Actress Haya Abdulsalam discusses Netflix’s smash-hit ‘Devil’s Advocate’

Actress Haya Abdulsalam discusses Netflix’s smash-hit ‘Devil’s Advocate’
Haya Abdulsalam in “Devil’s Advocate.” (Supplied)
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Updated 04 August 2023

Actress Haya Abdulsalam discusses Netflix’s smash-hit ‘Devil’s Advocate’

Actress Haya Abdulsalam discusses Netflix’s smash-hit ‘Devil’s Advocate’
  • With the success of ‘Devil’s Advocate,’ the acclaimed Kuwaiti actress has moved away from the kind of role that made her famous 

DUBAI: It’s amazing what we can do outside of the boxes that others have put us in. Since the beginning of her career, Kuwaiti actress Haya Abdulsalam has always been cast as the ‘cute girl’ and she yearned to show that she was capable of more. Now, her smash-hit Netflix series “Devil’s Advocate” has the entire region talking, and with a host of follow-up ideas ready to go, Abdulsalam is poised to become the Arab world’s queen of the crime thriller.  

“We intended this to be a hit, but we didn’t expect it to hit this big. People are stopping me on the street to tell me it’s the best Gulf series they’ve ever seen — that they never saw what was coming next. We’re so thrilled with this response, because that’s what we always dreamed of,” Abdulsalam tells Arab News.  

She knew there was a demand for a series like this. A huge fan of true crime and thrillers herself, she long wondered why the region didn’t have its own exemplars that could match up to the shows she and her husband, actor and producer Fouad Ali, would binge watch at home after a long day on set.  

Haya Abdulsalam and and Ali Kakooli in “Devil’s Advocate.” (Supplied)

“People love them, but they don’t really make them here. In our region, it’s always romantic series, or social dramas, or perhaps some historical fiction. There are rarely Arabic crime series — you can count them on one hand,” says Abdulsalam. 

“My husband and I were home watching ‘The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story’ when we had the idea. We thought, ‘Let’s do a story just like this — a famous football player who’s accused of killing his wife.’ But while, in this case, people are still wondering who did it years later, we’ll give them a totally different answer they’re not expecting,” she continues.  

The key role in the series was to be a hotshot female lawyer named Loulwa, who agrees to defend the young football star before falling in love with him. It was a role Abdulsalam didn’t intend for herself, and it wasn’t until a year into the process, after the script was finalized and the project was ready to go, that her husband finally stepped in, insisting she take it.  

Haya Abdulsalam in “Devil’s Advocate.” (Supplied)

“We were searching for our lawyer, but my husband finally said, ‘Haya, it’s you. I can see only you. You have to do this, especially because you’re always cast as the ‘cute girl.’ No one will ever expect something different out of you, and that’s exactly why it’s going to be brilliant.’”  

Playing the lead character in a series chock-full of twists, turns and revelations isn’t easy, of course. From the beginning, Abdulsalam wanted this to be a show that was impossible to predict, allowing viewers to have a completely different experience when watching it the second time. But how do you do that without giving away the game?  

“It’s very hard. I remember after one take, I went to the director and said, ‘Can we do it again? Because when I say the line this way, I know people will catch on right away.’ And when they went over the footage, they realized I was right. I had to find a way to do things in between, to leave people guessing,” she says.  

Abdulsalam always knew she was an artist, she just didn’t know she was an actor. Her father is a renowned painter and her mother an art director. She originally intended to follow in her father’s footsteps, even attending art school in the United States. She didn’t qualify for the fine art program, however, and fell into the dramatics department by default, urged by her family to just get a degree and figure out what to do with it later. 

When she returned to Kuwait, she worked behind the scenes on local film and television productions, working as a camera assistant with no ambitions of stardom, only stepping in front of the camera to clap the film slate after the director yelled “Action!” 

