In Conversation With: The Arab Film World's Most In-Demand Actress

BY Kate Wills / Jan 10 2019 / 19:00 PM

She’s the queen of the Egyptian screen and adored by millions, but Dorra Zarrouk still has regrets like the rest of us

In Conversation With: The Arab Film World's Most In-Demand Actress
Coat, Dhs1,150, Kojak Studio. Bracelet, Dhs1,470, Ammanii. Shoes, Dorra’s own

She’s now such a superstar in the Arab world that we know her by just her first name, but Dorra Zarrouk still has plenty on her to-do list. The Tunisian actress got her big break in Egyptian cinema in 2007, when the late director Youssef Chahine cast her opposite Menna Shalabi and Khaled Saleh in Heya Fawda. Fast forward 11 years, and the 38-year-old actress has notched up dozens of hit TV series and box office smashes, including Alawelah Fel Gharam, Al Hob Keddah and Laylat El-Baby Doll, as well as the television series Tayara Warak, Khas Gedan and Al A’ar. “I think it’s very important for actors and actresses to work in different genres,” she says of her eclectic filmography. “I like to be a part of projects with different themes and not always work on just one kind of film.”

Growing up in Tunis, Dorra says she always knew she wanted to become a performer. “Even when I was little I used to play with dolls and I would turn them into actresses who were putting on a play,” she recalls. “My mother used to take me to the theatre and to the cinema and I was the only kid in our house who used to watch [Egyptian comedy] Nelly and Sherihan on TV.” At school, she auditioned for the lead role in a Tunisian film and won it, but her father was worried about her entering the industry so young. Having the opportunity taken away crystallised her ambitions. “That’s when it hit me deep inside that I wanted this to be my career,” she says.

She’s the queen of the Egyptian screen and adored by millions, but  Dorra Zarrouk still has regrets like the rest of us, she tells Bazaar

Top, Dhs600; trousers, Dhs450, both Kojak Studio. Tights, Dorra’s own

Despite knowing her true calling, Dorra went on to study law at the University of Tunis, and completed a post-graduate degree in political science at Saint Joseph University in Beirut. Dorra’s academic background might seem a world away from her film sets, but she says her political education has informed her choices as an actress. “Cinema reflects its society and politics is a part of that society, so I think that’s why it shows in my films somehow,” she says. “My degree has helped me in my own knowledge and to prepare for roles on a deeper level.”

Dorra has made films in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, areas where the personal and the political arenas have never been so charged. “Each Arab revolution had its positive and negative results,” she says diplomatically. “It affects us as humans and I have found a clear change in the direction of Tunisian cinema since the revolution. I think there is more freedom of speech, particularly in the political issues being addressed. Making films is a universal language,
but each country is affected by its own culture.”

Dorra says it’s impossible to pick her favourite project. “There are things that I’ve worked on that are very close to my heart, and at the same time, there are movies and series favoured by fans,” she explains. “But I would definitely say Segn El Nessa (Women’s Prison) is a masterpiece and it will always remain a very unique experience for me. I think that each and every director and co-star I’ve worked with has taught me something in their own way, but Segn El Nessa’s director Kamlah Abu-Zikri showed me my real talent as an actress in the most honest way.”

She’s the queen of the Egyptian screen and adored by millions, but  Dorra Zarrouk still has regrets like the rest of us, she tells Bazaar

Blazer, Dhs615, Dina Shaker. Trousers and gloves, Dorra’s own. Bracelets, from Dhs5,100, Talaat Sirgany Bijoutiers 

Since the start of her career, Dorra has won acclaim for her style and supported Arab designers. Some of her favourite brands include Soltana, Mohanad Kojak and Ahmed Talfit. “I wear a lot of high luxury brands, but I also love to wear something new and different,” she says. “I like to support young talent and I’m more concerned with the outfit than the label.”

Despite being one of the Arab film world’s most in-demand artists, Dorra also has ambitions to break into the international film scene. “Of course I’d love to be a part of foreign-language films,” she says. “I admire the European films, particularly French movies. But it’s not so easy to make the transition because they have very different methods and terms.” She says that she’d also love to go behind the camera and direct or produce. “It would be really interesting to have a chance to write and direct a film from my point of view,” she says. “As an actress you don’t get to write a character or direct a moment. It won’t be a step I’ll be making soon though because it needs a lot of studying and commitment, but I think it would be very interesting.”

She’s the queen of the Egyptian screen and adored by millions, but  Dorra Zarrouk still has regrets like the rest of us, she tells Bazaar

Shirt and trousers, stylist’s own. Tights, Dorra’s own. Earrings, Dhs345, Sandbox

Dorra has spoken in the past of the sacrifices she’s made in her personal life for the sake of her career, notably calling off her engagement to Tunisian businessman Qays Mukhtar in 2012. “Living alone away from my family is a big compromise,” she says. “My schedules are so tight that it prevents me from being with the people I love. It’s never easy to reach the top, but the hardest part is keeping your position. Of course I have regrets, I’m human, but they have made me who I am today. I believe that having a family would really improve the quality of my life now.”

In the pipeline are several “complex” roles and dreams of playing a historical figure; Laila Al Tarabulsy, the former first lady of Tunisia has been raised. And of course there’s her dedicated army of loyal fans – 4.8m on Instagram alone – who Dorra says “keep her going”. “They love me more than I love myself,” she laughs. “I’m so thankful to be seen as a role model. It’s such a huge responsibility and I wish to never disappoint the next generation and to try and inspire them. What advice would I give to other women? Just to be yourself and never try to copy someone else. At the end of the day you are the hero of your own story.”

Watch: behind the scenes with Dorra Zarrouk

From April 2018 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia

Production: Maison Pyramide. Photography: Photo Boutique.Art direction: Ikon Chiba Dessouki. Styling: Yasmine Eissa. Producers: Nirvana Bebars and Reem Amin. Make-up: Sherif Tanyous. Hair: Al Sagheer Salons