After her DC Comics debut in The Sandman on Netflix, Beirut-born Razane Jammal is taking her acting career to new heights through a steady, true-to-herself climb.
Lebanese-British actor Razane Jammal has never been busier than she is right now. While spending the summer on location in Turkey filming her latest project, the title of which is currently under wraps, the 35-year-old also celebrated her DC Comics debut in The Sandman in August. In the hotly anticipated Netflix show based on the Neil Gaiman comic book series of the same name, Jammal plays Lyta Hall, the daughter of Wonder Woman. Add to that her starring role in Kira & El Gin, an Egyptian movie released in June that quickly became the highest-grossing film in the country’s cinematographic history, and it’s fair to say that 2022 is the year of Razane. “I’m hitting three markets: Egyptian, the international scene, and pan-Arab with the show I’m currently filming,” she remarks. “It’s really big for me; it’s a very good year.”
Perhaps as a mark of how hard she’s been working, Jammal is feeling “totally spaced out” when she picks up the phone for this interview. Speaking to Vogue Arabia from just outside of Istanbul, a city she’s hardly been able to properly visit because of her rigorous filming schedule, Jammal begins the conversation by mentioning that it’s her first day off in a while. And she’s making the most of it. “I just had a massage, and I’m so relaxed right now. It was the best massage of my life,” she says, sounding as though she just woke up from the world’s greatest nap. “I can see this becoming a thing for sure.”
The massage is well-deserved, considering it took Jammal 20 years to get to this point in her career. While these days the star is no stranger to a red carpet – often donning an ensemble by sought-after designers like Chanel, Valentino, and more recently Dior, with whom she just announced an ambassadorship for the upcoming year – she got her start doing commercials at the age of 15 while living in Beirut. Though Jammal can’t be convinced to disclose which brands she worked for as an overly ambitious teen hoping for her big break, accompany her to the supermarket and she promises to point out the various products she’s hawked in the early stages of her acting journey. “Chances are you’re going to see a lot of them!” Jammal says with a humble chuckle as she recalls what now feels like a different lifetime, and one that she’s incredibly grateful for. “Even though these were commercials and you’re faking smiles and everything, I just gave my best, slowly climbing the ladder. Honestly, I started from the bottom,” she pauses before jokingly evoking the famous words of the rapper Drake: “and now we’re here!” With that, further laughter ensues, proving that if Jammal’s most admirable trait isn’t her patience, then it’s her sense of humor.
A self-described empath, Jammal didn’t always feel understood growing up as a child of divorce in a country still grappling with the aftershocks of civil war. She naturally gravitated towards acting as a place to unload her emotions, and remembers inventing characters and performing them for her mother and grandmother to keep everyone smiling even through the worst of times. Seeing how that joy could spread throughout the entire house revealed to Jammal the power of pairing emotion with imagination, and she tapped into it for every commercial or audition that came her way. At 18, Jammal moved to London to study business at King’s College, before eventually landing her breakout role in the 2010 Olivier Assayas film Carlos.
An array of memorable and wide-ranging roles soon followed, including in Kanye West’s 2012 short Cruel Summer, Tobe Hooper’s 2013 horror film Djinn, and Scott Frank’s 2014 action thriller A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson. In 2020, Jammal delighted audiences with her performance in the Netflix series Paranormal, based on the bestselling books by Egyptian novelist Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, in which she portrayed a red-headed Scottish woman who spoke in broken Arabic. Jammal, a brunette with radiantly dark eyes, has used her aura of chameleonic malleability to her advantage while carving out a path for herself in the movie industry. She attended voice and movement workshops to master various dialects and accents so she could be prepared for any opportunity, no matter how far outside of her comfort zone she might need to venture. “There was something that I felt when I was in front of the camera, like destiny. It felt like this is where I belong, this is where I feel the most alive, this is where I can express myself,” Jammal says.
Not even fate, however, is immune to the pressures of an industry where sexism and ageism thrive, though Jammal says she has managed to remain focused on putting in the time required to succeed. Throughout her steady climb towards what is turning out to be her best year yet, the actor hasn’t let stereotypes about her age or gender stand in the way, and says her parents are largely to thank for that. “People want you to believe that your clock is ticking. But I grew up in a home where my dad didn’t differentiate between my brother and me. This is why I give a lot of credit to my dad for being this awesome human being who didn’t break me to cater to the frail needs of the people around me in society. He just gave me strength and confidence, and so did my mom.”
Jammal’s cherished relationship with her mother in particular has been integral to her ascent to new professional heights, especially while working on The Sandman during the pandemic. She plays a young widow in the series, and just before filming the scene where her character loses her husband, Jammal learned her mother was in a coma. She turned to the familiar outlet of her craft to channel her emotion into the performance, bringing Lyta’s pain to life with her own impending loss. Now that the show is out on Netflix, that scene is difficult for Jammal to watch – “If you look very closely into my eyes you can see the deep sadness,” she explains, “but it also fueled me” – as her mother died shortly after. Travel restrictions prevented Jammal from returning to Lebanon to be with her family when it happened, so she worked even more, even harder, to distract from the brutality of that physical separation. Since finally making it back home, though, her perspective on grief has evolved. “You’re never going to stop feeling the pain. You just grow around it. And it’s very important to know that the person you’re grieving is there with you, in a way. There’s something supernatural about it, having my mom with me, omnipresent in every single journey more so than [she could have been] when confined inside a human body,” Jammal reflects. “To me it’s a very poetic thing. She’s with me every second of every day, and that is giving me strength.”
In addition to confronting her grief, Jammal has been careful about her physical and mental health with each mega-milestone she’s been able to proudly cross off her acting checklist. In the wake of her mother’s passing, Jammal turned to friends who were mothers themselves to recharge in the comfort of their maternal energy. She doesn’t smoke or drink, and prefers pajamas over parties. While she admits it’s impossible to find balance given the professional demands she’s been juggling of late, Jammal grounds herself in her meditation practice, pranic healing (a no touch energy treatment applied to relieve physical and emotional ailments), and a healthy relationship with social media as her name becomes increasingly recognizable across the Arab world and beyond. “I’m very skeptical about letting anything on the outside affect me on the inside. If I start giving a lot of importance to the things that are good and the good feedback, I’m going to give the same importance to the negative feedback, and I don’t want that… I don’t derive my sense of self from the outside world and that’s something that I’ve had to learn. It’s not about how many likes you get or what you do. You should always be true to yourself.”
Most importantly, she counts her blessings regularly, especially having been in Lebanon at the time of the tragic explosion in 2020 that ravaged its capital. Her home country is where the actor can genuinely reconnect with herself, and the reason why being cast as a Lebanese woman in the show she was filming this past summer was so meaningful. “I have a bed to sleep on, I have water, and I have electricity, which are luxuries that half the people in Lebanon can’t afford right now,” Jammal says. “These are my roots, this is my country, and I still love it despite all the problems we have. Everything I do is for it, and for my people.”
Originally published in the September 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia
Style: Bengisu Gürel
Hair: Ibrahim Zengin
Makeup: Erkan Uluç
On ground producer: Banu Vostina
Producer: Sam Allison