She is probably this year’s most controversial actress. With her daring roles, Nagla Badr grabbed the attention of both audiences and critics. In this exclusive shoot, Maissa Azab dresses the femme fatale in the season’s latest trends while Omnia Zaied finds out what lies beneath the glitz and glamour of Badr’s life.
I thought I could predict the general direction that my interview with actress Nagla Badr would take. I should have left my expectations at the door. As far as I was concerned I was going to meet Annousa, the latest and most famous character she played on TV in the hit series Hekayet Hayah (The Story of Hayah). The character is that of a playful woman who likes partying, drinking, and cheating on her husband. One that Badr played so well that even her friends now call her Annousa. As I sat at a coffee shop waiting for Badr to arrive, planning for lunch with friends after I was done, I estimated that the interview would take no longer than an hour. Four hours later, I was ordering my third coffee, and engaged in a rather intellectual conversation with Badr about social responsibility, urbanisation, educational systems, nepotism and Ibn Kathir’s interpretation of the Qur’an. Surprised? So was I.
You will never appreciate how good an actress Badr really is until you meet her in person. Badr’s on-screen personas are likened to those played by Hend Rostom, the Egyptian screen’s legendary femme fatale. Badr is not afraid to be sexy, to impersonate a playful wife in Hekayet Hayah, a government minister involved in a sex scandal in Taraf Talet (Third Party) or a particularly evil woman in Reesh Na’am (Ostrich Feathers). They’re all examples she sees in real life and she is happy to take on the challenge of portraying them on the small screen. This made her the go-to actress for controversial roles that a whole generation of Egyptian actresses had been avoiding. That’s what made her roles, no matter how small, all the more interesting and fun to watch.
While we talked I noticed that quite a few people in the coffee shop kept looking our way. Badr seemed to have a certain je ne sais quoi that made her especially noticeable. “Does it bother you that you seem to attract people’s attention?” I ask her, referring to a few people who were staring in her direction. She looks around and says, “you know, for the longest time I refused to believe they’re looking at me out of recognition. I’d always say that maybe they’re just randomly looking in my direction, maybe it’s something I am wearing.” As she explained her self doubts, I realised Badr was not as confident and as fierce as I had assumed. She is really quite modest and sensitive. She cares about other people and actually likes to connect personally with others. On a one-to-one level, she notices what you are wearing, how you are talking and wants to know where you are coming from.
The first thing Badr said to me after we said our hellos was “what’s your star sign?” This threw me off a bit. “I am a Libra. I have some masculine traits,” she retorts as I throw her question back at her. I found it difficult to believe the part about “masculine traits”. But after you listen to her story you’ll probably understand why she says that. “You’re not born a man, you have to become one. Most men you come across nowadays and most men I have been with are only men by anatomy. I am more of a man through my actions, my traits, and how I behave with the people I know and care about,” she says.
If you are Badr’s friend, she will be there for you if you need her. She will listen to your problems, or lend you money when you need it; and if you are a good friend of hers, she will spend a good amount of time talking about you to everyone she meets. This is just who she is. Raised by a military father, she knows the true meaning of responsibility and discipline. Badr’s father, who passed away in 2004, was her hero. He was her supporter, her role model, and her safety net. She mentions him in every conversation; every incident reminds her of one of his anecdotes and she compares every man to him. “See how good looking he was?” she says as she shows me a few of his pictures in her wallet and on her phone. “His death broke me. I am still not over it and I don’t think I will be anytime soon. He was my backbone.”
She talked about him so much that I felt like I knew him personally. It was her father who insisted on calling her Nagla after the famous Egyptian actress Naglaa Fathy. Unlike most traditional Egyptian fathers, he wanted her to be an actress and encouraged her every way he could. “People have the wrong impression about kids raised by military men. They tend to think they are extremely strict. On the contrary, my father was very kind to my sister, my brother, and me. He always encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter where they took me, and to be myself even if that didn’t appeal to a lot of people. He taught me to think for myself, to work hard and to be able to talk to him about anything. In fact it was much easier for me to talk to him than to my mother, God bless her soul,” she says as she tears up a bit.
Badr’s road to fame started with a small part in a series called Al Nawa (The Tempest) in 1991. She was only in high school back then. She then set acting aside for a while to attend the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University. While a student she did her first show with ART which eventually landed her an offer from Oman TV. Her success there secured her an offer at MBC and all of a sudden she was moving to London. “It was at MBC that I learnt what it means to be a TV host. I learnt how to speak, how to breathe, how to dress appropriately and how to produce a good show,” she recalls. Yet London blues got to her and by 2008 she was back in Cairo. “I came back to Egypt with no job offer and no good reason to, but I just couldn’t take London any more. I couldn’t continue to live alone and even though everyone called me stupid for leaving MBC, I felt I couldn’t do it any longer,” she says.
