Lebanese actress Razane Jammal climbs new heights with Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’

Lebanese actress Razane Jammal climbs new heights with Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’
Razane Jammal in Paris in 2017. (AFP)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Lebanese actress Razane Jammal climbs new heights with Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’

Lebanese actress Razane Jammal climbs new heights with Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’

DUBAI: In the spring of 2021, Lebanese actress Razane Jammal filmed the most difficult scene of her career. She was shooting “The Sandman,” a blockbuster Netflix series more than 30 years in the making, and in it, her character was saying goodbye to her husband Hector for the last time, as her beloved slipped away into the afterlife. 

As the director yelled cut, tears ran down Jammal’s face. She didn’t want to distract her collaborators, so only she and her co-star Vanesu Samunyai knew the truth — that her tears were real. That same day, Jammal had learned that her mother, the woman who had helped shape her into the cross-cultural success she is today, was slipping away from her, too.

Razane Jammal as Lyta Hall and Lloyd Everitt as Hector Hall in ‘The Sandman.’ (Supplied)

“It was that day that I found out that my mom had entered a coma. I was filming a scene that was the epitome of grief, and I didn’t know what had happened to my mom. I didn’t know if I’d lost her already,” Jammal tells Arab News. 

Samunyai, standing across from her in that scene, was in awe of the strength her collaborator, and now her friend, showed that day. 

“She was amazing. She was carrying so much emotion. And she was able to bring that out. It was a sight to see. It was painful, but it was also beautiful the way she was able to harness that,” Samunyai says. “That sticks out to me the most with this show, and as just a moment in my life. I will never forget that.”

What was undoubtably a turning point in her life, could also, in turn, become a turning point of Jammal’s career. After all, “The Sandman,” based on the legendary graphic novels written by award-winning British author Neil Gaiman, is one that has long enchanted the many communities that have felt represented by it. When the series finally releases on Netflix on August 5, it could very well take the franchise to “Stranger Things” and “Squid Game”-levels of cultural ubiquity — and Jammal to a new level of stardom. 

“The Sandman” follows Morpheus, the King of Dreams, an age-old concept made manifest in flesh. Jammal plays Lyta Hall, a woman who dreams of her dead husband each night, slowly realizing that he is not a figment of her imagination but is hiding out in the dream world to be with his wife, unwilling to cross over and leave her behind. 



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It’s a part that Jammal manages to play truthfully with tremendous subtlety — a subtlety that Jammal credits her mother with teaching her to harness. 

“I’ve always been extra, and my mom was far more subtle than I am. I had to fine tune myself to vibrate on her frequency, a frequency that was very sweet and very raw and vulnerable and nurturing. I took that from her. She helped me hone my empathy and acting is where an empath belongs — if they know how to protect themselves from that precious place that my mother taught me to reach,” says Jammal.

“My mom didn’t necessarily know how to protect herself from that place,” she adds. 

Razane Jammal with her mother. (Supplied)

Jammal was raised in Beirut, Lebanon, a place of both beauty and pain — a place that nurtured Jammal but also put her through some of the hardest experiences of her life.

“I grew up having a simple, community-based life in a place where you have 500 mothers and everyone feeds you and you feel safe — even if it’s not safe at all. At the same time, we went through so many traumas, from civil wars to assassinations to losing all our money in another financial crisis,” says Jammal.

But she learned during the hardest times to both give to and lean on the people around her, from those closest to her to those that are seemingly strangers.

“It gives you strength. It made me enjoy the little things in my life; it made me smile at my neighbor and say ‘Hi’ every morning to the man who sells vegetables, remembering the day that he told me that if I didn’t have money I could come back and pay later. It opened me up to others, and made me a sociable person, and it deepened me in ways I’m still discovering,” Jammal says. 

Becoming an actor was the basis of her own personal dream world — an idea she used to escape the hardships in her country and in her home too, as her parents’ marriage fell apart in front of her eyes. She used her imagination to escape, the same tools that she uses now each day.

But acting, of course, is not quite what she imagined it to be.

“I idealized it in my head,” she says. “You don’t think about the behind the scenes. You don’t think about the 14-hour days and six-day work weeks. When you’re six years old, you think, ‘I’m going to be an actor. I’m going to be on stage and everyone’s going to love me.’” 

