Maha Abo Ouf; On Acting, Life, and the Future
Staff Writer May Mansour sets out to interview one hell of a magnificent woman, actress, and singer, who has magnificent takes on things and funny stories to tell.
Maha Abo Ouf, actress, mother, lover, fighter, and ex member of the famous 4M band that took Egypt by storm for over 12 years in the 80s. She lives in an elegantly cozy apartment in Zamalek with her son Sherif, both adventurous, beautiful creatures with an exquisite taste for the finer things in life. They share a love for travel and a passion for success and leisure. Maha is known for her many colours, she can be very generous, empathetic, and hilarious! She can be strong, opinionated and courageous, then she can be wild, mad, and even raging at times, but on top of it all, whomever she chooses to be, she is a survivor and an independent woman who knows what she wants and takes no shit from anyone! She recently finished working on a new horror series, and the first of its kind in Egypt, Saherat El Ganoub, and is about to kick off the 9th and 10th seasons of Ragel w Set Setat. I sat with her on Wednesday evening for a few drinks and a long chat…
Alright so first things first, let’s talk about the new horror series you’re starring in, Saherat Al Ganoub, tell me more about it…
Well it’s directed by Akram Farid and I work with quite a rich cast. At the top of my head Horreya, Sawsan Badr, Ahmed Fouad Selim, Salah Abdallah and a whole new generation of actors and actresses who are very promising. I play the role of Gameela who is a very decent, kind and generous human, based in Upper Egypt with her husband and his family, where she has her own charity organization and tries to benefit her society. Anyway, it’s about 60 episodes, it’s on MBC+ Drama but it’ll air on MBC Egypt on October 1st inshallah.
Through the story and events of the series have you learnt anything new about the culture in Upper Egypt?
Gameela is an Egyptian married to a man from Asyut, Upper Egypt. She’s surrounded by this culture from her husband and son who speak in a Sa3eedi accent to everyone else involved in the plot. I learnt how they can be fanatical about their traditions and habits, and that they place black magic, voodoo and spirit or satanic possessions in high regard.
Do you personally believe in those things in reality?
Of course I do. It’s written in our holy book that they exist, the majorities who claim are capable of black magic and such are fraudulent but I believe some have that ability. In Upper Egypt it’s quite severe though. But they’re not all like that I mean my late father is from Upper Egypt but he was broadminded and very cultured, he never had that frenzied mentality.
Have you freaked out at any point while shooting the series?
Yes! When Horreya was possessed and “turned” for the first time during the shoot I didn’t know what she would look like. The director told me she would appear and I’m to act horrified, then I’m sitting there and we’re shooting and all of a sudden she shows up and opens her eyes and looks at me, and I didn’t know she had those pitch black lenses on. I literally was horrified... I screamed for real.
You’re starting the new season of Ragel w Set Setat, how long has it been on pause?
Wow, two years, maybe more!
How do you feel about the comeback?
Excited. I feel like it’s one of the most successful sitcoms in the Middle East. We’ll also shoot the 9th and 10th seasons, and actor Sameh Hussein has joined us again.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment Maha?
Sherif my son. I consider him a gift from God. He was not supposed to be here, he was literally a miracle! Doctors around the world told me I could never get pregnant, and I refused to accept it and then one day out of the blue I am told that I am going to be a mother. It was the happiest day of my life.
You come from a well off family, and yet you decided to work at a very young age, why?
I was almost 13 or 14 years old, we used to go shopping with my parents to buy our Eid clothes, and there was this military outfit I was dying to buy but my father refused completely, he said the pants were too tight and the blouse too short and I was only a kid it really hurt me. At this moment though I decided I wasn’t going to be a slave to my parents' money, that I was going to work for my own money and get my own things and since I was 14 I’ve been working.
Then you formed The 4M band with your siblings in 1979, of course we won’t talk of the already-all-too-familiar history but I’ll ask you only two questions, what’s the best moment you’ve experienced with The 4M?
The moment that left an impact on me the most was our first gig ever in Tunisia, where we played a gig for an audience of twenty five to thirty thousand people! We were one of the first bands in the Middle East to play for such a capacity, and we played a cover of Ana Alby Daleely by Laila Morad, I’ll never forget it! Literally everyone in the audience were locking arms and swinging side by side, we cried on stage! It was quite intense.
How about the worst moment with 4M?
Our fist gig ever; a disaster! First of all we were so nervous and me and Mona my sister started fighting in the car on our way there and the whole band got involved, plus my mom was at the gig and our family from Upper Egypt were shocked by our decision to form a band. They had told her before the gig that they would kill us for her, as if they were doing my parents a favour by doing so. Anyway, back at the gig with my mom in the audience, they introduce us on the microphone, and fireworks set off, and my mom assumes it’s a bomb targeted at us by the Abo Ouf family so she literally jumps onto the stage screaming “MY CHILDREN!” all by herself, anyway people got over it eventually, then the stage got infested by what they call the “The Nile Cockroach” they’re massive and they stick and while we were singing we found them stuck on us and our clothes. So me and my sisters just started screaming and left the stage running, my brother then chased after us and we got into yet another argument for leaving the stage unprofessionally. It makes for a funny story though now that it’s over.
After 4M what made you decide to get into acting?
