DUBAI: It’s been five years since Kinda Alloush, one of the most popular actresses in the Arab world, decided to take a prolonged break for the first time in her career. She had dominated Syrian television in one decade and then Egyptian film and TV in the next, but Alloush had found, at the height of her fame, something that mattered more: The chance to start a family with her husband, Egyptian actor Amr Youssef.
Alloush, 39 and now the mother to a 3-year-old daughter named Hayat, has since returned to the screens both big and small, but while she is as popular as ever, the Syrian superstar is not the same person she was in the last phase of her acting journey. With each project she now takes, Alloush yearns for more, and she’s tired of playing it safe.
“For a long time, I played roles that were very similar to each other. I’m not sure why — maybe I fit a type. Maybe it’s my face,” Alloush, who has long played the ‘good girl’, tells Arab News.
“Now, I don't want to just add a new film to my archive, I don’t want to just say ‘I did a new movie, it’s so successful, I’m so happy.’ That’s not what I'm looking for. What I’m looking for is to learn. It’s about how to really make yourself richer on a human level, not just the acting level. I want to go back to my country and to feel that I am now a different person,” Alloush continues.
Each role that she has taken since her break from acting has pushed her in a different direction, stretching muscles — physical, mental, and spiritual — that she didn’t know she had. Currently, she’s filming “Yellow Bus” in Abu Dhabi, an OSN Original about an Indian girl who goes missing after falling asleep on a school bus, and her mother’s search to find out the truth. Alloush plays Mira, the missing girl’s school principal.
“I read maybe 10 pages of the script before I knew I had to be in this movie. It’s a human story that could have happened anywhere in the world. I assure you that if anyone watches this movie, they will feel the pain this family felt. And that is what happened to me; I felt the pain, I felt every detail written into this movie. And I felt that I wanted to be a part of this, no matter how busy my schedule was,” says Alloush.
The film also offers Alloush something none of her previous work has — the chance to act in a different language with a multi-cultural cast featuring Bollywood stars Tannishtha Chatterjee and Amit Sial along with an American director in Wendy Bednarz.
“It’s my first time acting in English. I’ve been doing this for more than 17 years in Syria and Egypt, but all my projects were in Arabic. I’ve spoken English for a long time, but it’s different to act in English rather than to just speak it. You need to be so real. I need to make you believe me, to make you feel what I’m feeling. And pushing myself to do that, opposite these amazing actors from different backgrounds and different styles, makes it such a rich and challenging experience,” says Alloush.
And with Mira, Alloush is finally playing against type, abandoning her ‘good girl’ persona.
“Mira is really different. She’s a bit controversial. You can’t really put your finger on her. You need to finish the movie before you have a full view of her many layers. At the beginning, you’ll wonder, ‘Why did she react like this? Why did she do that?’ And your curiosity pays off as you learn more about her story. She’s so unlike anyone I’ve ever inhabited.”
Alloush, who already boasts 10 million followers on Instagram, will also soon be introduced to a wider audience than ever before when she stars in the upcoming Netflix original film “The Swimmers,” based on the real-life story of Sara and Yusra Mardini, the famed Syrian refugees-turned-Olympians. The film was written by BAFTA-winner Jack Thorne and directed by Egyptian filmmaker Sally El-Hosaini.
“‘The Swimmers’ is so interesting, because every bit of it is true to life, with all the characters still living, including these two famous swimmers. Although my character is pure Syrian, working with German actor Matthias Schweighöfer, Ali Suliman from Palestine, and Ahmed Malek from Egypt also brought a real multicultural spirit to the project, which made for a rich experience as well,” says Alloush.
While Alloush moved to Egypt just as the Syrian civil war began, the actress has devoted much of her free time to the refugee cause ever since, becoming a ‘High Profile Supporter’ of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In another upcoming film, entitled “Nuzooh” (Displacement), Alloush will tackle the country’s trauma from the civil war, giving perhaps the most harrowing experience of her career.
“It’s about a Syrian family, and it’s a very difficult, sensitive subject. We filmed it in Turkey,” she says. “While I’m from Syria, I didn’t live through the war in Syria. With this movie that I’ve just finished, I felt like I was living the war in every small detail. It was a really difficult experience unlike any I’ve had.”
While Alloush is testing her limits as an actor, she’s also never been more fulfilled by her craft.
“I’m collecting experiences. When I enter a new project, I feel like I am empty, and I want to fill myself in some way — to learn, to hear, to talk to people from a different culture,” she says. “I’m carried by passion. Maybe other people have a different approach, but for me, it’s about love. I want this to make me richer on a human level. And it is working.”
With each of her three upcoming movies, she hopes that audiences can take away just as much as she did.
“With a great movie, you feel that you traveled to another civilization. With this craft, I can take you there. I can open your eyes to a new horizon, a new space, and new stories that you've never heard about, and people that you've never met,” says Alloush. “Each of these (films) can do that, I believe.”