When Fashion Director Maissa Azab and Senior Writer Travis Randall spent a hilarious couple of days with the rising queen of comedy, they had to brave an all night drive, a sandstorm and a temperamental camel for our exclusive fashion shoot. Yet in the process they uncovered an all singing, all dancing, all entertaining funny girl who is as bright as she is beautiful. Mais Hamdan is equal parts girl next door and glam big screen siren; a good sport as well as one of the Arab world’s hottest rising stars.
Our first meeting couldn’t have been more awkward. I was being detained at a Media City guard station and we greeted each other through the back window as she dashed in for an interview. Armed with a change of shirt and a computer, I was finally deemed no threat and went in to join her in a room full of young stars waiting to promote Hamdan’s newest film, the thriller, Sharea 18 (18th Street). She appeared poised and professional as she joined her co-stars to promote the film on the TV show Al Qahira Al Youm (Cairo Today). When we finally hit the road to our North Coast shooting location it was 2 am, and she was feeling sick. I couldn’t work out the appropriate protocol; do I sit in the back of our chauffeured car or up front to let her sleep? We ended up cramped in the back seat, making tired attempts at conversation. She graciously sat behind our tall driver whose seat confined her into a spot more suitable for a child than a star.
The moment we got in the car she took out her contacts, took off her hair extensions and slipped out of her stilettos into stylish sneakers. The next three and a half hours were a blur of dark roads, nodding off and the annoying beeping of the speedometer warning us we were cruising faster than 120kph. When we finally arrived she got about two hours of beauty sleep in her room (which proved plenty for the natural beauty), while I passed out on a single bed; practically spooning one of the camera assistants. After a peckish breakfast, makeup and styling, we hit a beach with as much sand blowing in our faces as at our feet. But Hamdan braved the elements, while keeping us all laughing. She even coped like a legend with the sandstorm, dirty beach shack that doubled as changing room, and a very unhappy and unkempt Libyan camel that wandered by and ended up in our shoot.
At the end of the exhausting day, while she sat having a drink in the hotel lobby, she exclaimed, “I had a blast! It was tiring, but the outfits were unique. If you see a sparkle in my eye it’s just because they were full of sand,” she adds, laughing good-humouredly at our unexpectedly eventful day of shooting. If you ask me, it’s how people react to awkward introductions, tummy aches at 2 am, angry animals and all the bad weather life throws at them that reveal who they really are. And by that measure, Mais Hamdan is a true superstar.
f you don’t already know this pretty face, well crawl out from under your rock and tune into MBC’s hit show CBM, where she stars in the comedy sketches that have shown off her innate ability to impersonate other Arab stars. The multi talented actress got her start with modelling, presenting and acted in a few commercials. She even had a hit single, Baheb Elli Yihebak (I Love Whoever Loves You). She’s now on to her fourth film, the suspense thriller that opened last month, Sharea 18. “I play Rawya, a rich girl who inherits $5 million from her father and gets into trouble with her uncle when her father dies. I don’t want to spoil it, but I do get killed.”
She confesses that getting killed “actually hurt really bad! I had tape all over my body for the special effects, which was incredibly uncomfortable.” Her popularity in the Gulf because of her five years on CBM, led to her part in the first Saudi film, Kaif Al-Hal (How’s it Going?), about two years ago. She then co-stared with the megastar Tamer Hosny in Omar wa Salma and comedian Ahmed Helmy in Zarf Tarek.
Though her impressive performances are gaining her more fame and fans, she says convincingly that, “I’m not looking for fame and money for the time being. I want to prove myself and build up my career. There are a few great female comedians but you don’t have any young…” and pauses embarrassed, so I insert ‘beautiful’ and she blushes continuing, “I don’t have the right to say that.” But of course it’s easy to see if you have eyes.
“Sure, I want to prove I’m young, attractive and I can still make people laugh, but all the funny scripts are for men!” she complains. “They say (adopting a whiny, patronizing voice) ‘No Mais, you can’t be a comedian, you’re too beautiful, just look pretty.’”
Beyond the ‘curse’ of being a beautiful woman and hilarious (some people really have it tough) there are other challenges to just being funny. “There are lots of things you can’t talk about; religion, sex or politics. There’s a red line we can’t cross, and even if we do, they won’t air it. If you watch stand up comedy by Chris Rock, 90% is about these forbidden topics, but we can’t touch them.” She’d also like to do stand up, but with no outlet for that in the Arab world, she practices at home and in front of friends. Dispelling the myth that her venture into music has ‘infringed’ on her sister, Mai Selim’s, singing career or created tension she says, “My sister is my best friend and I’d rather make her laugh than anyone. Because she’s so funny it’s an accomplishment to make her laugh.”
Her roving upbringing has made her a master of a crucial element to Arab comedy – language, so she keeps us laughing in Lebanese, Gulf or Egyptian dialects. She was caught off guard when asked what characteristics an impersonator would pick up on when copying her. “I never thought about that,” she says with a slightly worried smile at the thought of it. One caricature that may not be part of her public persona but quirky enough to be noted by close friends would be her application of lip balm. She scoops it (the kind that comes in a small tin) onto her lips instead of applying it in the traditional way with a finger. As she applies it she resembles a suckling bird, which contributes significantly to her overall cute factor.
“I guess an impression of me might focus on how I talk a lot with my hands and what I call my ‘signature look’ when I’m speaking.” Her Marilyn Monroe like upper lip beauty mark would also have to feature in her caricature. “I just hope they would be as nice as I try to be. Unfortunately, some people do get upset when I imitate them, but it’s all in good fun and I do it with passion.”
When Hamdan looks to the future she has two goals: to make her mother proud and one day host her own comedy show. The Mais Show idea is a sort of cross breed between Oprah and Jay Leno, where she gets to employ impersonations, stand up and singing. “I’d like to bring comedians, celebrities and politicians on the show: anybody interesting who has something to offer or can make ‘zee bublic’ laugh,” she says with a mock Egyptian/English accent.
The high energy 25-year-old, who asked me to say she was 24, assures me she’s not looking for love, but still needs it. Yet slouches need not apply. She has two criteria for her prince charming: success and humour. “I’m very ambitious and I can’t be with someone aimless and lazy. Otherwise I will destroy him!” When she’s dead and gone, she hopes people will look back on her career and say “We miss Mais. I wish we had someone to make us laugh like Mais.”
Good-humoured on and off camera, a true beauty with or without hair extensions and sand in her eyes, Mais Hamdan will capture your attention, if not your heart. Keep your eye on this hilarious hottie, pioneering new territory in the Arab film industry, as a fit female who can also make you fall over laughing.