Meet the first Saudi Arabian actress to star in a Netflix series! Here Buro 24/7’s columnist Hatem Alakeel speaks exclusively to Ahd Kamel about roles, religion and real life off set…
To find humanity in any character is a talent. To find a Saudi pioneer in cinema is an art. Ahd Kamel fulfills both roles, eloquently. I am so proud to present the amazing (and first) Saudi Arabian actress and director, a true gem and a pioneer who has changed perceptions with her very own voice. Most recently Kamel captured audience attention in one of the most promising projects to come out of the Middle East, a Tarantino-esque thriller titled Zinzana (which translates to Rattle the Cage) directed by Emirati filmmaker, Majid Al Ansari. The groundbreaking film was the first in a genre of films with crossover appeal, whilst also managing to enthrall Arab audiences. It’s the very same asset that sees Kamel as one of the Middle East’s ultimate gems; she’s at once a modern Arab woman, while simultaneously possessing a deep understanding of Western culture and values. Those values are set to come to light in Kamel’s latest role in the Netflix series, Collateral, by the Oscar-winning playwright David Hare’s, alongside Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan from The Great Gatsby…
Can you tell us about the character Fatmah which you will be playing in the Netflix series, Collateral? Is she anything like you?
All I can share at this point is that she’s a strong Muslim woman living as a refugee in London. Oh yes! I think she’s my hero actually.
We are so very proud of you. You really are one of the Middle East’s gems. How did this wonderful Netflix story start? Tell us about the steps leading up to the casting.
It’s funny actually. When I first got the audition through my agent in London, I went in and read for a smaller role. I was pleasantly surprised when a few days later they asked me to come in and audition for Fatmah, who has a much bigger role in the series, and I got it on the spot. SJ Clarkson, the director of the show, told me later: “I knew I’d found my Fatmah the moment you walked into the room.”
What’s your advice for the next generation of Saudis? Are there any steps aspiring actors should consider before pursuing the creative industries?
The best advice I got when I was starting was from my acting teacher, Bill Esper. He told me: “Seek and you shall find.” I pass that piece of advice on to anyone doing anything really. Just do it. Acting, like all the arts, is a craft and you will never know whether it’s for you or not unless you try.
Do you feel that being labeled a “Saudi women” worked for you or against you before starting your journey into acting and directing?
Growing up I never thought being a Saudi woman would ever be trendy, and here we are today. It has definitely opened many doors for me, but then you have to walk through these doors with your skills and crafts, not just your nationality.
You’ve paved the way for many Saudi women. How does it feel to be a pioneer and a role model with such a positive international impact?
Have I?! All jokes aside, it’s wonderful to be a pioneer but ever more wonderful when you realise many are following the same path. I believe the more the better.
Tell us about the making of Zinzana. What was it like working with Majid Al Ansari?
I love Majid! He’s a wonderful and extremely talented director. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences ever. Zinzana was the first of its kind.
What does it mean to you today to be a modern Arab woman?
It means I have an opportunity to express myself and forge my own path.
When you’re home in Saudi Arabia, where will we find you?
With my nieces and nephews.
What is style to you?
A trinity of grace, fierceness and simplicity.
Less is more or more is more?
Less is always more!