She is one of the silver screen’s most remarkable actresses. And this summer she is sporting a whole new look and a whole new attitude. Fashion Director Maissa Azab dresses Menna Shalaby in the season’s latest trends and Deputy Editor Omnia Zaied talks to her about best summer memories.
With 24 movies and six TV series throughout her 14 year career, you can tell that Menna Shalaby is not your regular actress. She played almost every character there is to play, she worked with the biggest names in the industry and she won a slew of awards including Best Actress at the National Film Festival for Egyptian Cinema for her role in Al Saher (The Magician), 2001, and a Special Award at the Damascus Film Festival for Banat Wust El Balad (Downtown Girls), 2007.
As she prepares for her next movie, which is being written at the moment, we caught up with Shalaby to know what she does when she is not working…
As a child did you do a lot of travelling?
I’ve loved travelling for as long as I can remember. I did a lot of travelling with my family when I was a kid. The one trip I vividly remember is that one time I went with my mother and my late grandmother to London when I was nine. It was one of the best trips I have ever been on and I will never forget it.
So do you still get itchy feet when you stay in one place for too long?
Oh yes! I do a lot of travelling. My mother always tells me that she gets the feeling I only work so I can spend the money I make on travelling.
Where do you usually like to travel to?
It depends on how I feel at that point in time. Usually anywhere with a beach but I’m also totally in love with Rome. Even though there’s no beach there I still love to visit a lot because of their culture, their art, the great museums. I love how they respect women. It’s just a really cool place where you can enjoy the history, go partying if you want, it just has everything. I also love Barcelona a lot. You can say that I love Europe in general. We have a lot of beautiful places in Egypt as well. I love Gouna, Sinai, and the Oases.
Do you ever get recognised in Europe?
Actually Europe is full of Arabs, you’d be surprised at the number of Arabs I come across. So yeah I do get recognised quite often.
Does it bother you?
Who’d be ever bothered by love? It’s a blessing that people love me and want to take pictures with me. Sometimes if someone crosses the line, yeah it gets upsetting. Fortunately though the people I’ve been meeting so far have been really nice and even if I couldn’t take pictures with them at the time they were still very nice and understanding. So I appreciate it all a lot.
Where do you like to go in the Middle East?
I love Beirut and I visit it a lot because I have a lot of friends who live there. I love that it’s an Arab country yet it has its own culture. I also love Dubai.
Who is your favourite travel buddy?
Myself. I really like travelling alone. I do travel with my friends a lot but if no one is free to travel I don’t mind going on my own.
Which countries do you really want to visit but haven’t been able to yet?
I have never been to the Far East before so I’d definitely love to go there at some point.
Which one trip would you do all over again?
My trip to Germany. I went there to detox and it helped me quit smoking. It was in a city called Überlinger.
Where would you like to go on your honeymoon?
Somewhere romantic like Bali or the Maldives.
If you had to live in one country forever, which would it be?
It’s unlikely for me to leave Egypt but if I do I think I’d choose to live in Barcelona.
What about the worst places you’ve been?
I don’t want to say because it was an Arab country. But what I can say is it was very hot there all the time and I just couldn’t enjoy myself. I believe that cities have souls and you either love them or you don’t.
What is your favourite international cuisine?
French, I love French food. I spent seven months in Paris once which is the longest I’ve ever stayed anywhere outside Egypt, so I really got to experience and enjoy the French cuisine. I especially love their desserts.
What are your favourite dining spots outside of Egypt?
Le Relais de l’Entrecote in Paris; a must-visit.
What is your favourite fashion destination?
What’s your travelling style?
It depends on where I am heading and whether I am going for business or pleasure. Generally I like wearing comfortable clothes, something casual, and nice.
What are your ‘must-have’ travel accessories?
I don’t like to overdo it when it comes to accessories. I usually like to take one nice diamond necklace that could go with anything, two rings that I always wear and a nice pair of earrings.
So with all your jet-setting over the years, have you learned to pack light?
Not really, no. I just like to be on the safe side all the time so I just end up taking everything. If I do have some extra time for packing before the trip, I become a bit more selective, but if not, I just take everything I might need.
What are your packing tips?
Just be organised. Know your schedule and try to prepare your outfits ahead. Like if you know you have a meeting have an outfit ready for it. If you know you will be going to the gym, get your gym clothes together and so on.
What about general travel tips?
Watch out for your things. In Europe specifically, it’s not as safe as it is in the Middle East. If you drop something in the street there, no one will tell you to watch out, you will just lose it forever. So always keep your bag and phone where you can see them the entire time.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what three things would you want with you?
I have a Qu’ran that someone gave to me. It has a nice story behind it… one time I was stopping at a traffic light in Maadi and a truck driver said hi to me then gave it to me and said “may God bless you”. It was the best gift I ever got because he gave me the thing he blesses his car with, so it felt real and I loved it. Once I went on a trip without it and it was horrible so I have been taking it with me ever since. I’d also take a good book or painting equipment and my iPod.
What three words best describe you?
Extremist, spontaneous, and passionate.
What are your most treasured qualities?
I feel for people.
What would you like to change most about yourself?
I am a very nervous person so I’d like to become calmer.
What qualities do you dislike in people?
Being fake. I respect people who are real, who are true to themselves and others. I do feel sorry for those who feel they have to pretend they are someone else so people can like them, but I don’t respect them.
What is the book that has had the greatest impact on you?
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.
What would the title of your biography be?
How I Became Myself.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To have faith in God and to trust myself. I also learned that the key to a happy life is to accept your destiny, accept people with their flaws, and to embrace life the way it is.
What is your biggest regret?
The fact that I regretted some of the things I have done. I hate that feeling of regret.
What keeps you up at night?
If I was unfair to someone during the day or if I unintentionally hurt someone, and of course if I have a bad acting day.
What makes you laugh?
I laugh a lot. I laugh when I am happy, when people around me are happy, when I hear a funny joke or see a baby laughing.
What is your proudest moment?
I am proud of myself all the time. I was exceptionally proud though when I heard them calling my name at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie Ba’ad Al Mawke’a (After the Battle) in 2012, the film was competing for the Palm d’Or then.
ART DIRECTION & STYLING: Maissa Azab
SHOT ON LOCATION: Royal Mohamed Aly Club
PHOTOGRAPHY: Khaled Fadda