April ‘13
Insight Interview

April ‘13
Mais Hemdan
Mais Hemdan


    


What kind of upbringing were you exposed to? Were your parents supportive or reluctant regarding your life path?

My family was very supportive. We all are a group of art-lovers whether it be music, literature or movies. So it was a very liberal upbringing they made an effort to nurture creativity in me they exposed to a lot of cultural stuff in our household we were all very media savvy and followed up on show-business. Apart from my sisters and myself we have another secret artist family member: my younger brother. He's an impersonator of many celebrities both Arabian and foreign, he has a real knack for accents and foreign dialects like me, the multi-linguist talent runs in the family. He also has real comedic skills and his impressions of famous people is just a wonder to watch. My brother was not only supportive of my career, he closely follows my work and gives me plenty of useful advice and tips when it comes to my shows. I really owe my family a lot for their artistic upbringing. I wouldn't be the person I am today without it.


Did you ever feel you had to overcome a form of prudishness that is common in the Arab world?

I grew up in Emirates where I had spent most of my childhood in Abu Dhabi. Thankfully I didn't face any major type of repression you would find in other parts of the Arab world. We also moved to Egypt during my late adolescent years which a is a very moderate liberal community. I enjoyed growing up in an open-minded society that is more tolerant of freedom of expression. Really I consider myself very lucky, if I had stayed in a patriarchal ultra-conservative culture like Saudi Arabia, I would have probably never become an entertainer.


Has success changed you? If 'Yes' then it what way?

Definitely, it changed me. It gave me a lot of confidence, I become stronger and more assertive feeling that I can take charge of my life path. It's a really powerful feeling, that feeling of success. But I would have to say the major difference and change that happened to me was how I overcame my shyness. I know this is hard to believe but before I became a famous, I was a very introverted individual who really kept to herself and was the complete opposite of the flamboyant persona that you see on TV shows. Success gave me the courage to be more extroverted and express myself freely. But I am still cautious and try to give a good impression, because I feel that a good reputation is the strongest asset a person can have, so I became more protective of that when I achieved fame.


What advantages do you enjoy for being exposed to different Arab cultures(Lebanese/Jordanian, Saudi Arabian/Palestinian)?

I loved the idea of enjoying the flavours of all the different Arab countries. I feel like a true Arab, not an exclusive citizen to just one Middle Eastern country, it's very gratifying and liberating. It also helps me a lot with my career: I've been exposed to almost every kind of Arab dialect there is: Lebanese, Saudi, Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, Emiraty, you name it. I've mastered all the slangs and I am able to accommodate different guests from all parts of the Arab world using their own regional slang. It gave me major opportunities as a talk-show host and I feel guests really warm up to me when I find that I converse with them in the dialect they're familiar with.


What personality trait do you cherish the most about and what would you like to change?

The trait I cherish the most about myself is the my spirituality. I think a lot about soulfulness and I consider myself to be a spiritual person. I try to be compassionate towards people and I begin that sense of compassion within myself: to understand myself, to really know myself and to go that journey of self-discovery, this has been an integral part of my development as a human being. The trait that I try to change, is my seclusive nature: I don't open up to people very easily and I'm sort of cautious and wary when meeting new people. I'm afraid it would make people think I'm maintaining a distance from the because I'm conceited or egotistical, but far from it, it's a defence mechanism of mine because I try to guard myself from people I haven't gotten to know very well.


Some celebs get special treatment in our society? Do you enjoy some of these bonus points of being a star?

I won't deny that there are perks for being a celebrity. Stars do get special treatment, like always getting an instant table in a packed restaurant without having made a reservation. But I never take those things for granted, being a public entertainer is hard work with extensive long hours. Most people usually work a nine to five stretch, an entertainer has to work at all times whenever he is required since there is no fixed scheduled working hours in show-business. You have to be willing to work whenever the opportunity presents itself. And usually there's no such thing as an weekend vacation for a public entertainer, you're always in demand for events and performances. So the extra perks we receive are just slight compensation for not getting actual time-off.


You're proficient at both comedy and drama? Which genre do you prefer working on?

I started first as a comedienne, that was my first passion. I kept enjoying the fun of the comedy business and my humour became my claim to fame. I always focused on doing light entertaining stuff. But when the script for ''Keif El Hal' came along I just knew it would be challenging and socially relevant so I made the choice to pursue it and try to something different, something serious and with an important social message. I appreciated the experience and I feel I've got dramatic skills, but right now I just love comedy, I enjoy having a good time with the audience and giving them a good time as well. For me, seeing them smile and laugh is the biggest reward for me as an entertainer. The world needs laughter anyway, there's already too much real drama anyway!


It's been reported that you flat-out refused to work with director Khaled Youssef? Is there a truth behind the claim?