I actually got into acting for a little while before The 4M. I was 16 years old, and Youssef Ramses, a great director, painter and critic and a very good friend of my family, made ma an offer to work on a short series with him. I went there and found Youssef Wahby on set! I panicked and started crying. He was maybe 90 years old at that time, he came up to me to comfort me and told me “love the camera, go stare at it, hug it, talk to it, tell it you’re scared of it and ask it to be kind to you” I thought he was a crazy man for a moment, then I thought I’d give it a try and asked Ramses if I can go hug the camera! And he let me! And it worked! I feel like it’s extremely important to work with big names, who understand and give youth a chance. After that I’ve done another series, then we started The 4M which we’ve done for six months behind my father’s back by the way, he just thought I went to school. Anyway, throughout The 4M, directors started asking me to do this movie or that series, so when the band broke up I just continued where I left off.
Do you feel like the film industry or movie business changed over the years?
In what way?
Oh no way... okay I didn’t see that one coming! So how come?
First of all we don’t have as many writers as we used to, not even close! And they all follow trends nowadays, one person does a movie about drugs the rest follow, the revolution in Egypt set off everyone jumps on that wagon. Back then I believe we had more of a variety, more musicals even, and good music! Now it’s all about where the attention is. Even if it’s in a terrible place! I mean, for me as an actress, I’m supposed to be an ambassador for my country setting a good example, acting with an educational purpose perhaps, and not just to represent how degenerate our society has become. Even the little things matter and affect Egyptian viewers to the worse; acting like baltageya, spitting on the streets, objectifying women, harassing women, beating up women, and the list goes on. Media is a very powerful weapon, and we’re supposed to act as role models in our society.
So what do you think lacks in the industry?
Education; good and proper education; people, especially the youth here, aren’t interested in learning at school as much as they are from the movies and series they watch. We also definitely lack good taste; in style and even in choice of location, and there’s no more effort being put into inspiring people to be better, dress better, treat people better, clean up after themselves. Even the language we speak in when we communicate has become terrible so why promote it and exaggerate it?
But this is the reality we live in.
Yes but there are still good people out there, decent human beings, I’m not talking rich or poor at all I mean refined, respectable people willing to learn and better themselves, why not focus on that more often so that those who are lost in the vulgarity and brutality of life learn once again how to respect themselves and one another. Society has become a disaster! Most movies and series simply promote that way of life. I get 10 to 15 scenarios, the first page I read “eh ya bent el kalb ya…” bla bla bla I just turn it over, I’m not going to take part in this.
Who’s your favourite actress of all time Maha?
A Few: Roshdi Abaza, Omar El Sherif, Ahmed Ramsy and Ahmed Mazhar; I love them!
Your favourite director?
Spielberg at the top of my head if we’re talking internationally, and here I like Hassan Al Imam, Fateen Abdel Wahab, Niazi Moustafa, and I think Akram Farid is a genius! I also like camera man Ahmed Gabr, all excellent people.
Maha Abo Ouf, people who know you, know your extreme emotions, what makes you switch?
When I feel like someone is using me, or lying to me at my expense, or when someone takes advantage of my generosity. I can literally give someone my last penny, but I would go berserk if someone steals from me. I also don’t like people who take advantage of my caring for them, or who underestimate me or take me for granted when I love and give without thought, because I always do so.
What is your biggest fear?
You’re a drinker Maha, what’s your favourite alcoholic beverage?
Johnny Walker, Black Label, my beautiful Johnny.
Any drinks you avoid?
Tequila! I don’t like shots, and I know it hits the pancreas.
I want your opinion on a few things:
Family: My world, my life.
Fame: It has its downsides of course, but I believe if you choose fame, you have to accept the consequences. Especially if you want to go as far as not being able to have a life, personal space or privacy, that’s your choice. You take it all as it is because you choose it and it can be a gift.
Men: Support, courage, kindness, love... When someone says the famous expression “el set di b meet ragel” it is because we have these characteristics times a thousand. A man is a disappointment when he doesn’t know how to love a woman, or when he is a miser, or when he takes her for granted, or thinks he’s more powerful or that a woman should be under his feet or at his disposal. No I’m sorry, it’s not true. When a woman is in love she gives her man whatever he wishes for already, without him asking, when she’s neglected she’ll give him shit.
Death: I’m not a fan. I mean the only truth we know is that we will die, but I don’t like it being in my face all the time because it scares me regardless. All I ask for is not to die before I know my son has his feet on the ground and is in good hands.
What do you hope for the most?
To see my child blossom, with a beautiful wife and a beautiful child, and to die leaving only good memories behind me, and be acknowledged and remembered by my family, friends and fans for my inner soul, and the good I’ve done, nothing more.
What makes you happy?
When I’m between my family and friends, without impostors (she laughs). When I, and everyone I care for are in good health, and when I’m not in need of anything or anyone.
What’s your advice to those interested in acting?
Arrogance – abandon it! Never become arrogant just because you got what you wanted, remember that it’s the love of people for you that got you where you are, so be kind, be understanding and empathetic, remain humble, no matter how famous you get.
And what would you say to the Egyptian Society?
Love your country, treat it well, and do not harm your environment or other people around you. Work, work, work… be a good role model to your friends and your family, and continue to learn. Don’t be ignorant, be up to date with the rest of the world. We have the talent, the power and the potential, so let’s not take it for granted any further.
Styling and Art Direction by Gehad Abdalla
Photography by Lobna Derbala