Menna Shalaby started acting two decades ago as a teenager, playing supporting roles opposite some of the biggest legends in the movie industry, like Kamal El Shenawy, Mahmoud Abdelaziz, Yehya El Fakharany, Yousra and Laila Eloui. Today, she is one of the top leading ladies in her generation of young actors, having starred in a number of iconic films and TV series. Her leading roles include the recent blockbuster, Torab El Mas (Diamond Dust), as well as earlier memorable films, like El Asleyeen (The Originals), Heya Fawda (Chaos), Banat West El Balad (Downtown Girls), Ahla El Awaat (Best of Times), among many others. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham had the chance to sit down with the accomplished star to learn all about her impressive journey in the industry, as well as her idea of a successful relationship and a compatible partner.

Menna Shalaby was definitely not what I expected her to be. I have to admit I didn’t recognise the actress when she first arrived to the set of the shoot. She walked in without makeup, wearing big sunglasses, simple overalls with a white T-shirt underneath; she was all smiles with a bubbly energy. Unlike some other prominent stars who often take themselves very seriously, Shalaby is the complete opposite. She was quickly cracking jokes and feeling completely at ease with the shoot’s crew. It was obvious that she felt comfortable in her own skin and didn’t feel the need to fake or pretend. It was very refreshing to see a celebrity being so… herself!

After having her hair and makeup done, and as we neared the time for her first shot in front of the camera, surprisingly, Shalaby seemed to be getting slightly nervous. It was so unexpected to see a movie star seeming somewhat camera shy and looking rather flustered. “I just need a moment. Give me a minute,” she repeated more than once. And sure enough, a minute was all the seasoned actress needed to feel at ease, and to ace the entire photoshoot. Shalaby quickly reverted to her super confident, playful self and went on to captivate everyone around her. Taking the shoot to a whole other level, she tirelessly posed for the camera without being distracted by the crew, whose eyes, naturally, were all on her. 

After the shoot, which was pretty exhausting, Shalaby was pleasant and forthcoming as we chatted about the pleasures and challenges of being a famous actress. The subject of being a public figure, and the stress that accompanies it, came up early in the conversation.  “Being famous means you have to be more responsible; you have to watch your every move and every word. It can be a burden at times, but I believe you can create your own personal space, and people have to respect that,” she notes.

As a performer, Shalaby says she draws inspiration from her surroundings and finds beauty in everything around her. “I get good vibes from anything that has beauty in it, like meeting nice people with positive energies, being surrounded by greenery or even seeing a clear sky on a beautiful day,” she explains.

Delightfully modest despite her fame and success, she seems to take the impressive acting creditials currently under her belt, in her stride. Despite her numerous accomplishments, she doesn’t feel that she has reached a milestone quite yet. “I’m proud of what where I’m at, of course, but I still haven’t experienced the many things I want to explore, and haven’t done many projects that I want to do,” she says. “Nevertheless, to be honest, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved at a young age. I’m also happy that, with the variety of roles I’ve played, fans remember my different characters, not just one of them,” she admits. “Some people walk up to me, and talk about my recent TV series, Haret El Yahoud (The Jewish Quarter) and Wahet El Ghoroub (Sunset Oasis), while others still remember me in the 2002 series, Ayna Kalby (Where’s my Heart) with Yousra. Then there are those who love some of my movies, like Wahed Men El Nas (One of the People) or An El Eshk Wa El Hawa (Of Love & Passion). However, most of the recognition I get from the general public is for my mainstream films, such as Keda Reda (This is Reda) and Asef Ala El Ezaag (Sorry for the Disturbance), and recently, Torab El Mas,” she adds.

“I try as much as I can to not repeat myself in the roles I play or in the films and TV series I take part in. I like to take on a variety of genres. So, when I go a little dark in my roles, I return to comedy afterwards. In general, I care about the quality of the projects I do, rather than on simply making sure I have a job. I’d prefer to stay a year without work than do a film or a series that I’m not convinced of,” says Shalaby. “What I care most about, is that the character has believable human qualities. Whether that character is good or bad, or makes mistakes or not, is not important. I want to take part in something that I believe in, that I can muster the ability to like,” she says.