Not at all. That's a false rumour. Really we're good friends and I admire him both as a person and artist. It is true that he had offered a role in one of his movies but I turned it down just it was a part that was too daring and risque for me. I would have loved to work with Mr. Youssef, it's just that the material was too edgy and controversial for me. And I personally am somewhat conservative when it comes to explicit movie roles. I admire other courageous actresses who do those bold movie roles, I just don't have that courage.


Which fellow entertainer would you like to work the most? Why?

Ahmed Mekki is the number one entertainer I'm dying to work with. I just love his style. He's one of the few people who truly make me laugh out loud. I think his way of working is similar to mine, being over-the-top with the sketch shows and just having a good time with the audience. And I admire something about him, which is that he gives the rest of the comedy cast members their time to shine, it's not a one-man-show. He involves everyone in the show and he is very generous, I really admired that and it made for stronger comedy in my opinion. Also Ahmed Helmy is very good, I love his type of physical comedy.


Which celebrity did you look up to the most and tried to emulate while you were growing up?

Faten Hamama made a big impression on me. I'll never forget her movie 'Afwaaa we Araneb', it was real experience, she had so much emotional power and strong presence that just made her memorable, it was at this point that I knew what true 'star-quality' is. I felt she was a real authentic Arab beauty with poise and regal charm and when I was a little girl I wanted be just like her. Apart from the Arab world, I really liked Barbara Streisand, especially because she's a singer/actress, just like me. But she does both so phenomenally well, it's unbelievable. I just saw recent concert of hers, and even now in her sixties she delivers a spectacular show with such freshness and vitality you'd think it's a star at the beginning of her career. Her voice talent is peerless. I also Sean Penn and Angelina Jolie for being humanitarian stars with political work, I like to pursue that sort of thing later in my career when I get more experience.


How do you balance between the music industry and the acting world? Where does your primary loyalty as an artist lie?

They're both closely linked so it's easy for me to balance between both. When I'm the middle of a sketch show I can belt out a tune and works just fine. Also movies have soundtracks to which I contribute my vocal talents. But my primary focus right now the music business. I feel I still haven't achieved my desired ambitions in that particular field, I want to refine my vocals and do a really moving song that people would have an emotional connection, that's the joy of being a musician: your art immediately creates a connection with the audience. It's a real special experience. And I feel there's a lot of room for me to grow as a singer artist, develop my musical craft even further and to incorporate personal aspects into my music, music can be very therapeutic. So while I carry on the comedy and acting business just for the fun of it, I'm really devoting my total concentration on my music career.


How do you stay fit and in good shape?

I am an early sleeper and I wake up early. I do all my workouts in the early morning, I have a personal trainer and he provides me with all the exercise tactics to keep myself in lean shape. I watch what I eat, especially considering that the camera adds pounds to your body so you really need to slim down, even more so than the average person who doesn't appear on TV, to compensate and balance your appearance on-screen. I deplore obesity, I consider it to be a disease, so self-discipline and watching your way of life is a must for healthy-living. I also realize that some girls who are fans of my show look try to look like me, so I have to maintain an image of health and fitness to them and be a positive physical role model.


What do you think a girl must have to be considered 'beautiful' not just 'hot'?

Looks can make you pretty, but beauty is in the soul. Not matter how 'hot' you are', the key to being really attractive lies in what's under the skin. Intellect lends a woman beauty, being eloquent and sharp. Men like a woman that they can carry a witty conversation with. But I feel the strongest feature has to be her sense of humour. Men can't resist a woman who makes them laugh, as long as she remains chic and classy at all times. The woman whom they describe as 'damaha khafeef' is the one who enchants and makes them seek for more than just a fling. That's the secret to beauty.


Describe your ideal man? What turns you on and what turns you off when it comes to men?

Well, the more successful a man is, the more attractive he is. But it's more than just that, a classy cultured gentleman is attractive but he also needs to be rugged, masculine and above all confident. A man's self-confidence is probably his best accessory. Personally I like it when a woman doesn't get star-struck around me and carries his own presence and composure. It shows a very attractive strength of character. My turn-off when it comes to the opposite sex, are dim-witted who don't provide any intellectual engagement or any type of deep connection. Also, I have to say personal hygiene: I can never be attracted a man who isn't representable and who doesn't look after himself, especially with clean teeth, I have an strange obsession with that I have to admit! Unless a man's teeth are sparkling white he doesn't have a chance with me.


Are you conscious of your image as a 'sex symbol'? Was the 'femme fatale' persona deliberately manufactured?

I never made an effort or deliberate attempt to create a particular image of me. My personal life motto has always been: 'Be Yourself', so I never tried to present myself as something I'm not. If people call me a 'femme fatale' I'd obviously be flattered by it because I am a woman after all so I would like to be perceived as feminine and desirable. So at the end of the day it's a nice compliment, but I don't take it too seriously, I try more to have a reputation of being funny, approachable and friendly. I'd like to be perceived as having so much more to offer than just being a two-dimensional 'sex-symbol'.