Razane Jammal (right) in ‘Kira & El Gin.’ (Supplied)

Because of the work that Jammal has put in, her dream is well on its way to being achieved, as her star continues to rise. It began when she moved to London when she was 18, quickly booking roles with French director Olivier Assayas and Kanye West, among others.

Over the next decade, Jammal continued to venture back to the Middle East, too, oscillating between starring opposite legends such as Liam Neeson in Hollywood and Youssra in Egypt. She has now reached a point where she is starring not only in “The Sandman,” but in regional blockbusters including Marwan Hamed’s latest Arab epic “Kira & El Gin,” already the fourth highest-grossing Egyptian film of all time just weeks after its release.

“I started dreaming of Hollywood and wanting to go abroad, because the trauma of war caused people to tell me to leave and escape the pain of the region. I’m so happy that I was pulled back to the Middle East, because these are my roots — I wasn’t in touch with them the same way back then. I had to lose myself in order to find myself again,” says Jammal.

“Now I can not only work on beautiful projects with talented people here in the region, but also work internationally to help contribute positively to the way Arabs are perceived across the world. I will always do that to the best of my ability,” she continues.

Jammal now has to do so without her mother, who died in the summer of 2021. While Jammal cannot call her for support in the same way she once did, as she celebrates her current successes and works on those to come, she knows she never has to fully say goodbye as long as she continues to live in a way that honors her. 

“I’m going to live my life to the fullest, because I owe that to her — to carry her lessons with me and spread whatever she taught me,” Jammal says. “I guess that’s my way of keeping her alive.”

What We Are Playing Today: It Takes two

What We Are Playing Today: It Takes two
Updated 19 August 2022

What We Are Playing Today: It Takes two

What We Are Playing Today: It Takes two
  • The award-winning production was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021

Married life can be hard and sometimes couples need to cooperate to solve their problems. They need to know when to be firm or relent, so it takes two to make the relationship work.

This is exactly the aim of the action-adventure platform “It Takes Two”, which was created by Hazelight Studios and released by Electronic arts.

The story centers on a couple Cody and may who are seemingly incompatible and plan to divorce. They break the news to their daughter Rose late in the afternoon.

Rose then goes upstairs to her room and using two handmade dolls that resemble her parents, act out a scene where they reconcile.

Rose’s tears, however, magically transfer the souls of her parents into these two dolls, who are now trapped and desperate to return to their bodies. In order to do that, they are forced to work together. 

The production was awarded The Game Award for Game of the Year 2021. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S in March 2021.

“It Takes Two” has top-notch graphics, with many details for surfaces and a rotating view. You can move the camera angles around and explore the environment.

It is a multiplayer video game and does not have a single-player option.

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release
Updated 18 August 2022

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release

Filmmaker Jordan Peele talks ‘Nope,’ ahead of the sci-fi thriller’s Mideast release
  • ‘Get Out’ director says his toughest project to date
  • Social commentary expected with horror, comedy elements

DUBAI: Filmmaker Jordan Peele, who broke out with his directorial debut “Get Out,” is pushing his own limits with his latest film, “Nope.”

The director says his goal with the sci-fi thriller was to write a movie that was impossible to make. The stars are calling the result a spectacular, mind-bending production and connecting Peele’s talent for horror with his background in comedy.

“This was one of, if not, the greatest challenge of my life — making this film. I think what started as a movie that was all about a certain dark notion, as I was making it and writing it, I had this feeling that it also had to represent joy and had to represent Black joy,” said Peele to Arab News.

The movie follows a brother and sister (played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who, after their father’s unexplainable death, try to capture proof that a flying saucer is menacing their town.

The film has been confirmed as Peele’s most expensive production, with Forbes speculating a $40 million cost, nearly 10 times that of his debut, “Get Out.”

Kaluuya, who was the lead star of “Get Out” and plays O.J. Haywood in “Nope,” said: “It’s just bigger and he’s grown as a filmmaker, so it’s just amazing to see that.”

“He can understand what’s happening and make choices and make decisions and troubleshoot. Yeah, but there’s always this part of him that’s wide open to letting the film surprise him,” said actor Steven Yeun, who plays Ricky “Jupe" Park, in the film.

Story details are being kept secret, but audiences can expect layers of social commentary between the thrills and chills, with Peele already hinting that “Nope” explores themes of commercial exploitation and the increased visibility of people of color in Hollywood.

