What are your impressions of the UAE and the Dubai International Film Festival? I’ve been here many times, I love Dubai, and this city makes me feel proud as a Middle Eastern woman. But it’s my first time at DIFF and I am loving it. I go to a lot of film festivals and this is one of the best I’ve been to, showing meaningful films that may not otherwise get a chance to be seen.
How did you find the experience of being a judge on the Muhr Jury? The jury views four or five films every day, we watched 12 feature length documentaries and 12 amazing films. It’s unbelievable that in such a short time you can educate yourself so much about this region. They are all very relevant to what is going on in the Middle East.
What do you think of the films being produced by the region’s directors and producers? Cinema is cinema. But there is a difference with the detail, the flavour, the culture, the taste, the sound. What surprised me was a movie from Lebanon called Tramontane by the director Vatche Boulghourjian about a young blind man, played by Barakat Jabbour, in search of his identity, it’s like poetry. The cinematography, acting and obviously subject matter were amazing. That film shook me a lot and taught me a lot. This festival gives the opportunity for directors and producers from the Middle East to participate on an international platform.
How are non-Western ethnicities faring in Hollywood? Following the last Oscars, when there were no coloured people nominated for the awards, there was controversy as to what would happen next. Are we going to be diminished in the film industry or have more roles? The answer was “we would love to embrace your culture and talent, all you need to do is introduce yourself.” It’s for us to take the step to be a part of the global film industry. The reason we did not have a lot of Middle Easterners or non-Americans before is because they were not familiar with our talents. Cinema is just like any other industry; the executive producers would think what is my demographic? Where do I want to show this film? Can I trust that if I put this person in my film it will make as much money?
When movies starring non-westerners hit the global market they sell even more than they do in the states. For example Jackie Chan; in the US this garners Dhs110-185 million, as soon as it hits the Far East the number jumps to Dhs1.1 billion. When Middle Eastern actors are in an American film, it will sell much better in both Europe and the Middle East.
To what do you attribute your success? My success is down to perseverance, love for this profession and a lot of patience. We have to remember the world is not just about us, it’s about the bigger picture. Never give up studying, keep reading, keep watching films. Stay connected with the global industry and when they come for you be ready to jump on the train.
Tell us about your upcoming film? I want to be part of meaningful films which share a story that has not been told before. Like the movie I just finished, The Promise with Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, a love triangle which takes place during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. I usually read the script twice but I read it once and immediately I called my agent and said I want to be partof this film. I love my character Martha, a strong Armenian lady and I loved the story. I can’t wait for it to premier.
What is your dream future role? I would love to play Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, but for some odd reason producers aren’t quite ready to film the life stories of these two women.
In what ways do you champion Middle Eastern talent? Every time I get to know an actor or film maker from the Middle East I ask them to send me their resume and pictures, and now I have more than 300 on file who are active in the region but have not worked in the US. I gave it to a dear friend who is the VIP casting director for Warner Bros. Now she has told all the other studios about my file of Middle Eastern talent, and they are always calling me asking to see this file, right now it’s with Universal. Another thing that made me very happy was that The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences asked me to see if there are any actors and directors in the Middle East who would like to be a member. I am part of the academy’s outreach committee; 12 actors, directors and producers with the objective of getting to know talent around the world.
What do you think of the fashion and culture scene in Dubai? Dubai is certainly the hub of fashion and art in this region. The amount of beautiful gowns and stunning jewels I’ve seen this week is overwhelming, because we don’t dress up as much in the US. The intricate work on each and every piece is so beautiful with a traditional Middle Eastern design.
How does visiting Dubai make you feel about your heritage? Every time I am here I feel proud being a Middle Easterner, being free to choose what I like to wear, my make-up, my jewels. Sitting next to my fellow actors and being able to communicate and learn so much. It’s one of the most diverse places I’ve ever visited, people from everywhere in the world are living next to each other in peaceful co-existence. I feel proud that a Middle Eastern country can be as advanced and modern.
What are your beauty secrets? Beauty has to come from within, if you’re happy you look beautiful no matter what. Age is a matter of mind, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. Don’t think how old you are, just think how useful you can be to this world, in other words be with the light not the dark. The most important thing is moderation, moderation, moderation. I’m not against botox but do not exceed it. You also need to work out. I have a pool at home and I swim or walk for an hour a day.
Having a regular facial is also really important, I actually had the best facial by Shamma Clinic in Dubai, with a lady by the name of Goljan. Every couple of years a good peeling treatment is also really important. I have been using Clarins for almost 25 years now, apart from my neck cream and masks, for those Shiseido is the best.
Who are your favourite designers? I love to choose my own outfits rather than work with a stylist, there are two designers who fit me well, Max Mara and St John, and they never need any alternations.
And your favourite regional designers? I wear a lot of Ellie Saab in the US, his style is very European. European designers look better on me than US designers. I also love the LA based Iranian designer Shahla Doris.
The Bigger Picture was originally published in the January Issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia, available on iPad and in-store now