When actor Nadine Nassib Njeim walks into studio CR8 in London, she appears like a captivating and powerful beauty queen. Her casual outfit aptly matches her humble and cheerful personality. With a heart-melting smile, she walks in a confident way that appears to amplify her femininity. Despite the chilly weather and suffering from a cold, Njeim arrives just in time with unbridled enthusiasm for the photoshoot and showing great attention to the smallest of details. She asks questions, discusses with the team, and checks every single photo to ensure they serve the creative idea. The artist has already proven that women can combine what are perceived as traditionally feminine and masculine traits.
Last year was not another ordinary year for Njeim. “It was a difficult year,” she admits. “Our region witnessed many events, explosions, sudden problems, and a popular revolution that has hit my country, Lebanon, and we are still suffering from its repercussions today. It has been a tough year for me, too, because of the problems I’ve had in my personal life that led to divorce.” However, she also recalls the success of her series Khamsa w Nos (Half Past Five), screened in Ramadan 2019. “I’m delighted with the success of the series in the Arab world, along with my professional achievements in Lebanon, the Arab countries, and the entire world throughout 2019.” Despite the harsh events that she faced in the past year, she considers that it ended successfully, “I learned a lot during that year, and, finally decided to welcome the new year with optimism and hope.”
For the first time since her divorce, the Lebanese actor speaks exclusively to Vogue Arabia, calling it a crucial moment in her life. “Hadi and I agreed to divorce about 10 months before announcing it. We preferred to keep it secret to protect our family. When the rumors spread, I felt it was time to announce it myself, and that’s what really happened,” she explains. “When there is neither love, nor attention or passion, a common life becomes difficult, and marriage turns into a relationship that puts pressure on the family. Marriage is a partnership between two people and has its ups and downs. But when it lacks attention, passion, and care that are essential to the success of any relationship, it may eventually lead to separation.”
Describing her divorce as a bold step, she continues, “I am not the first and I will not be the last woman in Lebanon or in the Arab world who takes this decision. The courts in the Christian and Muslim communities allow divorce to facilitate the lives of any couple, so why not to take advantage of this option, start a new phase, and build a new life?” Njeim stresses that happiness is the right of every human being, and we must strive to achieve it, pointing out that everybody makes mistakes and has the opportunity to correct them. She considers that when marriage becomes a mistake, it must be corrected rather than bear its pressure. “If you feel that you are in constant conflict and lack comfort and security, then you have to act wisely and rationally,” she remarks. Njeim believes that the absolute right to marry is accompanied by the absolute right to divorce when all the reasons for its dissolution exist. She stresses the need to carry out all the duties required by the institution of marriage. “If you fulfill all your duties and discover your inability to continue, then it is time for the big decision – divorce.”
“Divorce will not prevent me from working, maintaining my beauty, enjoying my life, nor taking care of my family,” says Njeim. The Lebanese actor offers that divorce can sometimes improve the relationship with an ex-husband and help build a friendship that will benefit both of them and their children. “Everything I say stems from my personal feelings and from the things I have lived, upon which I built my attitudes and decisions,” she says. “For me, decisions are the result of all the things I’ve been through, especially last year. I did not consider my divorce as a destructive step, but rather a new beginning for a new life.” However, she does not conceal that this decision requires her to “overlook many things.” Although divorce is a very widespread phenomenon in society, it still occupies the first place in people’s gossip, “As soon as we hear about divorce, analyses and judgments begin. Suddenly everyone turns into social reformers! It’s really funny!” she laughs. “Nobody liked my marriage to Hadi! ‘How did she marry a man 16 years older than her?’” Njeim recalls the rumors, “I was bullied when I got married. Today, when I decided to break up, they attacked me. People always interfere in others’ lives and forget that life is an echo and what you sow, you reap.”
The actor, whose most preferred role is being a mother, is keen to carry out her duties to the fullest. Njeim asserts that she did not have any difficulties raising her children after the divorce, “I have not changed my way; I still follow the same rules of education that existed before divorce. The children feel absolutely comfortable because I have a good relationship with their father, and we work together for their own good.” The Lebanese actor believes that it is in her children’s best interests to keep them out of the spotlight and maintain their privacy and hers as well. Her life experiences have taught her not to trust anybody for fear of falling victim to someone who may reveal her secrets, which would, in turn, lead to terrible consequences. Rather than waste her time with gossip, she puts her children’s education at the top of her priorities because of its important role in nurturing their capabilities. “Children know that life is not just about playing, that they must differentiate between work and fun and that conviction is a foundation that must be preserved.” She is also determined to teach them not to discriminate between members of society, no matter what their affiliations or orientations are.
In the new year, the actor decided to start a new chapter. “I will stop my curiosity and prevent it from pushing me to know more,” she shares. Her decision has given her strength. “Nothing can affect me or break me. This is the approach I will follow in the coming years,” she asserts.
Njeim moved away from her studies in business administration to break into acting from the gate of beauty. Her name and face became famous after she was elected Miss Lebanon in 2007. This brunette beauty queen knew how to captivate people’s hearts with her warm, confident, and feminine personality. She admits that her beauty helped her to easily obtain acting roles, however, achieving success was not easy. Yes, her beauty has paved her way to auditions, but she worked very hard to become a big name. Njeim asserts that she preferred to work than to gain artificial and precarious stardom that results from bad publicity and sexually suggestive roles. Njeim’s first work titled Khatwat Hob (Love step), is different from her appearances in Lau (If) series (2014), Cello (2015), Nos Youm (Half day) (2016), Samra (2016), Al-Haiba (The Prestige) (2017) or Khamsa w Nos (Half past five) featured last year. The common factor between all these works is her apparent talent, while the main difference lies in her professional level in terms of performance, understanding how to act and her efficient use of tools required for the role. “I like being categorized like those who became stars while continuing with the same pattern thanks to hard work and selecting purposeful works that are deep in format and content,” she says.
