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‘I Want to Be the Representation I’ve Always Wanted to Witness’: Egyptian Rising Star Tara Emad on Modeling, Acting and Role Models

Tara Emad
Courtesy of Victor Bastidas

Egyptian supermodel and rising actor Tara Emad appeared this year in the Arab-language version of the U.S. drama series “Suits,” and in October was appointed the ambassador for Chanel, becoming the first Arab model to feature in the brand’s advertising. Ever since she was a little girl, Emad has had a comfortable relationship with the camera, she tells Variety at the Red Sea Film Festival, where she attended the premiere of “All Roads Lead to Rome.”

“My family always says that whenever they would take pictures of us as a family, I was always there and ready and looking at the camera and already posing,” Emad says. “I was never shy.” She booked her first modeling gig at 14 with a magazine shoot, and was surprised to find herself on the cover. “A decade later, I was still modeling and traveling the world,” she says.

She was soon pursuing her ambitions to be an actor, citing Egyptian icons Yousra and Faten Hamama, and Audrey Hepburn as role models. “So I did so many auditions while I was modeling,” she says. She picked up small parts as a teenager before making her first real breakthrough with her role in “Saheb El Saada” (2014) with Adel Emam when she was 20. “That series kind of catapulted everything after that,” she says.

Sharing scenes with an experienced actor like Emam was also an opportunity to learn her craft: “He realized that I was super nervous. He’s like: ‘Listen, I know you’re nervous. And it’s normal. And I mean, I would be too if I was in your place, but just breathe, and just let it go. It’s gonna be fine. You’re here for a reason.’ And I carry that sentence with me.”

Emad has gone from strength to strength ever since, across the Egyptian cultural scene, appearing in popular TV shows and movies, culminating in her appearance in “Suits,” and her Chanel role.

This international exposure Emad hopes to parley into a Hollywood career. Her dream would be to work opposite Anthony Hopkins and for directors like Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg. “I’ve always, always dreamt of working internationally, I’ve always dreamt of going to Hollywood. Because growing up, I’ve never seen Egyptian representation in Hollywood, especially Egyptian girls, Egyptian women, and I seek to be that representation that I’ve always wanted to witness. So that’s what I’m working towards.”

She sees her career in the context of the emerging visibility of women across the region. “When one woman succeeds, it paves the way for other women to succeed,” she comments. “When one Arab country succeeds, all Arab countries succeed. So, when part of the region is having a positive spotlight, we all benefit. And when I was a little girl, I always wanted to see girls like me. I always wanted to see a girl like me from my region from my country succeeding and you know, just achieving her dreams.

“Now, being able to work on big campaigns and work with huge brands, it’s that dream that is really pushing me forward. And I feel I can offer representation for the other girls, and it makes so much difference. When I find a mom texting me: ‘My girl really looks up to you. She wants to be, for instance, a doctor, and seeing you succeed is giving her this, you know, perseverance to continue.’ So I guess that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

Emad hopes to use her fame to promote issues that she cares about.

“Someone with a solid spotlight on them should always use it to shine light on things they care about. There are so many things I personally feel interested in, especially related to children’s education, and women’s health and women’s education in the region, and in Egypt, and animal rescue shelters. Also, I was an ambassador for an initiative related to recycling, sustainable living called ‘Recycle for Tomorrow.’

“Many of those things constantly need to be taught and discussed, to raise awareness, to actually have a move towards a more sustainable life, a brighter future. It’s important when you have that spotlight on you to use it.”

She has three new films queued up for release in 2023. First up is “My Brother Above in the Tree,” directed by Mahmoud Karim. The film is a comedy, set in Cairo and sees Emad starring alongside the popular prankster and comic actor Ramez Galal, who plays the introverted man whose life is turned upside down when he learns he has an identical twin brother.