Recently, Shalaby seems to have shifted her focus towards critically acclaimed indie films, rather than big blockbuster productions. She insists, however, that it was never intended as part of a plan. “Somehow, I was offered these amazing roles that I would never turn down, with filmmakers who believe in their work, like Nawara for example. It was a complete coincidence that I was offered several important roles, one after the other, in independent films. It was never a stance against the mainstream entertainment industry or anything like that on my part,” she affirms.

“In general, I’ve been very lucky with my roles. I love my girls, so very much. I love Sara in Torab El Mas, Thoraya in El Asleyeen, Katherine in Wahet El Ghoroub and Nawara. I love most of my characters,” Shalaby exclaims. “Katherine in Wahet El Ghoroub was a bit of a mad challenge for me. Having to speak with an Irish accent and working with the great director, Kamla Abu Zekry, meant there definitely was pressure to deliver, but it was worth it in the end,” she recalls.

Shalaby is not one to let self-doubt take over. Instead, she looks for signs to reassure her that she’s on the right path. “You know you’re on the right track when your film goes to a festival, when you receive an award or when you’re chosen to be part of a big festival’s jury. Being a jury member is actually one of the biggest privileges this job can offer. Getting the chance to watch films from around the world, to observe, learn, give your opinion and feel that your voice is heard, is very valuable,” she explains. “Then, there are the small things, like the way people interact with you as an actor and their response to your work. I remember one time, this girl walked up to me as I was sitting with an associate from the Irish Consulate, and she wrote a note on a napkin, saying that she loves me and signed it with her name, ‘Julia.’ I have kept this napkin to this day. It’s these moments that make you feel appreciated and loved. It pushes you to move forward, work harder and do better,” she adds.   

Though Shalaby is not ruling out love or marriage in the future, her first priority at the moment is her work. When discussing what she would look for in a man, she admits that her idea of the ‘perfect man’ has changed drastically as she’s grown and matured. “I used to think that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect man.’ It’s normal for a girl to be a dreamer, of course. In reality, however, some qualities in men are good and some are unacceptable, but at the end of the day, it is not a mathematical equation. I just don’t believe in perfection. It’s against the laws of the universe; nobody is complete and no one is incomplete. I think some people with different qualities can mesh and bond, while some can’t,” she states firmly.

As the interview comes to an end, Shalaby notes that she has to wake up early the next day to start filming her new movie, Khayal Maata (Scarecrow), directed by Khaled Mariey. It is her third film opposite actor Ahmed Helmy. “It is a comedy that deals with a universal human subject. I’m studying my lines now for tomorrow and I cannot wait!” she exclaims with excitement.

Shalaby clearly delves into her roles with much enthusiasm. Every new project is another adventure to her, and she doesn’t feel she’s anywhere near done. Before rushing off to get a good night’s sleep, she concludes, “I have a lot of dreams that I still want to achieve. I’ve done comedy, thrillers and drama, but I haven’t had the chance to do an action film yet. While I don’t know what my ultimate dream is, my dream now is for my upcoming film, Khayal Maata, to be a success!”

eniGma Questionnaire:

Who is your dream dinner guest?

The Dalai Lama.

Who is your greatest role model?

Meryl Streep.

Where is your favourite place to hang out?

A place that I want to keep secret (laughs).

When you’re not working, what is one thing that you like to do?

I like taking care of my family.

What is your worst habit?

Smoking.

What is your best attribute?

Understanding.

What is your favourite part of your job?

Imagination and creativity.

Do you prefer drama or comedy?

Both, because comedy is another genre of drama.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

I would be a therapist, a painter or a stylist.

 

Art Direction: Aisha Youssef

Styling: Marwa Mehanna

Photography: Amina Zaher

Location: Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at The First Residence

Makeup by Kiki Beauté Boutique

Hair by Ashour

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