International Star You Should Know: May El Calamawy

Bilingual actress has gotten a fast start in genre films

CLAIM TO FAME

Born in Bahrain and raised in Houston and Doha, 27-year-old May El Calamawy is a rarity: an actress fluent in both Arabic and English. She’s been making her career in genre films, starting with helmer Tobe Hooper’s “Djinn,” the first chiller produced in the United Arab Emirates, where it has been a hit.

DESIGNS ON ACTING

After completing high school in Bahrain, she began studying industrial design in Boston, because her Egyptian dad, a banker, wanted her to get involved in something other than acting. But halfway through the year, she applied to Emerson College, and stubbornly told her parents, including her Jordanian mom, “If I get in, I’m going.”

THE NEW YORK-UAE CONNECTION

After attending Emerson, she took part in the New York Arab American Comedy Festival. But since 2009, she’s been back in the UAE, dividing her time between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, acting in shorts and a TV pilot. Next up is vigilante pic “Beretta,” to be helmed by U.S.-Qatari filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria, and produced by Tarak Ben Ammar, with Peter Webber onboard as co-producer.

OF TWO MINDS

“I like the fact that in the States there aren’t a lot of people who know that I’m Arabic, because they have a stereotypical view of what Arabs look like,” she says. “But I also feel that if I go there, I might not get cast as an Arab, and I want to keep those roots.”

DEPTH OF CHARACTER

“May is undeniably beautiful, but she also has such a truthfulness and depth to her that shines through the lens,” says “Djinn” star Aiysha Hart. “I remember watching her on my first day on-set, and I thought, ‘That girl is really good.’ She had to spend the entire day crying and reacting to imaginary evil spirits attacking her — and she absolutely delivered every time.”

 

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