Two Glittering Starlets on the Rise
Amina Khalil & Sarah Shahin
By Shorouk Abbas & Francesca Sullivan
Twelve years ago, director Hany Khalifa brought us Sahar El Layali, a hit movie that moved and inspired a generation. Now it seems he has done it again; his new hit Sukkar Mor (Sour Sugar) has been filling cinema halls since its release during the Eid holiday. Once again, the film’s success proves that the formula of an ensemble cast exploring the intricate web and tangle of relationships is a winning one. The film is also a testament to Khalifa’s special gift of coaxing the best out of his actors. Cairo East Magazine met with Amina Khalil and Sarah Shahin, two of the stars of Sukkar Mor, to find out more about life on the set, and their paths into the world of Egyptian cinema.
CEM: Amina, how did you get your role in Sukkar Mor?
AK: This is the second time I have worked with Hany Khalifa. I previously worked with him on the production of a series called Mosalsal El Gamaa. I had also worked with the scriptwriter Mohamed Abdel Moaty before. They both know me well, so when they approached me I couldn’t say no. When Hany Khalifa approaches you, you feel lucky.
How did you prepare for the role?
It was actually very difficult to prepare for this role. She is so different from my character and from anybody I know. I had no reference for her emotions. I needed to study her history to understand her emotions. This where Hany Khalifa had many sessions to build her back-story for me to understand the character in depth. I also worked a lot with co-star Nabil Eissa to be able to portray a relationship where we are both comfortable with each other.
Apart from having a talented young cast, what do you think created such interest in Sukkar Mor?
Each person is going to interpret this movie in a different way. You can come out of it thinking it’s depressing, realistic, or it can give you hope. It actually mirrors life. It took me a few times of watching it to come up with my conclusion, which is to take life lightly. But there is a fine line between taking life lightly and being heartless.
What’s a memorable incident during filming?
The scene when I was getting my divorce. Nazly, my character, is supposed to be ending a phase in her life knowing exactly that this is what she wanted. It was a truthful Nazly moment, who is strong and knows exactly what she was doing. Suddenly during the shoot I started crying. I couldn’t control myself. I wasn’t supposed to. Hany Khalifa the director didn’t want her to seem weak.
Tell us about your experience working with Hany Khalifa.
He is very different from any other director I have worked with. He has a school of his own. It’s a very complicated way of working. He puts in so much effort so it comes out seeming effortless. It’s very draining emotionally and physically. He keeps repeating the scene and giving directions until he gets that effortless take.
What are you working on now?
A movie called Khanet El Yak, directed by Amir Ramsis. Some of the cast members of Sukkar Mor are in it as well, like Nabil Eissa and Omar El Sayed.
Quick Fire Round
Your morning routine:
I let the sunshine in, drink a huge cup of coffee and watch the news.
Last book you’ve read:
Forty Rules of Love.
Arabic: Betwaqeet Al Qahira starring Nour El Sherif and Mirvat Amin directed by Amir Ramsis. Also The Theory of Everything.
Kite surfing. I go to Ras Sidr once a week.
I am also a singer and a songwriter. I prefer acoustic and Indi.
Couldn’t live without:
Molokheya and rice.
Favourite holiday destination:
I have so many but if had to pick one it would be Beirut. It’s always fun and they have great food.
CEM: Sarah, What attracted you to Sukkar Mor?
SS: To begin with, I loved Sahar Layali. I was impressed at the time by its modern approach to relationships; it seemed fresh and authentic. So of course the chance to be involved in the new Hany Khalifa feature – not as viewer but an actor – was irresistible. And then when I received the script for Sukkar Mor, by Mohamed Abdel Moaty it was a real page turner. It is very honest about the dichotomy and complexity of male and female connections.
How did you get the part?
This is only my third feature film, but Mohamed Abdel Moaty had watched my debut performance in El Hafla, which was shot in 2013, and thought I could be right for one of the characters, so he suggested me to Hany Khalifa.
How would you describe the film from your own viewpoint?
Well it’s a story about love, but from different aspects. How we fall in love for the wrong reasons, take things for granted, live a lie within a relationship for the sake of our ambitions, sometimes get hurt and betrayed by the people we love the most. And there are specific things that I could relate to, such as losing a parent.
Tell us about working with Hany Khalifa?
Some directors don’t take as much trouble with the actors. They will take you into a scene and leave you there to get on with it; there isn’t always a rapport. Hany knows what he wants and how to get it out of each individual actor. I have never taken acting lessons or drama courses, I have just learned by watching and being directed, so for me he has really taught me a lot about the acting process.
I began my career as a model, which in many ways was very helpful because it made me very comfortable in front of the camera, and open to experimenting. But in modelling you are not necessarily projecting real emotions. Hany helped me to move from pretending to show emotion to showing real emotion, pinpointing flaws scene by scene and getting me to repeat them. He makes you confident before ‘undressing’ you on set, and enables you to focus and disconnect from the fact that there is a whole crew out there watching your scene. I think it is this intuitive ability to bring out the feeling and emotion he needs that makes his films not only believable, but memorable for a long time afterwards.
What were the stand-out moments for you on the set of Sukkar Mor?
The first day of shooting stands out because we were thrown in at the deep end with some really tough scenes. For instance, the scene where I discover my husband has been cheating on me, and the fight I have with him before I divorce him. It was very intense! After that beginning, it was actually quite hard to keep up the momentum and depth as time went on.
The atmosphere on the set was great though because most of the cast knew each other socially as well as through work. So it was a bit like making a movie with a bunch of friends. Rehearsing was fun, but the actual shooting hours were very difficult, with long days and the usual delays. Nine to five never means nine to five in the movie business!
What do you enjoy the most about acting?
I’ve never felt freer in my life than when I’m acting. In other areas I’ve always felt there was something missing; on a film set I’m content and complete. Maybe that’s because it’s a great escape from reality – something that’s necessary to survive! We all have one life with many dreams. In cinema you can get past this restriction and fulfil many dreams in a short time.
How do you prepare for a role?
First, I dissect each scene in the script, unleash a process of imagination –often by falling asleep while reading it and allowing it to play out in my subconscious. Then, I explore with the director and rehearse with other actors whenever possible, getting together to do readings and so on. Then – I put on the outfits and start to feel the character!
What advice would you give to young people wanting to get into the cinema industry?
Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen; go and knock on doors, get involved, try to get hands on experience in the cinema business in whatever field you’re interested in. I trained in interior design, and the second feature I was in called El Ott, last year – was an independent art-house film, in which I also got involved in the production side. I’d just done El Hafla, and I was really interested in understanding the industry, to know the belly of the beast. It helped my understanding of acting too, to learn how everything must work in sync. I enjoyed it so much that I am now working with the same production company, ZAD, in the field of colour correction. It’s all a learning process.
What is your dream role?
To be in a historical drama – preferably something Pharaonic. As a child I was marked and inspired by Youssef Chahine’s Salah el Din. I would love to completely escape into another reality!
What’s the last book you read?
The Power of Now by Eckharte Tolle.
The last film you watched?
Coffee or tea?
Do you have a hobby?
It used to be painting, but now I’ve incorporated my love of art and design into my work.
What’s your favourite meal?
Interrupting people while they are speaking.
Favourite type of music?
Alternative, funk, soul, classical Egyptian, Cuban, African – anything but pop.
Best holiday destination?
Barcelona or New Orleans.
Nutella – I can eat a whole jar in one go.