“Putting people of color in the leads and the subject matter not always having to do with black versus oppression. It’s just black leads, black perspective, stories and culture,” said Palmer, who stars as Emerald Haywood in “Nope.”

“I want something that’s going to give you a fun experience and an adventure. And at the end, I want you to have to talk about it,” said Peele.

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show
Updated 18 August 2022

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show

Inside ‘House of the Dragon,’ this year’s most eagerly anticipated show
  • Can the ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel emulate its extraordinary success?

DUBAI: Few television shows (or films, or any other kind of media) have had as great a cultural impact as “Game of Thrones.” Throughout its eight-year run, which began in 2011, the sprawling fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s books gripped audiences across the globe (for reasons both positive and negative) and its influence is still felt across television and film. Now, just over three years after its last episode aired, HBO has finally readied a follow up its most-popular series: “House of the Dragon” — a prequel set hundreds of years earlier, which premieres on OSN in the Middle East on August 22.

The world has changed, however. When “Game of Thrones” debuted, there was nothing like it. For many, the series was the first piece of fantasy that enraptured them — propulsive, riveting and uncompromising storytelling that eased viewers into the existence of ice monsters and dragons. A decade on, there has been a litany of direct imitators, none of which has come close to emulating its success. So why should this one?

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith in 'House of the Dragon.' (HBO)

“There have been many attempts to capture the ‘Game of Thrones’ magic,” says “House of the Dragon” co-creator and co-showrunner Ryan J Condal. “And many shows that have done only one or two seasons, and that’s it. There’s clearly a pattern of people wanting something like ‘Game of Thrones,’ but [the imitators] had to make it different. We’re lucky in the respect that we don’t have that problem. The more ‘Game of Thrones’ we are, the better.”

“House of the Dragon” should not be seen simply as a carbon copy of its predecessor, though. “Game of Thrones” had dozens of major characters, with the two major ones — Daenerys Targaryen and Aegon Targaryen (who believed himself to be Jon Snow for most of it) — not even meeting until near the end. “House of the Dragon” is far more zoomed in, centering on four characters from that same Targaryen family — a mercurial bunch with pale white hair and dragon’s blood in their veins — 200 years prior to the birth of Daenerys.

The central conceit is, however, pure “GoT.” A peacetime king — Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) — is unable to produce a male heir, leaving his hot-headed and unpredictable brother Prince Daemon as his most likely successor. Viserys, however, has other plans, thinking that perhaps his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (played by Emma D’Arcy as an adult, Milly Alcock as a teen) could become the kingdom’s first queen. Her best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke as an adult, Emily Carey as a teen), however, seems to have her eyes on the king herself.

Olivia Cooke as Lady Alicent. (HBO)

“I think the thing that made it so interesting to us is the idea that you get to explore the Targaryens as a dynasty and as a family instead of basically just one person. (We) get to show you what Westeros was like when the Targaryens were at height of their power and influence, when they had 17 dragons to discourage other houses from raising a challenge to the throne. And we see a broad spectrum of different Targaryen people — princes and princesses, firstborns and second-borns — who all have their own internal life and wants and needs and identity,” says co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik.

“What you realize is: This is just like any other family,” he continues. “It’s made up of a complex range of people who will all react to things in a different way. There isn’t a Targaryen archetype. There’s nature and nurture involved — how they develop as people and how they react to different things. They’re all real, complex people with gray in their souls, and that’s why people tune in from week to week, to follow these, hopefully, deeply interesting and compelling characters.”

Leading the pack is Paddy Considine, an actor who has put in some of the finest, if under-heralded, performances in recent history, including 2003’s “In America,” 2004’s “Dead Man’s Shoes” and 2010’s “Submarine,” and is finally given the major role he’s always deserved — something that the creators of the show saw before he did.

Paddy Considine as King Viserys. (HBO)

“I was the first actor cast in it, which was a massive leap of faith on the part of Miguel and Ryan and HBO. The fact that I didn’t even have to audition was a big gamble, really. Because I’ve a cynical side, my first question was, ‘Well, who’s turned it down? Who doesn’t want to do it?’ And they said, ‘Nobody. It’s yours. We’re coming straight to you.’ And that’s a good way to get me in, because I was very flattered by that, I was really honored. Truthfully, I was,” says Considine.

