is wise enough to avoid that, by not falling into the trap of comparing herself to her peers. She insists that the only person she’s in competition with is herself. “When you mind your business, you deliver much better work. It’s even better for your everyday life as a person. I don’t occupy my time with comparing myself with other actors; it doesn’t serve me in any way. It also would hold me back from working well with others, which is something I wouldn’t like happening,” she explains.
While Omar had previously found her niche as a supporting actress, Lu’Lu’ was her first step away from that. Her goal from the start had been to try to portray different characters and not repeat herself. She had never wanted to confine herself to one type of role or to a certain niche. “As an actress, I get bored when I play the same role twice. It gets very repetitive. That’s why I loved Lu’Lu’ and last year’s El Fetewa, where I played a woman from the 1850s. It was different and it was new. These are the type of projects I want to take on. I like a good challenge,” she says, with a smirk.
As the conversation turns to what kind of new roles she would like to take on, Omar reveals that she would love to star in a horror film. She gushes about her favourite (and least favourite) horror films, and has her own ideas on the kind of such films that could be made in Egypt. “Most Egyptian horror films aren’t very good. I think we don’t have the technology to properly execute them, yet. But I believe we can pull off slasher films, like Scream, for example. I would love to act in a film like that here in Egypt!” she exclaims.
So what are her plans looking forward? “I’m going to take a break,” she sighs, and quickly adds, “For a long while, until I get bored of staying at home.” But fans needn’t worry though, since she is currently finishing several projects that will see the light soon. She is currently filming a Ramadan series, Nas El Aghrab (Strangers), alongside Ahmed El Sakka and Amir Karara. The role is her first requiring her to speak in a Se’idi (upper Egyptian) dialect. “I thought the dialect would be difficult, but it turned out to be quite fun! We have a specialist of course who helps us on set and I’m really enjoying it,” she reveals. She doesn’t let us in on any more details regarding the show, except that Jalila is the name of the girl she plays. Judging by the stellar cast, the series is most likely going to be a must-watch.
Omar is also starring in the upcoming drama film, Taht Tahdeed El Selah (At Gunpoint), which she started filming very recently. The film also stars Hassan El Raddad, with Omar playing the role of an independent woman, living alone in Cairo’s downtown area. “It’s a very different role for me, I’ve never played a character like her before. Obviously I can’t say too much, but I’m very excited about it,” she says.
To the delight of Lu’Lu’ fans Omar exclusively shared with eniGma that Lu’Lu’ will be getting a second season! While a lot of the characters from the first season (spoiler alert!) have died or gone to prison, Lu’Lu’ lived, and that’s all they need to pull off a sequel. While a lot of the characters on the show deserved their morbid ending, Magdy (played by Edward), didn’t. And that’s the first thing Omar plans on changing in the second season. “First thing I’m going to do is suggest we get Magdy released from prison. I was so sad about that. He deserved better!” she exclaims. Whatever lies in store for Lu’Lu’s second season, we can safely expect some stellar fashion looks, juicy drama and a hell of a new storyline. So stay tuned!
Photography by Christine Salib
Styling by Passant Nossier
Shot on Location at Ahmed Hussein Designs
Jewellery by Jewelry Box
Makeup by Dina Ragheb
Hair by Ashor
Assistant Styling by Marina Abdel Malak
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