“The directors and producers would urge me to audition for roles, but I said ‘No, I don’t think my father will give me the OK. Not every girl in Kuwait can pursue that sort of career. It’s frowned upon in many circles,” says Abdulsalam. 

“Then even my mother started insisting, and so I joined the cast of a Ramadan series in 2009, and it was an instant success. When my father saw it on television, I still hadn’t even told him I wanted to be an actor. He was so sad, and told me he didn’t want to talk to me,” Abdulsalam remembers. 

For two years, Abdulsalam continued acting despite her fractured relationship with her father, landing bigger and bigger roles and pushing herself as hard as she could to improve at her craft. 

“He saw the success I was having, the way I performed, the respect I received across the country. He came to me and said, ‘Now you convinced me. I’m proud of you. I thought you just wanted to be famous.’ I told him, ‘I don’t care about being famous. I only want to be an artist. You’re the one who taught me that, Baba. I just wanted to be like you,’” recounts Abdulsalam, who now counts her father as one of her biggest fans.   

That same drive still fuels Abdulsalam, though now her artistic impulses extend beyond acting. Emboldened by her success as a producer on “Devil’s Advocate,” a second season of which she leaves the door open for, she is now readying numerous ideas for series that she plans to get off the ground, none of which she intends to act in — at least currently.  

“I have four ideas that I’m getting ready to pitch, a couple of which were actually inspired by true crimes in the region — that happened right here in the GCC. There are so many tales that people have ignored here that deserve to be told,” says Abdulsalam. 

As for acting, she is excited to continue to push herself, but is waiting for a role that speaks to her — whether in her own projects or someone else’s.  

“You have to feel it, you know? I’m aware I’m getting myself into a very good place, and that this success will open a lot of doors, but if I don’t feel I can bring something to it, then it’s not for me — even if it’s good for my career on paper,” she says. “At the end of the day, I still think of this as art, and art has to speak to you.” 

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity
Updated 18 min 26 sec ago

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity

New film festival in London seeks to ‘reclaim, celebrate’ Muslim identity
  • Event features narratives from Muslim filmmakers, productions inspired by Muslim culture and faith

LONDON: A new film festival in the UK is on a mission to explore Muslim experiences through film.

The inaugural Muslim International Film Festival will begin on May 30 in London’s Leicester Square.

The four-day event features narratives from international Muslim filmmakers as well as productions inspired by Muslim culture and faith.

“The idea behind the festival is about reclaiming our identity and celebrating it. For the longest time, being Muslim has felt like something we can’t be proud of,” MIFF director Sajid Varda told Arab News.

He added: “We’ve had to hide our identity, and the narrative around our faith and identities has often been controlled by others.

“There’s been a persistent frustration with how to change those perceptions and how to reconnect with wider audiences and communities.

“We want to give them a glimpse into our lives and lived experiences, while also showcasing the cinematic brilliance of our creative community and its contributions to cinema.”

The event will begin with the London premiere of “Hounds” (“Les Meutes”) by Moroccan director Kamal Lazraq. The film follows a father and son in Casablanca’s suburbs who make ends meet by committing petty crimes for a local mob until a kidnapping goes horribly wrong.

Other highlights include critically acclaimed films set in the UK, France, Turkiye, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran and Sudan.

The festival will include Q&A sessions, panels and networking events in partnership with the British Film Commission, Netflix and the BBC.

Organizers have made the festival as accessible as possible to wider audiences, Varda said.

“We wanted to ensure that the films align with our faith and ethos, avoiding gratuitous violence, nudity and overtly sexual themes. This makes the content accessible to all, not just Muslims, but also people of other faiths and beliefs who might be sensitive to these issues.”

He added: “Our ticket costs are much lower compared to other festivals. We’ve also given out many tickets at no cost to various organizations, and offered discounts to students and those facing financial hardship.”

