Life Lessons From Tara Emad

Words by Allyson Portee

11 min read

During the hustle and bustle of the El Gouna Film Festival 2020, we sit down with Tara Emad to talk everything from her personal style, to acting, modelling, and her charitable heart of giving back.

We meet in the lobby of her hotel. Tara Emad is carrying a clothes bag bigger than herself, and although she is winded and apologising for her tardiness (she has just come off a photoshoot that ran late), she is kind. As we walk to her room she graciously takes a selfie with an eager fan. “OK,” she says, “now we can do this.” As we nestle on her balcony overlooking the pool, just her and I, no publicist in sight, Tara is relaxed. Ever gracious, she offers her undivided attention, and for the rest of our time I forget that I’m talking to one of the Arab silver screen’s most-loved actresses, rather, I’m in conversation with an empowered woman in her late twenties.

The 28-year-old began her career as a model before becoming an actress, but it was acting that was always in her heart. Sitting back in her chair with her hand on her chin and a sparkle in her eyes, she shares, “The first the first memory I have of myself is acting in front of a mirror and pretending to be someone else, living this character I had in my head. I’ve always wanted to be in the cinema, in the movies. I wanted to be other people, live other lives.” She is perhaps best known for her role as Mermed in The Blue Elephant II, which tells the story of psychotherapist, Dr. Yehia. Five years after his wife and daughter pass away, Yehia returns to his job, where he is responsible for treating criminally insane patients. Emad’s role has stuck with her. “My character is a drug dealer – not that I want to be a drug dealer – but she’s strong and powerful, and a very smart woman. She’s very athletic and she knows her way around people. She plays music and rides a motorcycle, so I think she was very empowering and she gave me a boost to do more action roles later on. I always say, ‘I wish I were a doctor, I wish I was a poet, I wish I was so many things’ and through acting I get to be all these things, which I think is incredible. Did I say, I always wanted to be an actress?” she laughs.

For Emad, appearing in the front of the camera has been part of her life almost since day one. At the age of four she appeared in commercials, and from there she began modelling during her teenage years. “I started acting when I was 15 and I started modelling when I was 14 – they were always in parallel. But I was focusing more on modelling at the time and I was travelling a lot and modelling was more prevalent in my life.” Then, four years ago, she decided to focus on acting. “I invested more in acting workshops around the world, online and in Egypt, and I’m studying, so I wanted to give acting one hundred percent.”

Born to an Egyptian father and a Montenegrin mother, Emad is really connected to her mixed heritage. At 17, Emad participated in the Miss Teen Egypt and won first place and went onto compete in the Miss Global Teen Pageant in Brazil, where she won the title of first runner up and Teen Queen of Africa. I ask if she finds any similarities between the disciplines of acting and modelling. “When modelling and doing photo shoots it could be slightly different from acting,” she says. “But what I love about acting is that it sticks with you. I could do it [indefinitely]. There’s no specific age range that puts me in a box of ‘these are my modelling years’. Acting lives longer.” But they are both industries full of rejection, and Emad has paid her dues in that respect. “I was rejected more than the films and series that I’ve done [would suggest] in the 10 years that I’ve been acting. It’s a part of the deal that there’s going to be so many downs. People are not going to believe in you,” she says. “People are going to tell you that you’re not going to make it. Many will let you down and make you feel like this is the end and that you should quit. So do you actually listen to them, or do you keep pushing forward because you believe that this is what you’re actually meant to be doing?” Choosing her words carefully, she continues. “This is the turning point in so many other careers, not only acting, because you ask yourself ‘what am I doing wrong, do I need to step up my game, do I need to do more acting workshops, do I need to work on myself – read more or study more, invest more in the way that I deal with the characters that I’m going to audition for?’”

There was a turning point in Emad’s own career where the actress temporarily gave up on her craft. “It was when I was really let down by an audition and it really got to me. It felt like I was defeated because I thought the audition went perfectly, but the people behind the cameras said that I was never going to make it and that I should leave and never think of acting,” she admits. “That night I went back home with my mum and I cried so hard and said I was never going to act again, that they were absolutely right. Six months passed. My mum asked me: ‘What is the one thing you see yourself doing in 10 years?’ My answer was simple: acting. This is the one thing I could see myself doing, that I was truly passionate about, that I could send a message with and be a part of. She was like, ‘Fine, you got your answer. You took a break and now you realise that this is what you need to be focusing on.’ There are so many noes that are going to be coming your way, but you have to keep pressing forward.” I turn the conversation to Tinseltown and wonder if she has aspirations in that direction. “Hollywood was always my dream and hopefully it will happen soon! I haven’t been thinking ‘I’ve made it,’ I still like to push. I’ve made it in the sense that I’ve made really cool movies, really cool TV series, and that I’ve acted a character that was hard to express and portray, but there’s more to come.”

The conversation turns towards fashion. She speaks of how the 1950s and ’60s was Egypt’s sartorial heyday. “The style was something to be reckoned with because the country was filled with this sense of gorgeous dresses and beauty. I guess it’s now being revived once more.” Emad’s personal style isn’t complicated; it’s comfortable. “I love wearing dresses. I’ve realised recently that I’m obsessed with day dresses and everything that’s fluffy. I don’t wear them often, but I’m someone that likes to be comfortable and on the go. I’m a very active person, so I’m always in trainers and something that’s very comfy.” When it comes to the red carpet, the actress prefers elegance. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone in two colours; it’s always one colour, especially for gowns. Sometimes it’s tomboyish and I want to be comfortable.” At the moment she’s crushing on Egyptian designer Deana Shaaban, and Lebanese brand, Thym, and she’s “obsessed” with Lebanese couture designer Krikor Jabotian. But acting and fashion, along with giving back, completes Emad.

Charity has always been a part of her life. It was her mother that instilled in her from a young age the importance of helping others. “She always told me that ‘When you feel happiness in your life, you need to divide that and give back, because when you give, you get back,’” says Emad. “I do charity work related to animals and shelters for animals. Animals are really abused on the streets of Egypt, especially Cairo. There are many of them, and shelters are overcrowded and they don’t have enough to support all the dogs, horses, camels, donkeys, cats… everything. These are some of the things I’m focusing on.” Emad also works with underprivileged children who don’t have access to education because they live in remote areas, or their parents don’t have the finances for their schooling. “You want to give and receive affection, you want to feel significant and you want to feel loved. When you see children who don’t have access to a proper education, or they can’t get the clothes to attend school, they can’t get the books to go to school, I guess it humbles you. It makes you realise we are all one and it isn’t a matter of chance. It’s about whether or not you will lend the helping hand that that person is in dire need of.”

Tara Emad’s 10-year acting career has been good to her. She has fans all over the Arab world but she’s humble about taking it all in, one day at a time. “I’m just focusing on my growth and trying to better myself from the day before. I’m trying live in the current moment. The accumulation of everything is going to be my success.”

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