CAIRO - 25 March 2020: Laila Eloui is everyone’s heartthrob, her fans loving her for being beautiful both inside and out. In this exclusive interview, the beloved actress
talks about her most powerful roles that have inspired change and how being a mom has changed her outlook on both her personal life and professional career.
Lovingly known as the “kitten of Egyptian cinema” since starting her acting career as a child, acclaimed actress Laila Eloui is a paragon of beauty—both inside and out. As the face of our annual women’s issue and to mark Mother’s Day, Eloui opens up in this exclusive interview about her career as one of Egypt’s leading ladies, the status of women and her biggest role yet: being a mother. March marks both International Women’s Day as well as Mother’s Day.
1- To what extent do cinema and TV play a role in portraying women’s issues? Can these platforms actually help address societal problems, offer solutions or
even change mindsets?
Art definitely has a great effect on the society and plays a significant role in changing concepts and unifying thoughts on specific principles and issues. There are a number of movies in Egyptian cinema that tackled vital women issues and moved the public opinion toward certain societal problems including El-Moghtasboon (The Rapists) and the iconic Oreed Halan (I Want A Solution) staring the lady of Arab screen, the late great actress Faten Hamama and directed by veteran director Saeed Marzouk
which managed to make changes in the personal status law.
In the era of black and white movies, Egyptian cinema tackled the pain, sufferings and obstacles faced by working women at that time in movies such as Avocato Madiha (Lawyer Madiha) and women’s issues were addressed in several novels written by
the iconic Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz that were turned to movies. Nowadays acclaimed female filmmakers like Egyptian directors Hala Khalil and Kamla Abou
Zekry presented movies that discussed women’s issues and challenges across different social segments and even sometimes offered some solutions like in Youm Lel Setat (A Day for Women).
The role of cinema or drama is to reflect reality and highlight the problems, it doesn’t always have to offer solutions. The real value of art is to discuss issues and help us to find solutions to changing mindsets.
2-Many of your roles have promoted women’s empowerment. How do you feel about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sweeping the globe?
Of course we are against violating the rights of women and children in any form and the role of cinema is to raise awareness and shed light by discussing these issues. In El Moghtasboon, for example, I was proud to play the character of Safaa, which was based on a real victim. At the time late veteran director Saeed Marzouk presented a bold idea in an attempt to highlight a terrifying social phenomenon that horrified Egyptian society in particular and Arab society in general, after it became widespread. Renowned scriptwriter Faisal Nada drew attention to the social, economic and educational motivations of these rapists and the role that drugs and unemployment played.
Produced in the late 1980s, the film was bold enough to present an intense, real-life story, and the credit goes to Marzouk for managing to make the audience feel and interact with the movie’s dramatic scenes and achieve high revenues. The film’s credibility in portraying the victim’s character helped to change the final sentence on the perpetrators.
3- What is the most demanding role that you have played until now and which of your roles has touched or affected you the most? Do the roles you perform affect your real character? If yes, how do you manage to get rid of their effect?
All the roles that I embody leave a positive effect on me and enhance my experience and self-confidence. For example Khokha’s character in Kharag w Lam Ya’aod (Missing Person) made me feel the psychological serenity and kindness away from the hustle of the city. I consider Safaa in El Moghtasboon the character that affected me the most psychologically, and I felt victorious after the sentence was changed as a result
of the movie, as if I was Safaa. I was influenced as well by the determination, challenge and the insistence that exist in some characters like in Hala in Hala w El Mestakhaby (Hala and the Unknown) and Captain Effat which among the stories of the Hekayat w Benisha (Stories We Are Living) series. I always interact with the character I am performing, whether positively or negatively and this reflects on the audience’s acceptance of the role.
4-What is your dream role?
At present, I think a lot about the family bonding principles presented through our different series and movies. Some of these bonds were broken as a result of technology, we see now every member of the family is living in his own world apart from the other. The new generations now have their different personal freedom that sometimes makes them forget the meaning of love and compassion, so I’d like to embody the role of a mother who tries to strengthen the family bond. This idea requires a strong and smart script, I hope to find it. Also I want to play the role of the late famed poet May Ziadeh, I have a lot of dreams and ideas that I want to present, I have lots of feelings that I want to let out and have many roles in mind.
5- Which actor, actress and director do you want to work. with the most and why?
I was lucky at the beginning of my career to work with a number of veteran directors, scriptwriters and stars so I wish now to work with younger generations because cooperating with them will definitely change the work spirit. But the directors I want to work with from the younger generations have to be well versed and know how to use all their tools; I totally believe in the talented directors Marwan Hamed, Mohamed Yassin and Kamla Abou Zekry. I have a good relationship with all the stars of the current generation such as Menna Shalaby, Ahmed Helmy, Maged el Kidwany and Hend Sabry
and I’d love to work with them.
6- You’ve acted in period dramas and taken on comic, tragic, romantic and social roles. Which is the closest to your heart?
I tend more toward social, romantic, tragedy and dark tragedy. I don’t prefer violence, I can’t bear violence but at the same time I can present it. It is difficult to determine the
closet to my heart but the script and the way the character is presented are the factors that attract me to a role.
7- What are the one movie and the one soap you consider milestones in your career?
