Jordanian beauty Saba Mubarak has caught the attention of viewers all over the Arab world with her scene-stealing roles in TV series, such as Sharbat Louz, Hekayat Banat (Girls’ Tales), Asia, Al Ahd (The Oath) and Afrah Al Quba (The Dome Weddings). The actress has also established a respectable film career, most recently starring in the critically acclaimed film, The Guest: Aleppo to Istanbul. In addition to that, the rising star assumed the role of producer, establishing Pan East Media, a media production company in Jordan. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham caught up with Mubarak to hear all about her story and her future plans.
For family reasons, Saba Mubarak grew up moving from one country to another. She was born in Riyadh, lived in Egypt for a while, then lived in her country of origin, Jordan, and later moved to the UAE. “I was exposed to so many cultures. There was a big diversity in the things I grew up seeing and in the types of people I lived with, which greatly influenced my personality,” states Mubarak.
Her career started when she was studying at university and a director was selecting students from the university for a play and he asked her to audition. Mubarak’s major was not acting, but somehow she ended up auditioning for the role and she got the role, and before she knew it, she was touring the world with the play. “I won many awards for the role, and it kick-started my career. That made me feel that it was meant to be, that I should switch to studying acting and all. I talked to my mother and she was very supportive, but she had one condition, that I complete my certificate in my original major, so that’s what I did. While studying, I started playing my first role as a professional actress,” the star recalls.
“I didn’t choose acting; I think it chose me. Somehow, I just found myself more confident and expressive. Every person has a creative side in their personality, but everyone develops different tools to express this creativity. When I started acting, I honestly didn’t think that I would go on, but somehow, it was some sort of a therapy for me. I got attached to acting and it became an obsession. When I ask myself today, if I wasn’t an actress what else would I be, I honestly don’t know,” Mubarak says.
“I still don’t feel that I made it to where I can be,” she says, “but I sort of had an epiphany when I started to become recognised. I was playing my first professional role in a TV series that aired in Ramadan. Coincidentally, the series was being aired on 13 satellite channels. We were still shooting during Ramadan in a faraway village, so by the time I went back to the hotel, I would miss seeing it on any channel. When I was returning from that shooting location and suddenly found people in the street pointing at me and running to take pictures with me, I was shocked and it was so overwhelming for me,” Mubarak recalls.
Although Mubarak is now a household name, with several credits under her belt, such as Sharbat Louz, Hekayat Banat (Girls’ Tales), Naseem Al Rouh (Soul’s Breeze), Moga Harra (Heat Wave), Asia, Al Ahd (The Oath) and Afrah Al Quba (The Dome Weddings), and her most recent critically acclaimed film, The Guest: Aleppo to Istanbul, the star admits that there are moments when she doubts herself. “I don’t doubt my abilities and I don’t doubt who I am, where I come from and how I try to be solid on the inside, but sometimes you doubt that you can achieve a certain thing; you doubt that you did it the right way; you doubt your expectations about yourself and what people expect of you, when you keep thinking that you don’t want to disappoint. I learned that you’re allowed to doubt yourself, but you’re not allowed to put yourself down or hold yourself back from trying, and honestly no one moves forward without taking risks. I’d rather regret what I made than regret what I didn’t make. However, I think doubting yourself is a side that you can employ very positively in rearranging your life. You can feel it when you’re not following the direction you want, so you stop and take a turn and decide all over again,” explains Mubarak.
However, self-doubt was not her biggest challenge, Mubarak explains. “The biggest challenge I face in my career is principally stereotyping. There is a general tendency, not only in the film industry but also in our society, to stereotype women, to treat women as an accessory; you’re always the wife, the daughter, the sister of someone; you’re not an individual. I think it’s safe to say that things are changing now, but it’s something that is going to remain a struggle. It will accompany us as women until we show that we are equal to men, should be treated the same as men, should be paid the same and so on,” Mubarak declares.
“My other challenge is making choices. You have to decide what to do, what not to do, and how to capitalise on your success without playing the same roles over and over again,” says Mubarak. “In addition to that, though it may seem shallow to some people, you also have to deal with cyber bullying; you have people who think they know you, and think they have the right, not only to say their opinions or criticise you, but even to bully you. I think we should fight to change things like that,” states Mubarak.
