Darine Hamze 11
Darine Hamze is one of Lebanon’s most prolific and celebrated actresses. She’s known for pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo, and has been delivering memorable performances since 2009’s The Book of Law.

Some of her most notable credits include Beirut Hotel (2011), Halal Love (2015), Yalla Aa’belkon Chabeb (2016), and Nuts (2016).

Can you tell me a little bit about how you got your start in acting?

I always knew I wanted to be an actress. I went to boarding school in England when I was young, and I used to watch a lot of plays and I’d participate in every single performance in school. I really loved that world. When I came back to Lebanon and finished school, I immediately went to the Lebanese University and studied acting drama, and once I was done, I flew to London to get my Master’s degree in media arts. I also went to Columbia University in New York and participated in acting-for-film workshops.

Some people spend their entire lives doing things they don’t enjoy, trying to find their passion. I’m one of the lucky ones in the sense that I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life, even when people told me it was a risky move since it’s a difficult industry to break into. But I went for it anyway.

Could you walk me through the experience of being a female actress in Lebanon? How do you think your experience differs from actresses working in the West?

It’s very different: Women in our field are unfortunately subjected to a lot of sexism and misogyny. They’re often looked at as objects of desire, and they don’t have the rights that men or women abroad enjoy. When you film daring scenes or take on courageous roles, it can sometimes backfire and lead to blowback. A lot of things are still considered taboo, and people tend to be incapable of separating the role from the actress.

When women abroad take on roles that may be considered bold, they’re applauded and receive awards. Here, it can be looked down on and you have to constantly explain that you’re not the character you portray in a film. We lack some culture when it comes to this art form.

We still don’t really have a proper industry, so there’s a lot of trial and error, and it can be very tough, especially when you insist on being selective in film quality. I like taking on roles that are nothing like myself and building characters, but it can be frustrating sometimes due to the lack of such opportunities.

You’ve taken on some pretty daring roles in your career. What made you want to push the envelope, and do you think that it’s helped pave the way for more creative freedom?

It was a hard experience for me; people were very aggressive and some felt that I was betraying my country and our national pride. It wasn’t easy, but I persisted. The way I see it, I was just doing my job.

I’ve been preaching about what it means to be an actress and trying to push people to respect our field. There are a lot of women who exploit their bodies out of context to boost their careers, and I don’t agree with that. It’s an easy way to get famous, but it has absolutely nothing to do with art.

I find myself lost in translation, but the younger generation seems to get it more. Young people often come up to me and tell me that I’ve inspired them, and that they’re pursuing acting because of me. I feel so much gratitude when I hear things like that, and it gives me a lot of fulfillment. It helps balance out the negative side.

You recently served as a consulting producer on Nuts, and you’re the executive producer on Behind the I. What compelled you to get into producing?

At this stage in my career, I really want to portray characters that appeal to me. Since our industry is somewhat lacking, especially when it comes to quality scripts, I’ve found that I needed to take matters into my own hands. The commercial side isn’t offering roles that I’m interested in, so I’ve put together a great team and I’m creating film projects I’d like to do.

Three years ago, when I was pitched Nuts, the producer didn’t have a script and he had yet to make a feature. I was kind of forced into producing, and I understood it. It’s not that I wanted to be a producer, I had to become one. Apparently I’m good at it, and I’m going to keep at it, mainly for projects I’d like to act in. I’m trying to tackle this new phase in a professional and correct manner; I’ve just attended a creative producing workshops with Alix Madigan (Winter’s Bone), who has a lot of experience.

I get sent a lot of shallow scripts and get offered even shallower roles. What also tends to happen is that good scripts are offered to an actor, but they have no financing, or there’s a lack of industry know-how, but you’re happy to support it in any way you can because it’s worth the effort. As long as it all helps make great movies, you can count me in.

What can we expect to see from you in the near future? Any personal projects aside from professional endeavors?

I’m working on two feature films right now, a local one and a co-production with a foreign country, which is all I can say for now. They will be made with my full dedication as usual, in the hopes of making good Lebanese cinema available for moviegoers.

In terms of personal projects, I’ll be launching an NGO very soon called IBRAM. It’s an abbreviation of Ibrahim, which was my father’s name, and it actually means father. The NGO was founded by a fantastic group of people who strongly believe in non-violence, and we want to try and prevent today’s youth from resorting to crime. IBRAM is a homage to my father who was murdered three years ago by burglars, and I think it’s my responsibility as a public figure to use my voice to try and bring positive change. I wholeheartedly believe that this is an artist’s duty, and I hope to make a difference and infuse a little more light in this often dark world.

by Anthony Sargon