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With her multitude of acting experience and keen business sense, defining the archetypal Mayssa Maghrebi is tricky business. But for this doe-eyed multi-talent, this is all part of her master plan, she reveals to Rohini Nagu

Crammed into a boxy sheesha cafe is hardly the kind of place that one would expect to find an Emirati superstar such as Mayssa Maghrebi. On second thoughts, the arty and yet homely interiors of this café, hidden away in the back of one of the region's busiest business districts on Sheikh Zayed Road, epitomizes Mayssa's paradoxical personality to a tee.

She is the CEO of a thriving media production company in Dubai, Media Group, and a serious actress. Both being equally demanding jobs, she is no stranger to the stresses that come along with trying to juggle two high-pressure jobs at the same time.

The secret is to be able to identify which one of her jobs is her true profession. “If someone were to ask me what my profession was, I would say that I am a business woman. You see, being an actress is not easy. Being a professional actress requires many sacrifices that I am just not willing to make. A true actress does not allow family or friends to come before her profession and although I love acting, I simply couldn't live with the thought of making such large compromises. So acting for me is an art and I treat it like an art. I pursue it with a true heart, but without allowing it to take over my personal life.”

A successful businesswoman long before she became an actress, acting is her true calling. Mayssa's first acting gig happened perchance well over six years ago, when a director, who had originally hired her to help him cast new talent in his Saudi series, called ‘Adeera Net', saw in her raw talent and that she would be perfect for the role that they were casting. He simply didn't take no for an answer and the rest, as they say, is history.

The director was right, and during Ramadan in 2000, ‘Adeera Net' aired on Saudi television and catapulted Mayssa to instant famedom. Even without any acting experience or prior training in show business, overnight, Mayssa had developed an immense fan following. Praise and more acting offers flowed in from everywhere. Many said that she was television's new sweetheart. Yet, Mayssa was wary of it all. Her constant itch for complete perfection caused her to take a brief sabbatical from acting soon after her first job.

She recalls, “People had liked my work, but I wasn't completely satisfied with myself. So I decided that before I took on any more roles I really needed to hone my acing skills. For the next year, I spend my time taking several workshops in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. I learnt how to improve my vocals, dialogue delivery and much more. The entire experience was very helpful and once I felt more satisfied with myself and my abilities, I returned to the industry.”

The new Mayssa was immediately welcomed and the marked improvement in the quality of her work was well received by industry professionals as well has her fans. Since then each and every one of her acting roles has gone on to make history. Indeed, this was bound to happen. Mayssa simply isn't like other celebrities. Her entire approach to selecting her acting roles is rather unconventional and unique from other Arab cinema artists.

“I am not looking for quantity. It is quality that I yearn for. Over the years, I have made sure that every role I play is challenging and compelling. Similarly, I will never ever agree to do a film or series based on who I might be working with or how big my pay check might be. Instead, I want each film to have a message and meaning. Frivolous cinema simply isn't my forte. If it is not a challenge and lacks any message or meaning,
I simply won't do it.”

This would explain the bold and rather controversial roles that dominate her resume. She has delivered one fearlessly powerful performance after another, ranging from the victim of child molestation to a poor and struggling drug addict, and more recently one as a Saudi housewife who yearns to drive although it's forbidden. In fact, she has developed quite a reputation as one who does only challenging and meaningful character roles. And all this in a span of only six odd years!

“I believe that every actor has the ability and power to send a message to the world through their work.

And I want to use this power in a responsible manner. Most of the roles that I have done are considered taboo and many have tried to dissuade me from doing them. But I believe that we can't cure a disease that is eating away at society until we expose it for what it is. It has to be brought out into the open and shock everyone into paying attention to what's happening.”

Mayssa's idealistic approach to her art is rather infectious. Yet her dedication to her art does not end here, what truly sets this talent apart from the rest is her keenness to look the part that she is playing. She has no qualms about washing away the layers of makeup that even the most renowned actresses hide behind or dousing even the most unattractive garments if the role demands it.