Matt Smith, who has already found huge success for his runs as both the lead in BBC stalwart “Doctor Who” and Prince Philip in the first two seasons of Netflix smash “The Crown,” comes in as the show’s most recognizable star, with his trademark charisma on full display as the brash and brilliant Daemon.

“I loved his unpredictability,” Smith says. “That was one of the things that really drew me to Daemon in the first place. You never quite know where he’s going to go, even as an actor. That affords you a great deal of invention and allows you to play. It’s nice when you’re an actor and you don’t quite know where the scene’s going to take you. I really loved it. I had such a good time.”

Ryan J Condal is the co-creator and co-showrunner of “House of the Dragon.” (HBO)

Smith may have been having fun, but the shoot was grueling. It began in April 2021 and didn’t wrap until February 2022, filming across the UK, Spain and California.

“Nothing prepares you for the shooting. I walked in with my shoulders back and head high. A year later, I crawled out on my belly,” says Considine.

“Game of Thrones,” of course, was a show with massively popular female characters, an aspect that kept it relevant as the cultural paradigm shifted, with Danaerys Targaryen becoming a symbol of empowered women the world over. “House of the Dragon” takes that baton and runs with it, focusing first and foremost on its lead women characters, Princess Rhaenyra and Lady Alicent.

For the show’s female stars, getting on the same page with the showrunners over how women would be portrayed in the violent and sexist world in which it’s set was of paramount importance from day one.

Milly Alcock (left) and Emily Carey. (HBO)

“Both Olivia and I started speaking with Miguel Sapochnik really early,” says D’Arcy. “One of the questions that I came into the show with was: ‘How do you make sure you are telling a story from their point of view, when we are in a world that doesn’t afford them space?’”

The conversations went better than they expected, the two stars reveal.

“Miguel was incredibly receptive and really generous on all of that. He gave us the space to explore these characters,” Cooke says.

“Fundamentally, Miguel is really aware that he’s not a woman,” D’Arcy adds. “He was very willing to defer to us, if something came up in the text. If you have a question, you have every right to interrogate that. It’s been a collaborative process.”

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region
Updated 18 August 2022

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

6 pop-culture highlights from across the region

DUBAI: From resin earrings and a vibrant Moroccan wedding celebration to a Lebanese pop anthem and a stripped-back jazz-infused improvisation, here are six pop-culture highlights from around the region. 


‘Makhelaw Magalou’

The Moroccan singer-songwriter’s latest single and its accompanying video (which has racked up over 19 million views on YouTube) are a tribute to the culture of her homeland, with the clip — directed by Farid Malki — covering several rituals of a traditional wedding, including the aamaria (a decorated chair on which the bride is carried), henna application, the bride’s Berber jewelry, the sharing of a meal, and a joyful, incense-drenched lila dance ceremony. Sonically, the track shows influences of the deeply spiritual gnawa music beloved in Morocco, with modern, electronic flourishes and a pop vibe.

Amir Fallah

‘An Anthem for Uncertain Times’

The acclaimed artist brings his enigmatic portraits and installations to Vancouver, Canada, in his new show. “(Fallah’s) subjects are most often veiled, masked or absent, represented by specific objects, cultural motifs and artifacts which point to who they are rather than their visual identity,” a press release for the show explains. Fallah’s family left Iran after the 1979 revolution, moving to Turkey and Italy before settling in America. “His work embraces how his journey has shaped his variety of identities,” the release states. “Each work encapsulates the perceived randomness of how our life experiences all fit together.” Artist and curator Sanaz Mazinani says of Fallah’s work: “For many of us living far from our ancestral lands, Fallah’s paintings model the ideas, beliefs, and fears that many immigrant bodies face daily. But through the work’s relentless beauty and tenacity … the offering of possibility comes in the joy of evolving difference.”

Adib Yassine El Khazen


The first release from a new trio — Syrian singer-songwriter Lynn Adib, Lebanese drummer Khaled Yassine, and Lebanese guitarist Raed El-Khazen — is an ambitious six-and-a-half-minute improvisation on Adib’s “Heliopolis,” built around a jazz-y drum line and sparse guitar (save for a solo midway through) that create a space for Adib’s stunning vocal trickery. According to El-Khazen, Adib wrote the track “following a heartbreak in Cairo” and the title refers to the ancient Egyptian city “where the sun god Ra was once worshipped as the ultimate source of light and justice in the cosmos.”