After a few more TV hosting spots, Badr decided to go back to acting around the end of 2010, and soon after, the January 2011 revolution began. It left her jobless for a while but it gave her a good chance to enroll in a few acting workshops. “I was not one of those people who were cheering for the revolution. We needed change but not in the way it was done. It was done in a very haphazard way,” she says. During the revolution, for the first time Badr felt scared. She didn’t feel safe as a girl living alone amidst all the chaos. As a media personality she was disturbed as she watched the media outlets selling lies, terror, and forced opinions to their viewers. She focused her energy on acting and by chance she met actress Reem El Baroudy who recommended her to producer Mamdouh Shahine for a role in Reesh Na’am. “Not really believing I would land the role, I went and met him. He was with director Khairy Beshara and actress Dalia El Behairy. I signed the contract that same day,” she recalls.
And the rest is history. A few minor roles led to her landing the role of the government minister in Taraf Talet in Ramadan 2011. The controversy of the corrupt minister who has a sex scandal forced both viewers and producers to notice her. “The role really stuck with people. For the longest time they kept calling me the minister. Up until they started calling me Annousa, of course!” she laughs.
Hekayet Hayah’s success made Badr aware of what was happening. She was turning into the poster child for sexy, seductive roles. “I personally don’t have a problem with playing them. I like challenging roles that show real human beings who try, make mistakes, and sometimes learn from them and sometimes not. But I just don’t want to limit myself,” she says. Right now she is preparing for Kuloob (Hearts) with director Hussein Shawkat where she plays the opposite of her character in Hekayet Hayah. Badr is also considering some offers for next Ramadan.
Now you may think that the glamorous life of Badr must involve an extraordinary love story with a man who has it all. Wrong again. When it comes to love, Badr’s life is actually full of major disappointments. “I got engaged five times. Each time I thought this was it and each time it didn’t work out,” she says. All the disappointments left her uninterested in starting new relationships. “One of the main reasons I used to get engaged was for my parents who naturally wanted to see me married. Now that they have both passed away, I have decided to focus on my career instead,” she says. It doesn’t seem to be a temporary decision either, “I think I will end up alone at home waiting for my friends to check on me. And I am fine with it really. I just want to age well and remain a good person. No one gets everything in life. Some have families and kids, I am happy with having a good career,” she says.
Unlike most women, her sense of happiness is not centred on finding the right man; rather it is in expanding her knowledge. A love of knowledge fills up the majority of Badr’s life. If she is not working, she is online reading about the most diverse topics you could imagine. “I read about Judaism, Christianity, Islam; I just like to know something about everything. As human beings and as Muslims we are required to read, to know, to understand,” summing up her philosophy.
I was wrong again when I assumed that she would do whatever it takes to become a movie star. “I am not willing to take any jobs in cinema right now. I am sure this phase will pass and till it does I am not interested in compromising. I will never choose quantity over quality,” she says. Badr’s dreams are more social than personal. “Media plays a vital role in people’s lives and those working in it should be aware of that role. I want to establish a learning institution to teach media the right way to those who want to work as TV hosts. Then, it could supply qualified media professionals to TV channels all over the region. This would be great for our young professionals in the field because in this industry if you don’t know someone who knows someone, you’ll never be someone,” she adds.
The Enigma Questionnaire
What five words best describe you?
Stubborn, persistent, a good person, beautiful, and well-mannered.
What are your most treasured qualities?
Respect for others. I always embarrass people with my politeness and respect. Treating people like I would like to be treated always worked for me.
What about yourself would you most like to change?
I would like to stop smoking.
What qualities do you dislike in people?
Dishonesty, and I had to deal with it a lot. I don’t understand why people do that. If you don’t want someone in your life just walk away, why betray them? It makes you lose faith in people. I respect people who are straightforward.
What do you find attractive in a man?
I like elegant men who know how to dress and how to look their best.
Who are your real-life heroes?
My father. He was a great man. He never lied, he never cursed, he never did anything to hurt me or my brothers. All my friends who knew him used to come to him with all their problems.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
That it is very difficult. But I learnt that if you have a dream and you work hard enough, you will achieve it. I hate people who blame society for their own laziness. You have two options in this life, either be somebody or become a nobody. Know your skills, work on them, and you will definitely be somebody. I choose to be somebody.
What is your biggest regret?
My first engagement, I was only 15 back then. It was a turning point in my life.
If you could change one thing about the Middle East what would that be?
I would like us to be united. I want the Middle East to be one big union.
What do you most love about the Middle East?
The beautiful nature.
What keeps you up at night?
Thinking. I am always thinking about what I did all day and what I will do the following day. I am a bit of an insomniac.
What makes you laugh?
I am always laughing. I hate being sad or depressed.
What do you always carry in your handbag?
My little book of verses and prayers, my make-up bag, and my phones.
Which fictional character do you most associate with?
Cinderella, she was so romantic, nice, and full of dreams; and people hurt her because of it.
What is your proudest moment?
Every time I work, I try to do a good job. Recently the success of Annousa made me very happy and proved to me that I am on the right track.
ART DIRECTION & STYLING
SHOT ON LOCATION AT
Make-up: Belal Nagui
Hair: Johny @ Pace e Luce
Junior Assistant: Farrah Marwan
Nagla Badr’s Assistant: Sabah