I consider Kokha’s role in Kharag w Lam Ya’od (1984) with veteran actor Yehia el Fakharany and directed by the late renowned Mohamed khan an important milestone in my career, because at that time I started to know how to choose my roles. In the late 1980s I started to be a box office star so I had to continue my career at the same pace in the 1990s, where I presented a number of distinguished movies that I cherish, and which won awards and honors. I was lucky that I got the chance to work with veteran directors like Atef el Tayeb, Saeed Marzouk, Youssef Chahine, Mohamed Khan, Rafaat el Mehey. I presented different and diversified roles and deeply studied many characters.
8-How has motherhood changed your personality? How do you balance between your work and person’s life?
Motherhood has improved my character and given me more positive energy. It’s made me more forgiving, increased my awareness and drove me to love the future more. It is by all means a great gift from God, the mother loves her son more than anything, that’s why paradise is under the feet of mothers. I love my work a lot, I am so keen to succeed as an actress, I respect myself, my audience and I take seriously the responsibility of my work and present my roles with all the love, credibility and devotion, I really enjoy acting. For more than 10 years I was solely focused on my work and I neglected myself, it is true that I enjoyed a lot of achievements in this period as result of my concentration and huge efforts but at the same time I didn’t enjoy many things in my life. Recently I started to balance between my work and personal life, I work
hard at the same time I spend more time with my family, paying more attention to my family bond and personal life.
9-What principles and values are you are keen to instil in your son?
Raising a son is very difficult and a great responsibility. Since Khaled was a child I was keen to instil in him good morals, manners and principles, teach him how to treat others
properly, to have strong faith, be close to God, and to love for others what he loves for himself.
This generation is clearly difficult to deal with; and most millennials feel a sense of entitlement to everything. How are you dealing with that?
My mom faced a lot of difficulties when she was raising me and my sister, but nowadays because of the technology, the whole world has become like a small town; youth are now more open and bold. I see this as a much healthier environment because youth today have all the things available so they have to choose based on their minds and references. On the other hand, it’s made the parents’ role much more difficult, that’s
why mothers today need to be patient and understanding.
10-What’s the secret of your beauty? Could you give our female readers some beauty tips?
I don’t see myself as beautiful, but in general beauty is that of the soul, what is important is the calmness and psychological serenity. I generally don’t wear make-up except while shooting, or for occasions and events. I use natural oils like olive oil and coconut oil and drink a lot of water to make sure I’m always hydrated. I also sleep early to relax my facial skin; our psychological state directly affects how we look, so we have to take care of our mental health. I also work out daily, even if just walking, I eat healthy fresh food and I never eat canned food.
11-Tell us more about your role as a goodwill ambassador with the UN.
In 2015 I was appointed the #Unite4Heritage envoy, becoming the first envoy of the campaign launched by UNESCO. At the time, several Egyptian monuments had been smuggled and looted and our Egyptian antiquities are the main factor that boosts our tourism. Thank God Egypt now has regained its strong tourism status due to the sustainable work carried out by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. My role is to work on protecting our antiquities and looking for means to preserve them by conducting training courses in schools for students to increase their awareness through drawing and films, and organizing visits to various Egyptian museums.
12- You started your career as a child. How has this early start contributed to your early artistic maturity and helped in building your talent?
I was raised in a family that was concerned with different kinds of arts, and that increased my artistic experience at an early age. My mother was a radio presenter with the European program of the Egyptian radio, that’s why during my childhood I participated in a number of television programs before I started my cinematic career. I was young when I performed a big role in “El Bo’asaa’’ (Les Miserables), co-staring giant stars like Farid Shawky, Adel Adham and Fardous Abdelhamid. At that time I used to participate in two or three movies every year, that’s why I got used to the work system at an early age. But my father insisted that I must continue my education,
and was keen to guarantee that balance between work, family and education.
13- You are always keen to participate in the different Arab and international film festivals, to what extent you benefit from these festivals as an actress? How do evaluate the role of festivals in enhancing the cinema industry?
Festivals are the cinematic forum that gathers filmmakers from all over the world, where I find out about new cinematic trends on the technical, cultural or intellectual levels. The artist must keep up with the latest in his or her field, be artistically intellectual and familiar with everything new. My passion drives me to watch the festivals’ movies whether in the official competitions or outside it. I also participated in a number of
festivals as a jury member. I love to watch movies from all over the world to know
who shares with us the same passion with cinema. I prefer to watch the films in cinemas more than at home, it is more joyful, and I am keen to attend the seminars and the discussions that take place after the screenings at the festivals. I wish success to all the movies participating in festivals, as well as the expansion of the Egyptian film market in particular and the Arab in general.
14-To what extent can joint Arab production enhance the Arab cinema industry?
Joint Arab production is the optimal way to present different, diversified and bold projects with a good budget and will guarantee the highest percentage of distribution in the Arab world in particular and globally in general. Producing five huge joint Arab projects implemented with the latest cinematic techniques and that can compete globally is better than every country producing on their own. There is an interest in global cinema as evidenced by South Korea’s The Parasite which grabbed the world’s attention at the Academy Awards and took the lion’s share of the Oscars. The world is now concerned with other cinema industries, not just Hollywood.
15- Are satisfied with your career thus far?
I am happy and satisfied with what I’ve presented till now, whether in cinema, TV drama or theatre and hope that my audience accepts and admires my movies, series and plays as I work to please them and gain their respect. Throughout my long career I always glimpse happiness in the eyes of my fans when I see them, I see their love and respect and this is the real treasure to me.