By Zainab AbdulAziz
Award winning actress, lawyer, mother, WFP Goodwill Ambassador and IWC Ambassador Hend Sabri is known in the business and to her fans as one of the sweetest actors around, with a smile that can disarm even the most hardened of souls. However, the actress is no stranger to a challenge when it comes to her work. Already a fan of the first installment of The Blue Elephant, Sabri read the script for The Blue Elephant 2 and was captivated by the idea of playing a villainous character with deep femininity. We caught up with the actress for a chat about what it took to pull an acting feat like this one off.
CWM: We’re so looking forward to seeing you go to the dark side, what was the experience like playing a wicked character?
I believe most actors love playing “the bad guy” because there are so many possibilities to explore, that’s why The Joker in Batman is always a part that is coveted by so many great actors, because they find themselves and find great pleasure in playing the villain.
CWM: What was the biggest draw for you when you read the script for the first time?
Definitely the fact that it was written for a woman, a choice made by Ahmed Mourad and Marwan Hamed. Usually you don’t see women portrayed this way, and I think audiences will be surprised by the writing of the script and how feminine the character is.
What’s special about this role is the gender specificity of it; there hasn’t been a female villain in Arab cinema in quite some time. It’s time that women get to play a variety of roles, not just the sweet angelic girl or the naïve character.
CWM: When we spoke with Karim AbdelAziz last month, he touched on how grueling the shooting process is like and the toll the intensity of the character takes on an actor, how did you find the experience?
This film required a lot of rehearsals which took weeks, we had to shoot a lot on locations and it could often be quite draining – but after a while you start to reflect on it and hope that the audience will enjoy what you’ve put forward in terms of effort.
I didn’t have many scenes; not as many as Dr. Yehia for example, but each one of them was a massive and demanding scene that required a lot out of me physically, emotionally and mentally. There was a particular scene that required every cast member to be on set and involved in one shot. It was shot on location on the Giza Plateau in front of the Sphinx and it demanded a lot of rehearsal to get it right, with the camera work and intricate technicalities. We only had a limited amount of time before sunrise as well!
CWM: What was it like joining an already established cast and crew from the first film?
I was a big fan of both the first film and the book, I was really impressed by Marwan’s interpretation of the book and I felt the film was exactly how I imagined it to be as I was reading the book. He added his own touch and his own visuals to it which was trippy, and I think that’s why the film was such a huge success.
Joining the cast and crew for the sequel ended up being easier than I anticipated, of course everyone who had been there from the beginning already had a rhythm and knew what they were doing, but they were all so welcoming. Eyad [Nassar] and I were the newcomers which was refreshing for them, and we didn’t feel like intruders. We hope the fans of the first film feel the same!
CWM: After having worked with Marwan Hamed and Ahmed Mourad now as a creative duo, what do you think sets them apart in terms of their cinematic style?
I’ve worked with Marwan before a couple of times on Yacoubian Building and Ibrahim Al Abyad, but I feel like working with Ahmed Mourad as a scriptwriter gives Marwan a sense of creative freedom that he craves and I think that’s why it works so well. Creatively their minds are alike and they don’t need to communicate the details so much as they think alike analytically, there is a deep level of trust there. I could see the great chemistry between them on set, Mourad writes for Marwan to direct so it creates great result.
CWM: The book and the film have garnered a cult following, as you know, what sets The Blue Elephant apart from other films?
I think it’s the genre is very new to Arab cinema; the paranormal, even though it’s not new to literature. Ahmed Khaled Tawfik had huge literary success in this genre before, and when Marwan read Ahmed [Mourad]’s book, he saw something visual he could make with it. He saw a niche that could be filled and that could capture the audience’s attention and interest. The film is visually trippy, the characters are catchy and unique, so I think all these elements come together to make a good mix between reality and total fantasy. Young people can relate the way they do to Harry Potter, Twilight and The Lord of the Rings.
CWM: What comes next for you?
I’m waiting eagerly for the reaction to this film, because I will be seen in a completely different light and new perspective. For now, I’m just relaxing and waiting!
On a big night, I love a Ralph & Russo gown.
Coffee or tea?
Favorite comfort food?
Best way to relax?
In front of the sea, taking in the colors of the water.
Something you can’t live without?
Unfortunately, my phone!
Last great film you watched?