Njeim, who today feels stronger than ever, is not afraid of loneliness because she is surrounded by friends, and her life is busy with her children and work. She starts her day early and spends it caring for her children, checking every detail of their daily lives, doing home shopping, attending work meetings, watching Netflix, and reading with friends at home. She is currently preparing for her upcoming series 2020. “I do my best in this work and put all my energy into it. It is a very special show. Its title is due to its story, which is based on an undergoing operation that will attack security forces, and because it will be screened in Ramadan 2020.”
Njeim believes that her sequential successes over the years placed a great responsibility upon her shoulders. “The audience trusts you, waits for your new works every year, so, I have to take more care before accepting my next work, and depend on experienced people and share ideas with them,” she explains. “The most important thing is my own intuition, and how I feel about the script introduced by the producer. I totally refuse to play the role if I don’t feel the script.”
For her, being simple and spontaneous is her trade secret. “In addition to satisfactory performance and masterly dealing with the role, I make use of my experience to stay spontaneous in order to appear natural and easy-going in the eyes of the viewers,” she reveals. It is true that spontaneity is what distinguishes her acting, but she hasn’t yet introduced a character that resembles her real personality. Meanwhile, she always adds to the role from her personal traits, as it suits best.
“A professional actor should play different characters. They can show how experienced they are by successfully introducing the worst type of characters in a way that respects Arab viewers and does not cross the red lines imposed by Arab drama.” She understands that accepting each and every role could expose her to criticism. “I shield myself. I don’t care anymore about criticism especially from ill-wishers. Nevertheless, I expect constructive criticism that makes sense and consider it to improve myself.”
The actor who accepts performing all types of roles doesn’t compromise in terms of the names she works with. She prefers to work with an experienced director on a strong script that adds to her career. “These elements positively assist work and assure success”, She refused to name an actor she wants to share work with. “All I care about is to share acting with veteran experienced actors with charisma, who impose themselves on the artistic scene.”
Njeim looks at Lebanese drama with optimism. “Local drama needs funding. Lebanon has introduced many producers, directors, and actors. All that we need is to properly invest funds in order to introduce better and greater productions. It is just like Haute Couture. If you get the necessary funding and promotion, you will achieve matchless success, globally.”
Njeim shares that she has been self-confident since she was a child. She knows exactly what she wants, and never allows herself to enter a dark tunnel if she doesn’t know where it ends. “I know how to protect myself, how important it is to feed my mind with information and learning. The more experiences we get—whether they are good or bad—the more evolved our thinking becomes.”
After gaining extensive experience, she describes herself as a perennially positive person. “I most often misunderstand things because I don’t cheat or lie. However, things change with time. When people get closely acquainted with me, they love me the most for my simplicity and honesty. I’m not good at playing the role of a star in real life. On the contrary, I’m very close to people. They can easily feel how modest I am, and that I’m not arrogant whenever I meet them.” She never claims to have reached the top in spite of the immense success achieved. Njeim fears she would lose her motivation and enthusiasm, and the essence of what might drive her to stop giving.
Njeim believes in fate and luck, and that every human has a predestined life, but adopts a different definition for luck. “Luck is a psych factor. If every one of us thinks positively, we will attract good luck and positive energy to our lives. In other words, we control our luck through our thoughts,” she says. The star is known for her funny character and that she does not cry or feel sorrow for herself. “I feel sorrow if my kids do. It’s hard for me to see sadness on their faces.” She affirms that her life revolves around her two children, and the idea of remarriage is postponed for the time being unless fate interferes. “For them, I can abandon anything, even my career in order to emigrate, for example, if we are obliged to because of the prevailing conditions in Lebanon,” she offers. “It’s true that there are opportunities I may lose if I decided to leave, yet I’ll never hesitate if required to protect my kids; they are my present, future, and life dream. All that I care about is to secure a bright future for them.”
The actor addresses women who may feel powerless: “Every woman has a role to play in life. She is an employee, an actor, or a mother. Whatever her role is, she is of added value to a man’s life – she stands by him and helps him. Whatever her circumstances are, I advise her to go out and obtain work, because it will give her satisfaction, confidence, and comfort. Our society is in desperate need of working women. I strongly believe that women are able to succeed in different fields.” From her point of view, women’s success comes from their intelligence and ability to change an entire society whatever their circumstances are. Amid the women supporting campaigns, Njeim makes use of her expertise to support women and share her experiences with an audience in a way or another via social media platforms. She does so out of humanity, not as an artist, trying to promote positivity and self-confidence and to urge people to follow her example looking at the glass half-full. In this context, she always tries to speak positively about divorce. “Family is not merely ink on paper, rather it is about warmth, feeling, and support. Divorce is just a new beginning for a new stage in life that might carry happiness and comfort for both a man and a woman if they know how to deal with the idea.”
Originally published in the February 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia
Fashion director: Katie Trotter
Style: Peghah Maleknejad
Hair: Ali Pirzadeh at CLM
Makeup: Zoe Taylor at Jaq Management
Creative producer: Laura Prior
Executive producer: Dawn Moretti
Makeup assistant: Jana Exel
Style assistant: Olivia Beharrell
Shot at CR8 Studio