Son Savage

‘Just Keep Dancing’

Having topped Anghami’s charts with “The River” last year, the Dubai-based Lebanese producer (real name Charbel Ghanime) is enjoying similar success with his latest release — a funky, radio-friendly pop track called “Just Keep Dancing,” which, Ghanime says, “serves as an anthem that celebrates people in all their differences and quirks.” Added polish comes from producer Sleiman Damien, whose previous collaborators include Carole Samaha and Haifa Wehbe. “I’ve been a big fan of Sleiman since I met him around six years ago. We’ve always admired each other’s work and have always listened to and learned from each other,” Ghanime says in a press release. “In a recent trip I made to Dubai, I was showing Sleiman some projects I was working on and ‘Just Keep Dancing’ struck a chord with him. The rest is history.” The video meanwhile, “shows that — just like hate — love and dance can also be infectious,” he says.

Jude Benhalim

‘Electric Harmony’

The Egyptian jewelry brand’s annual summer capsule collection this year is made entirely from resin (actually, resin and translucent pearl that have been melted together) and “celebrates the harmony of marrying opposites,” according to a press release. “Electric Harmony” consists of three styles of earrings. “With dreamy spirals seamlessly merging with edgy studs, the motifs of the Greek-inspired pieces strive for a delicate balance of youth and sophistication,” the release states.

Ahmed Santa

‘Santa El Gded’

The Egyptian MC’s latest album pairs his trademark wit and lyricism with trap and drill sounds — a departure from his previous styles. “I’ve been authentic in my process of creating each song,” he says in a press release. “All of the emotions are true to that moment in the process.” The 10-track record feature collaborations with some of Egyptian hip-hop’s biggest names, including Desso and Abo El-Anwar, and could well be the release that makes Santa a star outside of his homeland.

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights
Updated 18 August 2022

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights

REVIEW: ‘Fall’ gets the adrenaline pumping, but fails to reach the heights
  • Survival thriller’s set pieces enthral, but weak script lets actors down

DUBAI: Scott Mann’s survival film ‘Fall,’ currently in theaters in the Middle East, is undeniably thrilling. It would be almost impossible for any competent filmmaker not to make it so because of its premise: Two young female climbers stuck 2,000 feet above the ground on a small platform at the top of a rickety, remote TV tower in the middle of the desert, allowing for genuinely stomach-churning, vertigo-inducing aerial shots.

The two women, Hunter (Virginia Gardner) and Becky (Grace Caroline Curry), are there to scatter the ashes of Becky’s late husband Dan, who died one year previously — a year that Becky has mostly spent drowning her sorrows in a bottle and ruining her relationship with her father James (Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a cameo that must have him questioning his agent’s competence) — when the three of them were climbing a mountain. That’s the scene that opens the movie, giving Mann another location for majestic, sweeping shots that maybe this overlong movie could have done without. Most of the flimsy backstory could have been covered as the two best friends walk through the desert to, and climb, the tower and little would have been lost.

They’re also at the tower to drum up further content for Hunter’s social-media fans — she’s made a name for herself online as a danger junkie with a devil-may-care attitude that Becky’s lines in the clunky script make clear isn’t the ‘real’ Hunter.

Once they’re up on the platform after a disastrous ladder collapse, we learn that maybe the ‘real’ Hunter wasn’t such a good friend to Becky after all, as Mann and co-writer Jonathan Frank introduce the first of their not-that-clever twists. There are a couple more of these and all of them are unoriginal.

As the lack of cell-phone coverage, food, and foresight takes its toll (not to mention hungry buzzards attracted by the gash in Becky’s leg), the climbers’ situation becomes increasingly dire. As does the script. No one can question Gardner and Curry’s physical commitment to the shoot, but, in acting terms, there just isn’t enough for them to work with. The lack of drama in their reactions just doesn’t ring true.

There’s another gripping set-piece when Hunter attempts to retrieve their water from a satellite dish just over 50 feet below their platform and it’s these scenes that — maybe — make “Fall” worth seeing on the big screen. You’ll definitely be entertained, or at least panicked. But whether the other 80 minutes or so are worth the payoff is up for debate.