She asks, “I still don't see the sense in seeing a woman coming out of surgery with a fully made up face. I mean, who goes to surgery with eye shadow and lipstick? If I am playing a destitute drug addict, I can't be seen wearing eyes shadow, blush and salon styled hair. A drug addict is more likely to have pale skin, rings under her eyes and greasy hair. And that's what I intend to look like. I have faith in my skills and am confident enough to perform without make up.”

Of course, like any other woman, Mayssa loves to dress up when the occasion demands it. Her most recent venture and first acting job in a feature film, Tarab Fashion, show her in a more glamorous light.

Moroccan by birth but married to an Emirati for several years now, Mayssa regards herself as very much a Khaleeji. In fact, Tarab Fashion was her brainchild,which was conceived while watching a plethora of decked up Arab pop idols music videos from Egypt and Lebanon where each artist was nothing more than a pretty face.

“There's is a surplus of such hollow talents in the music industry today. Of course, I'm sure that this influx of fake talents won't last for long. It's a temporary, yet very big problem in the Arab world,” she says hopefully. With a clear message in mind – to expose the phenomenon of shallow artists that are plaguing the music industry – she set about finding the right team, script and finances to see this venture to reality.

The film was to be the UAE's maiden feature film in Arabic, and would be produced by Mayssa's Dubai-based productions company, Media Group. Starring Emirati singer Saoud Abu Sultan and Mayssa in the lead roles, Mayssa shouldered the AED 3.7 million-budget romantic comedy all on her own. The picture would tackles the modern day issues of fame, money and beauty with traditional values, and would be shot entirely on location in the UAE and made to international quality standards.

“More simply put, ‘Tarab Fashion' revolves around the commonly-held notion that the easiest road to fame is to capitalize on one's good looks and launch out as a pop singer, irrespective of whether one has the talent for music or not. The story is about Sarah, a singer's jealous wife, who aspires to become as successful and popular as her talented husband,” she elucidates.

For Mayssa, the film meant more than her debut into cinema. “It is a matter of great national pride and prestige for me to have been a part of the UAE's first full-length feature film. We have so much talent in this region that is just waiting to be discovered. So the numbers came in from the first week at the cinemas, we were pleasantly surprised.” she beams.

Of course, Mayssa did not recover the entire Dhs 3.7 million that she invested; nonetheless, she is very happy with the positive feedback it has received. Not only did the film win viewers over in the Khaleeji region, but it also managed to gain respect in Lebanon and Egypt. Mayssa's dreams of putting Khaleeji cinema and talent on the map was well on its way to becoming a reality.

One thing that has become blatantly obvious is that Mayssa's talents stretch far beyond acting. She played a pivotal role in producing the film and developing the characters and storyline. Moreover, she was the inspiration behind the entire project. When asked if she would ever consider directing a film, she hesitated at first.

“I have been told by many people that I would do very well behind the camera. But I really don't think that I am ready for such a big responsibility. I am still learning to become the best actress that I possibly can. Perhaps, when I feel more confident about my directorial abilities, I might take the plunge, but for now I am more than happy being an actress. Even while filming Tarab Fashion, I ensured that my work behind the scenes was wrapped up before I arrived on the sets and began acting. Once we began shooting, I focused solely on my acting and nothing else. For the moment, I prefer it to be this way,” she declares.

Whether Mayssa wants to see it or not, her future seems to be written in stone. By the end of the decade, this Moroccan beauty is going become one of the regions most respected and celebrated show business professionals. While Mayssa does have her goals set out, she refuses to work against a timeline.

“Who knows what will happen tomorrow? I would like to have children very soon. Perhaps even as soon as next year,” she predicts, “Then, once I am a mother, my time will be divided between my career and my children. After all, I would want to be there for my children before anything else. So we'll just have to wait and see. Career wise, whether it is a year from now or ten, I see myself as an actress. I may expand my skills by experimenting with directing, but acting will always remain my first and truest passion.”

The verdict is out. With a penchant for perfection and a pure love of her art, Mayssa Maghrebi is quite simply the model modern Arabian Woman. Her risqué, yet meaningful acting roles are her way of speaking up and campaigning for women's emancipation. An inspiration to all Arab women and television's intellectual sweetheart, it is Mayssa's unadulterated passion for what she does, that makes her the best at what she does and first even among equals.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 29/06/2008

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