I hope for fair solution to Palestinian issue, peace for Arab region: Elham Shahein

Kadry Al-Haggar
12 Min Read

Elham Shahein is a prominent star in the history of Egyptian cinema. She has been at the top of her fame since her debut and has never shied away from expressing her artistic and intellectual views, regardless of the consequences. She has left a lasting impression in both cinema and television and continues to have more to offer. Critics have praised her artistic maturity and her ability to attract audiences to any work she participates in. Her latest appearance was in the series “Alfredo”, where she portrayed the struggles of an Alzheimer’s patient. The series received a positive response from the viewers, who empathized with her character more than she expected.

What made you choose to star in the series “Alfredo”, which received a lot of attention after its release?

I was drawn to the series by the opportunity to portray the challenges of Alzheimer’s patients, and by the character of “Soso” and her family dynamics. I accepted the role as soon as producer Ahmed Abdel Aty offered it to me, without even reading the whole script. The role was completely new and different for me, and it allowed me to explore a wide range of emotions. I always look for new and diverse roles, and I am very happy with how the viewers reacted to the series.

How did you manage to convincingly play the role of an Alzheimer’s patient? Did you have any personal experience with the disease?

I have seen many cases of Alzheimer’s patients, and I had a close person who suffered from the disease for a while. I know how hard it is for them and their families. Unfortunately, this disease is very common, and I received many calls after the series aired, telling me that they recognized their relatives in Soso’s character and that they had witnessed this condition in someone in their life.

How did the character of “Soso” affect you personally?

It was a very exhausting and stressful role, both mentally and physically. I immersed myself fully in the character, and I felt her pain and confusion as she progressed from the early stages of the disease to a tragic end. My nervous system was affected, and I had trouble sleeping throughout the filming period. The character of “Soso” was one of the most difficult characters I ever played.

How did you feel about appearing in the series without makeup and in simple clothes? Weren’t you afraid of losing your glamour, especially since many actresses are reluctant to do so?

I was not afraid at all. I always trust the stylist Enas Shahein, who knows my daring personality very well. She sometimes tells me that she can’t do with other artists what she does with me, because they wouldn’t agree. But of course, I always follow the nature and the requirements of the role. For example, if the role is for an elderly woman, it would be different from a young woman. By the way, I like to play characters older than my age and use makeup that makes me look older. This goes back to the days of the movie “A Date with the President”, which was originally written for the star Faten Hamama and then offered to me. I played the character of a woman with a long political history and a daughter who was afraid of rape. At that time, my daughter in the movie was 15 years old and I was 23 years old, so they had to age me with makeup to fit the character. The same thing happened in the movie Curfew, where I played a woman who was supposed to be 50 years old, but I made her look 75 years old. I did that because living in prison makes a person look older than their actual age. What matters to me is the credibility and the excellence of the role, even if it comes at the expense of my appearance.

The series had only 10 episodes. What is your opinion on the very short series?

I think the length of the series depends on the story. I don’t like stories that drag on unnecessarily. Some stories can fit in thirty episodes and others can’t. For a long time, Ramadan series were limited by the number of days in the month of Ramadan, but recently we have seen a very successful series in Ramadan that had only 15 episodes. By the way, I have participated in many series that had less than 30 episodes, such as “Nas Rabi’ al-Akhir”, which had 17 episodes, and “Bint Effendina”, which had 22 episodes. I also did many series that had 15 episodes, such as A Woman in Trouble, and Yes, I am Still a Miss. I think I was one of the first people to do 15 episodes, and I prefer the short series.

How was your experience working with the other actors, especially Ahmed Fahmy and Iman Al-Sayed?

It was a wonderful experience. We were like one family behind the scenes. Ahmed Fahmy and Iman Al-Sayed did a great job in their roles, and we had good artistic chemistry and a high sense of the series. We were so sincere in the series that I felt like I was his real aunt. Iman Al-Sayed is a very sweet and cheerful person, not arrogant and authentic. Her humor is natural, and I enjoyed working with them and with the whole team.

The promo for the series caused some controversy before it aired, and some people thought that there would be a love story between you and Ahmed Fahmy. How did you see that?

I am used to controversy in most of my works because people don’t wait for the show and then judge. The audience’s imagination went too far because the story of the series is about an old woman who falls in love with a young man, so the comments were negative before watching the work. I said that the series would surprise the audience. Some people who attacked the work before it aired have apologized. Even if their expectations were true, that it would be a story of a woman who loves a young man, then this is a role, and this is very possible in reality. There are examples of this in our lives, and it is not reasonable that art will only present ideal roles. By the way, they also attacked me before the airing of my series “Bitlou’ Al Rouh” just because they saw the trailer and I was wearing ISIS clothes. The attack by online groups and committees started then, and they came back and apologized for what they did after the series aired.

You always have a clear stance on controversial topics. What do you say to those who claim that Saudi Arabia has taken over the artistic scene from Egypt?

The works that have achieved great success in Saudi Arabia are the Egyptian works that feature Egyptian stars, and of course, we have to thank them because they opened new markets for displaying and selling Egyptian works and showing them in theaters there. So we are grateful to them because there are now more markets for selling work. The success that Saudi Arabia is witnessing now is due to Egyptian works, and it has not affected Egypt. I hope that more markets will be opened for us in all countries of the world and that Egyptian films will be shown in every country. This is a revival of Egyptian art, not the opposite.

Do you fear that your statements may affect your popularity?

I have no fear, but I speak my mind honestly and I don’t care about the reaction. I am only criticizing ideas, not people, and I have not offended anyone. I am only challenging ideas that are against humanity in my view.

How did you feel as an artist when the 39th session of the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Countries was named after you? What does it mean to you?

I was very honored and delighted because this was the peak of my career and the greatest recognition for me. The Alexandria Festival is very prestigious, and I have always followed it and attended it. I have beautiful memories of great stars, such as the late Farid Shawqi, Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, Nour El-Sherif, Ahmed Zaki, and Farouk El-Fishawy. These stars were eager to attend the Alexandria Festival every year, and I won five awards as best actress from the festival.

What is your comment on the situation in Palestine, especially in Gaza?

The situation is heartbreaking and horrifying, and the genocide that is happening in Gaza is terrifying. I hope that we will soon see the flag of the State of Palestine as a free and independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. We will not settle for anything less than a fair solution to the Palestinian issue. Our hearts are with the Arab people in Palestine, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. We want stability for the Arab region and for every citizen to live in security and peace on their land. I hope that the conflicts and wars will end and we will all live in harmony.

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