Marking herself as one of the most talented actresses of her generation, Donia Samir Ghanem shot to fame at quite a young age. She is as versatile as one can be for she sings, acts and hits us with one astounding performance after the other. It is hard to meet a person who can resist her schoolgirl charms and does not fall in love with her at first sight.
When you meet Donia for the first time you would find her to be rather shy and observing yet very friendly and polite. And then suddenly a volcano erupts in front of the camera and all her energy is set free and just fills up that room with her passion.
It is an almost impossible equation to combine being the very beautiful woman she is with being hilariously funny, yet she effortlessly manages to do so, “our mother unintentionally planted in us (my sister and I) that an actress must know how to play all kinds of roles whether it’s a musical or an action role, she taught us that an actress must be ready for whichever role she accepts”, she explains, “I don’t identify myself as a comedienne. Of course I inherited the funny side from my father but I’m an actress and I need to know how to do good comedy roles”.
Being a young actress, who was bred by one of Egypt’s most popular cinema couples, is not an easy cross to bear and often filled with silent struggles for autonomy and independence to find an own star on the walk of fame. “Ever since I began, people always assumed that my parents must have helped me through my career. Journalists used to ask me a lot about my parents but I didn’t care much. There was this deep thing inside me that kept on pumping me up telling myself that I have a talent regardless who my parents are. It’s not a shame to inherit your parents’ genes but there is absolutely no way for someone to rise and achieve something just because their parents helped them”, she points out.
One of Donia’s signatures is her one of a kind ability to speak different dialects and accents, be it Lebanese, Moroccan or Upper Egyptian Arabic. “I had coaches working with me on that. The Lebanese woman in ‘Teer Enta’ was all about practice. I kept on watching Lebanese women closely and from there I learned it. The most difficult one was the Upper Egyptian Arabic”, she adds.
Donia’s filmography hosts quite some box office hits and we wondered if the new emerging independent film scene would be of any interest to this young shooting star. “I don’t have a problem participating in Indies or Shorts if the script is really good, but I don’t work on more than three films a year. If I am offered a part in an independent or short film in a phase I’m not working on anything else, I would give it a shot. I just don’t like the idea of working on something for a couple of days and that’s it. I like investing all my efforts and time in my work even if it is just a TV ad”, she elaborates.
Donia’s script choices are a bit different from many actresses of her generation and that has always been her secret to pile up very successful roles in her resume, “I first ask about the director, I think he is one of the most important pillars of a production. I still don’t consider myself a professional actress, I act because I love it, but I want someone who I could learn from and that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to work with newcomers, I’ve worked before with Said El Marouk and Hossam El Gohary”, we are told.
At the time Demi Moore shaved her head for GI-Jane, we were used to Egyptian actresses waking up with full make up disregarding the importance of characterization and authenticity catering to the minimum details of a role. To Donia, details matter a lot, even if it means she must slip into the tomboyish character of Samira Bira, who works hard to earn a living and hide her feminine side to avoid harassment, in the hit feature ‘El Farrah’. “I made sure I practice every tiny detail about her, from how she walks and talks to how she dresses. It was really different than anything I have done before and also very different from my real character. I became psychologically overwhelmed with this character. I had to walk wearing wide manly garments to be able to slide into the character’s daily life and attitude”, she explains.
Finding character roles in Egyptian cinema these days is surely no walk in the park. Industry parameters being altered with the downfall of culture in Egypt have had a great impact on the quality and content of cinema in the last twenty years. “I have a big problem with script writers. They aren’t to blame but I guess we should blame the whole film industry. When a new script writer comes to light, they squeeze his brain, and when he has nothing new to offer, they throw him away land look for someone else. Script writers here don’t have the time to study and do their homework. They need to read more and watch more to provide a creative input to their work. They should use their breaks and free time and read new books. What happens here is that I get some scripts offered and they are like four different foreign films cut and paste to make an Egyptian movie. I made adapted movies before but it’s about time we need an original Egyptian production. We have to remove the word “reference” from our Egyptian film industry; we need to be our own reference”, she vividly comments.
Being a young woman trying to find your way, career, love and identity is not easy, add to it the complexity of the Egyptian society and socio-political make up and the jungle becomes more dense. “My life is different because I started working since I am 16 and I didn’t live much of that so-called ‘college life’. I wasn’t really part of the all girls’ tribulations for I was busy with work. In Egypt, we have two kinds of young girls, the type that wants a good career and the other who spends her life hunting down a groom. It’s good to start a family when you are young, but I always think that in order to have a good family, you need to start with developing your own experiences. You have to believe in fate and destiny. If you are a helpless romantic by nature, don’t live your whole life searching for ‘the boy’ and leave everything behind. Fate comes to you when it’s meant to be, regardless of twenties or thirties. Focus on yourself until it comes to you. Build up yourself, your career, and your brain because he won’t like you if you don’t have an independent identity. That doesn’t mean that a housewife doesn’t have an identity, but she mustn’t live her whole life only for her partner because one day he might lose interest. Girls should spend their time on themselves whether by focusing on their looks, their careers, and their friends, or charity work, for example. There are million things a single girl can do with her life”, she states.
Being the dream girl to many men, we wondered how important humor is for Donia when it comes to her man, “sense of humor is important, but then again I don’t have to be laughing myself off around the clock. Everyone has a unique and special sense of humor, but being with a man with a stiff and straight face all the time is not acceptable for me. Important for me is that he treats people well, I wouldn’t want people to say ‘Oh my God, her husband sucks’”, she laughs.
Behind the scenes, Donia is a bookworm. She reads a lot in her free time and finds heavenly peace in meditation, “I’m a meditation junkie. You don’t have to find a remote place to practice it; you could easily do it in traffic jam. There is this kind of meditation when you reach zero thought level, I’ve reached it only once although I’ve been meditating for two years. The right meditation is when your heart is attached to God and there is a great unity. There is another exercise when you just listen deeply to the voices around you. Meditation is very important to my career I guess”, she concludes.
Photographer: Ahmed Mobarez
Stylist: Kegham Djeghalian
Art Direction by WWW Team
Special thanks to Al Sagheer Salons
Special thanks to Malak El Ezzawy for designing these beautiful gowns specially for this shoot