She’s everyone’s favourite funny girl. But, as Enigma’s Hassan Hassan discovered during a recent rendezvous at her summer home in Hacienda, Yasmine Abdel Aziz has some serious issues to contend with. He didn’t quite get the interview he was hoping for but Fashion Director Maissa Azab had better luck, swathing the silver-screen star in some of summer’s hottest Oriental Fusion frocks. Read on for all the gossip and log on to Enigma TV at www.enigma-mag.com to check out all the behind-the-scenes action from the shoot…
I hate travelling in cars; in fact I kind of hate travelling period. This is why, most weekends, I curl up at home and avoid the mass migration to the North Coast. One fateful weekend this summer – when I needed a tan and Cairo was getting a little bit too much – we trekked down and managed to return in one piece on Sunday morning just as the sun was rising. It completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to be interviewing a famed comedienne that day – back on the North Coast. In a fit of controlled – yet inwardly crazed – professionalism, I prepared myself for the trek back down to Hacienda to spend the day with my first Egyptian celebrity crush.
And I didn’t mind. I’ve actually harboured a crush on Yasmine Abdel Aziz for quite a while. I loved her when I used to visit Cairo for the summers and she was on every Egyptian commercial Tarek Nour made in the ‘90s. I was also very happy when she parlayed it into a major movie career with hit movie after movie. Her latest big screen outing, Al Thalatha Yashtaghalonaha, is a comedic romp into a litany of social issues. She plays three different characters, each with equal gusto and her trademark quips and facial contortions. Funny is a turn-on, so, truth be told, I’m slightly excited. Not even the prospect of a two-hour ride dampens my enthusiasm, especially since I’m armed with People magazine, biscuits and two packs of Marlboro Lights to tide me over.
After three hours, we arrive at Yasmine’s sprawling Hacienda villa, a stone’s throw away from one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. I momentarily forget I’m here to work. Plush gardens, infinity pool, comfy white sofas and a surprisingly sedate interior all complement the view, which is to die for. I get my first glimpse of Yasmine in a long red dress, posing languorously on a pillar. I’m expecting a bubbly, boisterous and beaming woman. Yet I‘m met with a slightly reserved and very freaked-out lady; specifically because the Enigma entourage includes so many people. After all, we were shooting the only comedienne in Egypt and we wanted it done right. We had a camera crew, which she swiftly kicked out. We had makeup and hair people, who she eyed surreptitiously and also tried to kick out. Because Yasmine is not primarily a comedienne and actress. She is first and foremost an Egyptian wife.
The whole reason behind the hoopla in Hacienda is that Yasmine hasn’t appeared in the media since her May 2007 Enigma cover. The Egyptian media is going crazy with rumours about an impending divorce from her husband, Mohamed Halawa. And what is a beleaguered celebrity to do but reach out to Enigma to set the record straight? She was set to appear with her husband on the cover, so our fashion director had a truck load of clothes for him and we were all expectantly awaiting the Omar Sharif to her Barbra Streisand. Alas, it was not written in the cards for us to meet him. He was called away on “urgent business” that morning.
Yasmine smiles at me and cracks a joke immediately. Says hello and we laugh jovially. “Yalla, ya Hassan, get inside, I have to be a supermodel right now.” Here’s my gut instinct – take it for what it’s worth – underneath the funny veneer, there’s something very controlled about her. What is most obvious is that she’s still acting. What you see is most definitely not what you get.
Her daughter, Yasmine (“My husband decided to name her Yasmine after me,” she says with a demure smile) runs up holding a small yapping Chihuahua and proceeds to show me how to strangle it without really strangling it. Yasmine Sr. yells at her, then poses dramatically, flipping her hair around and letting the scenery inspire her. So she’s joking with the photographer, telling her daughter off, joking some more with our fashion director, but she isn’t really saying anything. We go out to the beach and a little girl begins to cackle furiously at the sight of her. It’s funny at first, but it takes a turn for the worse. Standing smack dab in the middle of a bridge in Hacienda, seemingly on top of the world, she is visibly shaken – but only for a split second. Surrounded by a camera crew, photographer and the rest of the entourage, she slips only momentarily. She quickly regains her composure and cracks a joke. The jokes are suddenly nothing more than a cover up, the perfect diversion to a hidden sensitivity. They’re there when she looks at her daughter, there when she suddenly feels threatened by a group of strangers, and even more apparent whenever insecurity rears its ugly head.
When the shoot is over, I run up and ask her where we should set up for the interview. I have, after all, spent the better part of the day in the scorching sun, trapped in the back seat of a car making small talk with a farmer-turned-driver (and yes I had to hear the every excruciating detail of his career change. On the way to and from Hacienda).
Yasmine responds saying, “What? Interview? No, no, no. I can’t, I’ve been up since 10 o’clock. I’m far too tired and my brain has completely closed off.”
