As the sun beats down on Trevi Fountain, the tourist hotspot is heaving with the usual afternoon crowd of visitors, hawkers, and ever-so disgruntled locals – yet something isn’t quite right. Something has upset the carabinieri, who are furiously blowing their whistles and shouting “Fermare! Fermare!” in the direction of Rome’s baroque icon. The culprit? Egyptian actor Yasmine Sabri.
Dressed in a figure-hugging Dolce & Gabbana skirt suit, the 30-something star defies all warning signs and attempts to lean back and splash around – La Dolce Vita-style – in the fountain’s life-affirming waters. It’s a bold move, but one that offers an early sign-post into the makeup of this formidable woman. Even the local authorities can’t stop her.
Sabri’s professionalism and boundless energy is commendable. The star flew straight into the Italian capital following a grueling few months of filming for her Ramadan series Hekayti, which saw her land her first lead role. She plays Dalida, a woman whose life radically changes after witnessing a murder. The show was a huge triumph and cemented her status as a major player on the small screen. The actor’s success has recently seen her sign with an LA agent, with dominating the big screen next on her agenda.
It’s an exciting time for Egyptians in Hollywood, she enthuses, with Rami Malek scooping up an Oscar and Mena Massoud taking the lead in Aladdin. “Hollywood is trying to be more diversified and include more nationalities,” she says, believing the days of stereotyping are almost over. “Maybe 15 years ago, you had to be blonde. It’s not like that anymore. What is considered beautiful has changed. Now, people like dark skin; brunettes.” Sabri credits the Kardashians for the shift, adding, “The family really had an impact on what beauty is like. Curvy girls, with tanned skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. This is actually a very Arab look.” She’s equally optimistic regarding the shift in the fashion world. “I feel like Arab designers, including Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, are leading the industry. When you look at the Oscars, Grammys, and MTV awards, so many Arab designers are dressing superstars.”
Keen to be part of the new movement, Sabri is aspiring to land a role in a big action movie where she can do her own stunts – “but not as crazy as Tom Cruise!” she notes. Acting isn’t her only goal, though. Sabri, who is also an ambassador for the colored contact lens line Lens.Me (its launch during Ramadan rapidly sold out) strives for more. “I don’t want to make a plan and stick to just that,” she shares. “I want to keep moving. I’m the person who 100% follows her dreams no matter where they take me.”
Sabri has already achieved an astonishing amount since her big break in 2013 in Khatawat El-Shaytan, even though acting was not a lifelong aspiration. “No one from my family is in the arts. My dad is a doctor and my mother is an engineer,” she reveals. “I just wanted to be different and have my own path. I was a TV host and then I did a few commercials and that led to me getting some small roles, which then got bigger and bigger.”
While it may not be the familiar story of actors who waited on tables and struggled to pay rent while in pursuit of fame, Sabri’s path is particularly unconventional. Before the big bright lights of TV, she was attuned to the sound of a pistol at the starting blocks of competitive swimming. She competed in teams from the age of four until she was 18, and three years ago made a brief return to the sports by taking part in a masters championship competition in Egypt. She won gold.
Sabri attributes her discipline and level-headed attitude to athletics. “It is part of who I am today. You have to work towards your goal and achieve it. Don’t take shortcuts and don’t get tired. Starting something and not finishing it, is not an option.” She speaks like a sports coach trying to rev up a team at halftime – and it’s this competitive edge that drives her acting career, which has seen her star in five TV series and three films in six years.
Fitness and a healthy diet play a huge part in Sabri’s lifestyle – she didn’t even touch the pizza in Rome. “I just don’t like junk food. Everyone’s like, ‘Try the pizza,’ and I’m like, ‘No.’ I did enjoy the pasta…” Her tone is tongue-in-cheek, even though that bowl of carbs probably came on cheat day. When not filming, the actor works out up to six times a week. Her Instagram feed is peppered with images of her performing the splits or yoga headstands – as far as role models go, she sets a good tone for her 6.5 million followers. She hasn’t succumbed to the strains of fame, though, crediting her “sports girl” mentality and saying, “I don’t feel pressure, as this is who I am.” Her honesty extends to her dislike for having her pictures edited – “I feel bad as I know what I look like in reality” – and her thoughts on cosmetic surgery: “I think people go in the direction of surgery because it’s the only solution they know or think they know. That’s not who I am. How I was raised meant sport was always part of my life and made me feel that I didn’t need surgery or feel the pressure to look a certain way or to have affirmation. Sport makes you look younger and makes you have better-looking skin and a better body. That’s why Jennifer Lopez is 49 and looks like she doesn’t age.”
Sabri’s social media posts aren’t edited by a PR. Conscious of the reach of her platform, she uses it to raise attention to subjects close to her heart, including the rights of Middle Eastern women and Syrian refugees – she works with the intergovernmental Arab Women Organization – and was named “an ambassador for African women” at the Arab-African Conference on the Empowerment of Women held in Cairo in April. “I’m a feminist,” Sabri states proudly, her blithesome tone getting serious. “I’ve always been fascinated by strong women. When I started focusing on women’s rights, going to refugee camps, and working with Arab women who had an affliction, I realized that I had a responsibility to help make an impact.” Her actions would no doubt be admired by her greatest idol, Oprah Winfrey – yet she balks at the suggestion of presenting an Oprah-style show. “No way. I wish I was like Oprah. Maybe one day, when I’ve reached a certain level in my career, I could consider that. For now, I’m sticking to getting to LA, and one day working with Martin Scorsese.” Just like her idol, she’s always ready with sage life lessons: “Always accept yourself and know how to forgive yourself. Stay connected to yourself, otherwise everything will be chaotic.”
It’s four in the afternoon and delicate shadows are cast on the picturesque terrace at Hotel de Russie. The sky is lit a dusky red hue. It’s the perfect summer’s day in Rome until, suddenly, an unexpected downpour elicits small groans from the production team. It’s the last shot of the day and everyone is ready to wrap up. Sabri is unfazed and continues to pose for the camera. “I’m not a quitter,” she says. “Quitting is not an option.”
Originally published in the July/August 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
Photography Silja Magg
Style Claire Carruthers
Hair Giuseppe Lorusso at Close Up Milano
Makeup Karin Borromeo at WM Management
Production Ricci Productions & Creative
Photography assistants Filippo Silli, Elisa Marchegiani
Style assistant Valentina Rossi Mori
Fashion coordinator Danica Zivkovic
Location Hotel De La Ville and Hotel De Russie roccofortehotels.com