By Shorouk Abbas
Egypt has every reason to feel proud of its recent stockpile of awards at the Dubai International Film Festival. A lot of credit must go to Menna Shalaby, for her moving and incredibly authentic portrayal of a house-maid in Nawara. Cairo East Magazine caught up with her to learn more about the role, her life, and what she has in the pipeline.
CEM: Tell us about when Nawara first came into your life?
MS: I accepted the role the minute I read the script. When Hala Khalil sent me the script, I started reading it and could not put it down until I finished it. I knew then that this was the perfect role for me. This always happens when the script is good. I know it the minute I finish reading it and it’s usually read in one shot. Although it was a bit scary as the whole story is told through my character. I felt the responsibility of delivering the message Hala wanted to convey.
What are your thoughts on your character’s personality, her strengths and weaknesses? What do you admire about her?
Nawara is a person who is content and has inner peace, no matter what the circumstances are. She is a housemaid who could have chosen to take advantage of the house when the owners left. She chose to remain loyal and honest. She chose to be a giving person and help everybody around her, although she was in need of help herself. She always wore a smile showing everything is ok. I admire her loyalty and selflessness. She found her strength through helping others. She is a unique person, I felt there are many people around us just like her but we never notice them.
Can you talk about some of the challenges in filming? Are there any behind-the-scenes anecdotes you can share?
This role was physically tiring! Nawara is moving all the time. She is doing housework, laundry and errands until she falls asleep. She never sits down. It made me realize what a tough job our staff at home has. Another incident was when she was almost bitten by a dog. This was a tough scene too.
Any personal ambitions yet unattained? Directing? Producing? Writing?
I dream of directing documentaries. I am not ready for that yet, but this is on my list. I want to do a film about the crew working behind the scenes in the movie industry. They are a big factor in the success of any movie. We owe them a tribute. I would love to do a documentary about the history of belly dancing. It is a great art and unfortunately our culture has made it seem poor.
“I learned a lot of good things from Nawara. Multi-tasking is one of them.”
Are there any new projects you’re working on that you can talk about?
I am shooting a movie now called Al Wagh Al Hassan directed by Youssry Nasrallah. Actually, this one is also physically challenging. I had to be in the water in this freezing weather! I got to know how people actually die because of hypothermia.
Looking back on your journey so far, what have been the challenges, triumphs, and lessons learned?
I learn a lot from each character. As a matter of fact, Nawara taught me multi-tasking. One of the challenges I find is that I go through these phases in my life when I am not motivated at all. Because of Nawara, I am on a roll, knowing I can accomplish many tasks just like her. In general, I learnt that one should work even when you feel down. You should not stop functioning. Sometimes dealing with negative emotions gives you great insight. Fear is a poison. So is anger and self- criticism. Be stronger than your negative thoughts. Don’t give them power over you.
With Valentine’s coming up, what is your idea of a romantic evening?
Movie night and dinner. An ideal place would be in a rooftop restaurant in Rome.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
Flowers. I just received some when I won the award in Dubai Film Festival
What is your beauty secret?
I like taking care of my skin. Every morning and evening I use a scrub, rose water, serum then moisturizer.
What are your favorite book and movie? Or the most recent book you read and film you watched?
Book: Wahet El Ghoroub by Bahaa Taher
Movie: The Holiday starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Jude Law