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story
“Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)
Updated 27 May 2024

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

Review: ‘Norah’ makes Cannes history with its delicate handling of a Saudi story

CANNES: Director Tawfik Alzaidi's “Norah” made history when it was selected as the first Saudi film to screen on the official calendar at the Cannes Film Festival.

The film premiered at December’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah before heading to the French Riviera last week, where it ran in the famed festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

“Norah” is the story of a restless young woman (played with wonderful ease by Maria Bahrawi), who dreams of a life beyond her immediate surroundings.

Set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon, a new world opens up for Norah when Nader (Yaqoub Alfarhan), a failed artist and teacher from the city, comes to her village. Despite the rigid rules of society, the pair form a platonic relationship, linked by a passion for the arts. What emerges is a story in which the characters inspire each other, played out against the backdrop of the scenic AlUla region in Saudi Arabia, a location that is becoming a major moviemaking hub.

Norah, brought up by her uncle and aunt after having lost her parents early on, listens to music and pores over magazines. She encourages Nader to follow his passion for drawing, and their affection for each other gradually develops into an unshakable union.

The director strives to walk a tightrope, maintaining an equilibrium between Saudi sensibilities and a daringly emotional outlook. He explores the hesitant heartbeats of Norah and Nader but stops short of entering any overt romantic territory. The love affair, in this case, in one with the arts — both lead characters yearn for the chance to creatively express themselves.

While the narrative carries on at a gentle pace, the tone and tenure seem ruffled and out of place in the finale — with a rather bizarre ending marred by uncertainty. Alzaidi loses his grip over the narration, which until then seemed to have traversed a smooth road.

Sofia Carson shows off Elie Saab gown on the red carpet

Sofia Carson shows off Elie Saab gown on the red carpet
Updated 26 May 2024

Sofia Carson shows off Elie Saab gown on the red carpet

Sofia Carson shows off Elie Saab gown on the red carpet

DUBAI: US actress Sofia Carson showed off a gown by Lebanese designer Elie Saab at the closing ceremony of the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival.

The star, who has showed off Lebanese labels on multiple red carpets in the past, opted for an olive-toned ensemble from the designer’s Spring/ Summer 2024 couture collection.


A post shared by ELIE SAAB (@eliesaabworld)

Styled by Erin Walsh, Carson posed for photos on the red carpet in the look that featured a draped skirt and embellishments on the neckline.

The latest red carpet appearance proves Carson is something of a fan of Lebanon’s couturiers — In 2022 the “Purple Hearts” actress was spotted in New York wearing an ensemble by Zuhair Murad. Carson attended the Global Citizen Festival in a coordinating look from Murad’s Resort 2023 collection. The outfit featured an embellished crop top and mini skirt set with matching thigh-high leather boots.

In late 2023, the actress cut an elegant figure in a Zuhair Murad gown at the second annual Cam for a Cause event in memory of her former co-star Cameron Boyce, who died at the age of 20 due to an epileptic seizure.

Fast forward to 2024 and the now-concluded Cannes Film Festival has played host to a number of Arab-created looks.

Saudi designer Eman Al-Ajlan dressed Leomie Anderson. (Getty Images)

Saudi designer Eman Al-Ajlan dressed British model and TV presenter Leomie Anderson in a structured look featuring a mini dress with a net-like skirt fitted underneath at the 2024 amfAR Gala in Cannes.

A few celebrities opted for gowns by Murad at the same event, including German model Toni Garrn, sports commentator Alex Scott and Brazilian model Thayna Soares.

Meanwhile, German model Kim Dammer dazzled on the red carpet in a glamorous halter-neck black gown, intricately embroidered with geometric shapes by Lebanese couturier Rami Kadi. Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran was championed by Turkish actress Hande Ercel, who wore a black gown adorned with red and blue beads.

Egyptian actress Yasmine Sabri was also in attendance, wearing a sparkling silver dress by Lebanese designer Jean Pierre Khoury. The dress featured thousands of mirrored tube beads hand-sewn onto a corseted silhouette, according to the fashion house.