Although Mubarak has quite the résumé when it comes to her acting history, the star is not able to choose a favourite role. “My favourite is always the role that I’m currently playing, because I become just like an excited baby, exploring something. This is the thing that makes you love the characters you play,” Mubarak explains. While she might not have a favourite, however, she does remember her most challenging role to date. “I think my most challenging role was Jamila in Afrah El Quba, directed by Mohamed Yassin. It was very demanding and very draining, emotionally, physically and mentally. It wasn’t easy at all to play this character. At the same time, we’re talking here about a drama that is set in different eras of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s at the same time. This character doesn’t only go through changes related to age, but also big physiological changes, and it is seen from more than one point of view. And the drama itself is complicated. The Afrah El Quba novel is one of the most artistic, in terms of construction, by the great author Naguib Mahfouz.”
While most actors would say that they detach their own character from the role they play, and fully become the character role, Mubarak has a different approach. “I respect this direction and school, but I believe there is no way you can detach yourself from the characters you play. The common thing between all of my roles is basically me. For me, whether the character comes from a desert, city or palace, whether it is modern, historical, evil, good, beautiful or ugly, I always try to find a thread that connects me with it, so that I can adopt its point of view, to defend her. If you judge your characters, you won’t be able to play them faithfully, and make other people believe them. I’m happy that there is a great diversity and variety in the roles I’ve played, which made it even more difficult for me,” Mubarak admits.
Mubarak explains that balancing a successful career as an actress and producer, running Pan East Media, her media production company with a personal life as a mother, can have its difficulties. “If you juggle too many things at the same time, it can always backfire. However, what keeps you going is that when you love your career, it becomes a part of you. This is how you start finding a way to make it work. At the same time, you have to set your priorities straight. For instance, as a working mum, I cannot accept the idea of not witnessing every detail of my son growing up, and tracking the changes in his personality step by step. It’s hard, but it’s also pure joy when you face more challenges and you discover that you have no limits in adapting,” the actress professes.
Mubarak goes on to explain her routines. “I don’t have normal days. There are two extremes. On the one hand, if I’m not working, I’m at home, basically doing nothing. I attend social occasions, hang out with some old friends that I haven’t seen for a long time. On the other hand, on a typical shooting day, I wake up at 4 am and go home at 4 pm. I can work for 20 hours straight if it’s a Ramadan TV series. There was a time when I didn’t sleep for 48 hours. Being an actress and a producer at the same time is quite a challenge, but I enjoy every second of it,” Mubarak admits.
The star credits her success to the support she gets and to her own dedication. “My sister, my son, and my close friends make it easier for me with their love and with their understanding of my constantly busy schedule. At the same time, as a perfectionist, giving up is not an option for me. I’m always keen on being a good role model to those who look up to me. This is what encourages me to do better in my career,” she says, adding, “My dreams have no limits. I dream of having a very simple day. I dream of achieving some short-term goals, like being able to steadily hit the gym, as well as long-term dreams, such as helping out in my community, fighting hunger and poverty, and helping out children in need. I dream of making my country and family proud. I think if your dreams become your goals, they can be achievable.”
Mubarak has several upcoming projects, but her main focus is currently on her impending Ramadan TV series, Tayea’, in which she co-stars next to Egyptian star Amr Youssef. The much anticipated suspense drama is showing a lot of promise, being directed and written by such heavyweights as Amr Salama and Mohamed Diab. “It’s a pretty big project and everyone in the team is doing the best they can to make it a success. Everyone believes in it, which is creating these positive vibes and this amazing spirit,” Mubarak concludes.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
Who is your greatest role model?
How do you start your day?
With a big pot of coffee.
What would you like to change about yourself?
Being obsessively detail-oriented.
What’s your favourite place to hang out?
Home, definitely! I’m a home person.
When you’re not working, what’s one thing you like to do?
Spending time with family.
What is the favourite part of your job?
The pay off (which is the moment when you see all the preparation, reading, research come together resulting into a good acting scene.)
What is your hidden talent?
I’m a very good artist. I’m skilled in drawing.
What is your favorite fashion trend?
I’m in love with everything that is grunge or has to do with the vintage style of 90s fashion. However, I have this tendency to be minimalistic. Lately, I’ve been trying out new things, taking risks in fashion. It’s better to take from it what suits you and always stick to what you love.
What advice would you give to people who are starting in this career?
Take it easy and don’t be afraid. You also need to work hard, don’t think that you can depend on your talent alone. You need to hone it with experience and nurture it constantly.
Art Direction & Styling by Maissa Azab
Photography by Khaled Fadda