Umm, Yasmine, I’ve come all of this way and it would be great to get you in your natural setting. And, um, I’ve come all this way, from Cairo…
“No. I want this to be a very good interview and I’m too tired now. I can’t. Let’s do it over the phone tonight.”
But Yasmine, we like to get these things out of the way and I promise I won’t be too hard on you. And I did come all this way…
“Oh well, at least you got to get out a little.”
I usually do my best to prevent inflicting bodily harm on celebrities – more so than I would on mere mortals at least. So I walk away. I’m honestly not upset; it’s par for the course with my particular career choice (although becoming a farmer with my new BFF, the driver, was becoming very appealing). I’m more confused than anything. After various lengthy bbms to my managing editor, with her demanding I must come back with some semblance of an interview, I rush after Yasmine to the house, (wondering when I would even out that pesky farmer’s tan I had just developed).
So I roll up my sleeves – for both the fight and the farmer’s tan – and ready myself for battle. What ensues is a half hour of head shaking, a few veiled threats on my part and quite a few blatant nos. Sitting on the plush white couches of her house, I admit defeat and call my farmer to pick me up. As I head towards her to bid her adieu, she cocks her head at me and twists her lip – her trademark in so many of her movies – and says, “How rude! You must stay for lunch!”
Days later, having all but given up, Yasmine finally grants us an interview. When I say us, I mean Enigma’s Omnia Zaied. Yasmine wasn’t speaking to me anymore…
The new movie is causing quite the buzz! Can you tell us a bit about it…
Well, I get the chance to showcase different characters in one movie, take on new personalities, accents and lots of different outfits. So it was a lot of fun. I’m also thrilled it did well with the critics as well as at the box office.
You’ve been in the industry for over a decade. Does the new crop of Egyptian starlets ever threaten you?
In our profession, it’s not about how long you have been working, it’s about how talented, charismatic, smart and lucky you are. Sometimes you just get a good role and have your big break and people like you. Other times you work for years before you get noticed.
Lately your movies have been very family-oriented, yet Egyptian cinema is becoming increasingly more daring. Has it been a conscious decision on your part to keep it clean?
Yes! I feel sorry for kids here in Egypt. There aren’t any movies designed for kids – there’s too much swearing and obscenity. I want to do movies that parents can take their kids to. Making people laugh is a message in itself. It’s what I enjoy doing the most. To be a woman doing comedy in Egypt is not easy, and I’m so proud I’ve managed to do that. At the same time, I’m willing to take on all sorts of roles; I’m always up for a challenge. Unfortunately, the recession has badly affected the industry. People are making movies with the sole objective of box-office returns. There’s no integrity or credibility any more. We need to get back to thinking about content. If it’s strong enough, the money will come.
Growing up, did you want to become an actress?
I actually wanted to become an interior designer. After I started doing ads, I got it into my head to become an art director! Even when I landed my first TV series – Imraa Min Zaman Al Hob in 1998 – the whole time I was thinking ‘What am I doing here? I want to go home’. But it kind of grows on you and you start falling in love with it. You start realizing it’s not just about fame, you actually have a message. People do look up to you and you have to rise to that.
Speaking of rising to the occasion – let’s talk about your marriage. You’ve been married for 10 years now. So, with time, does love disappear or does it still conquer all?
Marriage is like a company you build up together with your partner. It’s not just about love, even though that’s essential. There should also be understanding, respect and friendship, because that’s what keeps it going.
It can’t be easy being a working actress and a good Egyptian wife! Surely something has to give…
As a matter of fact, being an actress actually makes it easier. I only do one movie every year, which will take two months at the most, and I get to spend the rest of the year with my family. As for the movie roles themselves, it’s a matter of principle, according to my beliefs and convictions.
What about your daughter? Is she more like you or her father?
She’s got her father’s eyes, everything else is from me. She is only eight years old and she already wants to be in movies with me, but for now I’m not letting her. You’ve got to have talent, charisma and tenacity to succeed in this industry. More importantly, it’s a very exhausting job that can be alienating, isolating and destroy any sense of freedom you might have.
Is this how you feel about fame?
For me, fame is nothing. I act for acting’s sake, not for fame. I do enjoy the fame sometimes but other times it’s just annoying.
Let’s talk a bit about this heat…
I hate summer. I am all about winter and I was born in the winter too.
What was your most memorable summer?
All the summers I used to spend in Agamy back in the day, before I started getting famous. I had all the freedom I wanted.
What are your summer staples…
Leggings and loose dresses. Anything that won’t get me sweaty!
What five words best describe you?
Simple, very honest, nervous, kind hearted… that’s it, I think.
Is there anything about yourself you’d like to change?
I have quite the temper and can be brutally honest. Sometimes people get really offended.
What qualities do you dislike in people?
What do you find attractive in a man?
Being a man in the real sense of the word. A responsible, honest guy who takes care of a woman and makes her feel safe.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
A lot of lessons actually. I love that Egyptian proverb: “You’ll die and you’ll still be learning.”