Last time we interviewed Nelly Karim, she was shooting the television series Zaat, which is now considered one of the most important series in the history of Arab drama. We didn’t realise at the time what an important turning point this would be in Karim’s career. Since the huge success of Zaat, Karim has been part of one popular drama after another from Segn El Nessa (Women’s Prison) to Al Feel Al Azrak (The Blue Elephant).
She is no longer the dancer-turned-actress Nelly Karim, she is the number one leading lady in Egyptian drama. And her latest series, Segn El Nessa only confirmed that. It topped viewership ratings and it was the most trending topic on social media during Ramadan. Now as she stars in this summer’s biggest blockbuster Al Feel Al Azrak and as she prepares to be a judge in the Arabic version of the talent show So You Think You Can Dance we catch up with Karim to talk about her rise to stardom…
It seems that TV is getting all the attention now, based on your successful experience why do you think that is?
I don’t choose to do a film or a series per se, I just choose a good role wherever it is. Generally I think drama has been getting better and offering more to the viewer. Zaat and Segn El Nessa took drama to a new level and made the competition much more intense. When you look at it, Segn El Nessa is more like a long movie than a television series.
How do you feel about the feedback for Segn El Nessa?
I am just speechless, I keep bumping into people who tell me how much they loved the show and it makes me literally speechless. I didn’t expect it to be this big or to get such fantastic feedback. But we worked very hard and the character of Ghalya was very stressful to play so I am just grateful it all paid off.
This is your fourth time working with an all-female cast; do you prefer working with women?
Yes, it’s a very safe environment. And when it comes to director Kamla Abu Zekry, scriptwriter Mariam Naom and director of photography Nancy Abdel Fatah, they are my family. We worked together several times, and we really understand each other.
You seem to get along really well with director Kamla Abu Zekry…
Just like there are star actors, there are star directors. Kamla is a star, she creates stars. I really think she is more of a star than any of us actors. She is very talented as a director and she cares a lot about her actors being true in their representation of the character. I learnt a lot from her. She taught me how to choose a good script and how to deal with the character. It’s an inspiration for anyone to work with her because everybody really respects her. She also believed in me and gave me Zaat when everyone else was very skeptical about it. But I did it and it was a success. Then she gave me Segn El Nessa, again people were skeptical and again it was a success. So I know if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Recently it seems that everything you do turns out to be an instant success, how do you choose your roles?
Well I try to choose the best of what’s being offered to me. I try to find a character that I can empathise with, that I can feel for and I try to find similar examples in real life to watch and study. I feel that I have finally realised what I am really good at. Now I know the right roles to play. I know that if I believe in the character I will be able to play it better. Also I believe in the team because when you work with a team that you really trust and where everybody is being very professional and are doing their best, it really helps. I know Abu Zekry won’t let me get away with any mistake so I make more effort to be perfect.
Aren’t you afraid of the huge success of Segn El Nessa and Al Feel Al Azrak? How do you plan on following two great projects such as those?
I am terrified. We all are. We are now on an entirely new level of success. I meet people from all walks of life and they tell me how they loved the series and how they have been following it. And that means we have reached every house and every class, which is amazing, crazy, and really really scary. Same goes for the film which is getting amazing feedback from audiences and critics alike so I am very afraid indeed. I just hope my next project will be as successful.
What about So You Think You Can Dance?
I am so excited about that. It’s new to the region and it’s not as commercial as other talent shows. It takes me back to dancing which is one of my favourite things to do. We get to choose talents from all over the region and it’s a lot of fun.
What are your most treasured qualities?
I don’t let things upset me. I accept whatever happens with faith.
What about yourself would you most like to change?
I don’t forgive easily.
What qualities do you dislike in people?
What do you find attractive in a man?
Being a real man.
Who are your real-life heroes?
What would the title of your biography be?
It’s Tough to Be a Woman.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Nothing is impossible.
What is your biggest regret?
Falling into depression every now and then.
What keeps you up at night?
If my kids are sick.
What is your proudest moment?
Every time I am surrounded by my family.