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes
Soraya Al-Shehri, Nabila Abu Al-Jadayel, Kariman Abuljadayel, and Salwa Abuljadayel. (Supplied)
Updated 27 May 2024

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

Saudi animation on pandemic-era worship in Makkah draws praise in Cannes

JEDDAH: Saudi film “Wa Isjod Wa Iqtareb” (“Prostrate and Draw Near”) won the “Animation That Matters” award during the Animaze Animation Day event at Marché du Film, the industry networking section of the Cannes Film Festival.

Directed, produced, and written mother-daughter duo Suraya Al-Shehry and Nabila Abuljadayel, the film was created via production company Suraya Productions and explores the period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic when cleaning staff replaced the usual mix of international worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

The film integrates traditional art and 2-D animation, but it is its subject matter that makes it unique, according to Al-Shehry.

“In the history of cinema, there has been a noticeable lack of films focusing on Makkah and the Holy Mosque, particularly in the realm of animation. Collaborating with my daughter … on our short animated film has brought me immense joy and a profound sense of fulfilment,” she said.

She added that the film portrays a significant moment in global and Islamic history by showcasing the Grand Mosque devoid of pilgrims, with the exception of the cleaning and maintenance staff who had the unique opportunity to pray there during the pandemic when no one else could.

Abuljadayel reflected on the nearly two-year project, saying: “For me, the best reward was the chance to collaborate with my mother, an experience that transcends any accolade.”

She emphasized that receiving the award aligned with the film’s core message of celebrating shared humanity.

“I firmly believe that what comes from the heart resonates with others, whether expressed through animation or my artwork, and the greatest testimony of that is the success of this film,” she said.

The creative duo seem to be keen to continue their success, with another project scheduled for completion next year.


British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation
Updated 25 May 2024

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation
  • Saira Peter says she is privileged to contribute her voice to British government’s public events, citizenship ceremonies
  • She also recorded ‘God Save the Queen’ in 2018 and received acknowledgement and gratitude of Queen Elizabeth II

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani Sufi Opera singer, Saira Peter, announced in a video message circulated on Saturday she received a letter of appreciation from Buckingham Palace for recording the British national anthem, “God Save the King,” following the coronation of King Charles III.
The British king’s coronation took place last May at Westminster Abbey in London. The event brought leaders and high-profile personalities from around the world and marked his official accession to the throne after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
Upon receiving the recording, performed in the soprano vocal range, the highest of the female voice types in classical singing, the king sent Peter a letter conveying his good wishes and sincere thanks for her public services.
She also received a signed photo card from him and Queen Camilla.
“I want to share with all my followers how excited I am to receive a letter and card of appreciation and gratitude from His Majesty King Charles the Third,” Peter said in the video, where she mentioned she was Pakistan’s first opera singer. “This arrived in response to my civic service of recording the British national anthem, ‘God Save the King.’”
“Being British-Pakistani, I feel so privileged to contribute my skill and voice to the British government’s public events and citizenship ceremonies,” she added.
Peter informed the British national anthem was recorded at the request of UK Government offices at Hastings Town Hall in East Sussex. The recording is now used across her adopted country for official government events.
Previously, she recorded “God Save the Queen” in 2018, making her the first Asian and the only Pakistani officially invited to undertake the task. Peter also received acknowledgment and gratitude from the late queen.
Born in Karachi, the opera singer told Arab News during her visit to Pakistan last year she used to sing in church choirs and began her Western classical journey, learning from Paul Knight, a disciple of Benjamin Britten, in London in the early 2000s after her family moved there.
Peter’s father, Zafar Francis, pioneered the Noor Jehan Arts Center in London, which was opened by British superstar Sir Cliff Richard in 1998.
She is the director of the performing arts center and teaches both Western and Pakistani classical music there.
She said her work in Britain was projecting “a positive image of Pakistan.”