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Sarah El Shamy on Her Childhood, Playing Unlikable Characters & Life

ELLE sits down with actress Sarah El Shamy for a 1-on-1

Sarah El Shamy

Openness is often the only way to tread through life. No one has ever made it through unscathed, not even when they’ve walked around with their palms firmly closed. Egyptian actress Sarah El Shamy speaks to us about how she navigates life, love, and her career.

EL HASHASHEEN

 

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El Shamy’s latest project was one that not only challenged her but also allowed her to explore aspects of herself through her character that she never would have tapped into had she not had to embody somebody completely different. On the Ramadan hit series El Hashasheen, starring Egyptian actor Karim Abdelaziz, El Shamy played Nourhan, an adventurous girl who falls in love and allows it to lead her through multiple hardships. “Her personality is the complete opposite of me in many aspects,” the actress shares. “She’s very rebellious and knows how to make very tough decisions and how to go for it, which is also so not me. She has no problem jumping head-first into the fire. She’s a lovely girl who loves a man and goes through many hardships for him.”

But that doesn’t mean El Shamy has never gone out of her way for love, “Yes, I’ve definitely gone out of my way for love. But I felt like I was doing something wrong. I’ve learned that if I love someone, I have to make sure I don’t neglect certain aspects of myself because I love them, I can’t cross certain boundaries because I’m in love. It’s also important that the person you love doesn’t use love to take advantage of you.”

The actress adds that, as an Egyptian woman, it is intrinsic to her belief system to always be there for the people around her. So much so, that it sometimes overpowers other aspects of her life. “I feel like we’re raised to be these tough, present women, always there. Helpfulness is almost a given. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing, but sometimes it leads us down extreme paths trying to prove it,” El Shamy says, “I’ve learned to know my limits with people, to know when we’ve passed a point of helpfulness and made it to a point of them stepping over me. It’s important to remain conscious of when it’s time to take a step back.”

“IF YOU’RE GOING THROUGH HELL, DON’T STOP”

The gift that keeps on giving is an industry that keeps on teaching, or however the saying goes. “When I first started out, I was so intense about everything,” El Shamy proclaims, “It was all or nothing. The show had to be a success, the award had to be won. I was very heated. I learned with time that you get what’s meant for you, and nothing that is yours will ever miss you. If I didn’t get a certain role then it definitely wasn’t meant for me.”

The actress says she learned to be calmer through this belief system, “I do my part and leave the rest up to God,” El Shamy says, “But I do really have to do my part. I can’t sit around praying and not working for it.”

“If you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” She shares, “At the end of the day, the audience will only witness what they see on screen. No one has any idea what you were going through when you were shooting, or why you might’ve underdelivered. It only matters the end result you deliver. You have to sort of push everything else aside and do your part.”

ON PLAYING UNLIKEABLE CHARACTERS

It’s not easy playing a character you yourself have nothing in common with, but it is that exact challenge that shows the true essence of an actor. When we asked El Shamy if she had done a role that changed her after, she paused to think, sitting up in her chair, and then said, “Last Ramadan I played the role of a terrorist in a show called Harb with Ahmed El Saka.” She went on, “It was very hard for me to embody my character because I couldn’t grasp how she felt. I would never know, either, it’s not exactly an everyday experience.”

 

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“It took some digging, but I eventually realized that I needed to humanize her,” she tells us, “I think the people who have taken extreme paths in life, ‘evil’ paths, have had a part of them manipulated or toyed with, which is why they’ve gone down that path. I could be wrong, it could be that I fell in love with the character.”

ON YOUTH

“I think I was overly confident,” El Shamy tells us, “I thought I knew better. You always do, when you’re young, I think. It turned out that I did not know better.”

We were all teen girls once, “I actually think it’s that youthful stubbornness that got me into so much trouble. I wouldn’t even listen to the closest people to me. Eventually, I learned.”

“I think if the younger me saw me now, she would be so proud,” the actress confesses, “I used to fear the concept of age, not because of anything specific, but simply for the sake of self-torture. I used to sit with myself every year and ask myself what I achieved, ‘What are you doing with your life? At this age that you’ve reached, have you done something worthy? And then one day, I thought about how a younger version of me would feel about what I’ve achieved, I think she’d be quite pleased. That changed everything.”

WHEN DID YOU KNOW?

“I was one of those kids who could never answer when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up,” the actress admits, “I would always wait to see what the kid next to me would say and copy that because I truly didn’t know. I was just going with the flow.”

 

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“When we were younger there was this children’s show similar to Sesame Street, it was called ‘Yalla Beena’. It entailed children going to do activities and they would draw, for instance. My dad used to take us, and I really loved the set life; it was tremendous, and I wanted to be there 24/7. It didn’t click in my mind that that was something I wanted to do; I still was unsure. I went home and told them that I think I wanted to pursue acting.” The actress recalls, “My parents thought I was too shy; they wanted me to think it through. I decided then that I had to prove to them that I would pursue it, and I ended up taking courses at the institute and stuck with it.”

On inspiration, El Shamy did not hesitate with her answer: “I love Menna Shallaby so much! I love her! She touches me with her eyes, without even speaking, just the eyes. Definitely Menna Shallaby.”

For more from the actress, watch the full interview on our YouTube channel! 

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