Award-winning actress, author, business owner and model, Egypt’s own Christine Solomon opens up about diversity in Hollywood, the future of the movie industry and the role of women in films.
Starting her career at the tender age of five performing across theatres in Cairo, Christine Solomon has since risen to Hollywood stardom. After moving to Canada with her parents in 1988, the multi-talented actress appeared in a series of box office hits, launched a consultancy firm for aspiring actors, and still continued to showcase her talent in critically acclaimed plays across the country. More recently, she has been dividing her time between Los Angeles and Montreal, where she has been found working on a book about acting careers in Canada when she is not in production. The recipient of the Madbakh Women of Toronto’s Best Actress of Empowerment award, Christine is proving to the world that gender and cultural diversity are no longer Hollywood taboos.
The last time we spoke was when we interviewed you for the release of Betroit. Tell us what’s been happening in the world of Christine Solomon since then.
So much has been happening, Jameel, I’m not sure where to start. Let’s see…After Betroit, I was offered an opportunity to work on a production in the US, which then turned into a whirlwind of projects. In 2015 I starred in What Now directed by Ash Avildsen and also Yasmine by Val Rassi. Not long after, I did Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege, which also starred Angela Basset. In 2016, I hosted GMC’s campaign, Building for America’s Bravest, with Josh Duhamel. More recently, I performed in two Demetrius Navarro comedies: The Big Shot, distributed by Sony, and Kids Can, a DStreet Films production that will be out in 2018.
That’s a plateful indeed!
Oh, 2017 has been crazy busy with work, but also so many events and festivals. Because yes, I forgot to mention, I was also a juror at six different film festivals. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just love every second of it all.
Please tell me more about The Big Shot. I hear it was showcased on Virgin Airlines, is that correct?
Yes, the movie was released worldwide and showcased on Virgin. It’s now been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures. The movie is about two producers who figure that the best way to ensure the success of their movie is to kill one of the actors. I play the hit man’s critical right hand, Chantal, the one who orchestrates the operation. It was such a fun experience. Working under the direction of Demetrius Navarro is such a thrill. He is a whizz with comedies.
And then there’s Yasmine, which is sort of a Sex and the City with a Middle Eastern twist, right?
Yasmine was wonderful. The series is witty and shock-full of humor, but it doesn’t shy away from discussing touchier subjects in relationships. I think the comparison to SATC is because it was about four women and their relationships with men. The series was actually based on Ahlam Mosteghanemi’s book, The Art of Forgetting. I read she’s been named the world’s best-known arabophone woman novelist, and I’d have to wholeheartedly agree. Reem (my character in the series) is one of the lead women the series follows. She’s a fun, corky woman, and playing her was an adventure!
You say you collaborated with Josh Duhamel on a GMC campaign?
Yes, the campaign was to raise funds to build smart homes for injured veterans. You know, being of Middle Eastern descent and having lived in North America for the greatest part of my life has made me very sensitive to both the differences and similarities between the two cultures. In the end, it’s about love and it’s about acceptance. I’ve always tried, as an actress, to select roles that allow me to use my voice and my status to help others in need and I got the opportunity to do that with this amazing project. It’s important to laugh, of course, but we shouldn’t shy away from discussing the real issues either.
You’re indeed very well known for being an emblem of diversity. You’ve actually been called ‘a role model of diversity and influence’. You are Canadian but were born in Egypt; you speak multiple languages, including Arabic; you’ve been featured in many Middle Eastern productions, and your career now spreads across theatre, movies, TV and the Internet, including Canada and the United States. Do you find that your multi-racial background affects the type of roles you get?
Not at all. It’s quite the opposite. I have a versatile look, which enables me to portray different nationalities. I find that because of the opportunity I’ve had to experience firsthand all these cultural differences in my youth and throughout my life, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of understanding for subtle nuances. I speak several dialects and so I can tweak my accent to fit a given role. It’s also not difficult for me to adapt the way I look and so I get cast in a wide range of roles. In fact, I like to take some liberties and add a few cultural layers to my characters. For instance, I may try to interject Egyptian flair into a North American girl, or vice versa. I think it helps viewers capture the beauty of diversity.
As a woman in Hollywood, do you ever feel pressured to look a certain way for a movie?
No, I haven’t felt any pressure. I mean there’s always an image that the director has in mind when casting a part, and that’s quite normal. But as an actor, I can’t judge the characters. It is part of my job to understand why they are the way they are and how they’ve come to be that way. Then, once I have a full grasp of their essence, that’s when training and experience comes in; it allows you to take some liberties that’ll give your character a more authentic personality. Looks are the last thing on my mind when I take on a role. It’s just too easy to manipulate your look for a movie. I never worry about that, and I think Hollywood and the film industry in general have made tremendous strides in that area. I believe we’ve become a lot more embracing of cultural diversity and less consumed with gender stereotypes. Generations of women have been working very hard to achieve that, and I’m thankful for them because we’ve started to reap the benefits. And not just in Hollywood but across the corporate world. We still have a long way to go, but the ability to get there is within reach. It’s within us. We’ve got to want it bad enough. We can’t turn our backs on history; we have to learn from it and learn to evolve with it. It does no good to be bitter about what happened yesterday. Just like when I study a character, I prefer to try to understand why it happened and how I can move on to a better place with this baggage. I believe this is where Hollywood is heading as well.
Is the social narrative a criterion when you choose your films?
It is. I’ve always had a preference for films that have a positive narrative or convey an important message. Whether it is to bring awareness to a cause or to help move mountains, I think actors play a big role in advancing (or regressing) social issues through the characters they choose to portray. Of course, it’s also fun to have fun once in a while! Comedies can ease the soul too.
If you could make up your dream project, what would it be?
It would probably be to play a strong female lead in a musical or autobiographical film. I have an extensive theatre background and have always enjoyed doing musicals. I believe theatre enables actors to showcase their true strengths and talent, ultimately giving us a chance to shine at doing what we do best. And what better way to convey a message than to do it in song!
How do you feel about being on the cover of our 8th anniversary celebration?
I hope this doesn’t sound pompous in any way because it’s not intended that way, but I am blessed to have worked in films that starred legends like Brando, DeNiro and Norton, and I cherish the memories of each of those productions, but when you get asked to participate in something like this, it’s a completely different kind of gratification. Your magazine is ground-breaking for women and artists in the Middle East, and to be chosen to help you celebrate this milestone is such an immense honor. In a way, it validates my work and shows me that my actions are indeed having an impact and making a difference in people’s lives, and that’s really the main reason driving me in this passion.
What is your advice to young people considering becoming actors?
Be fearless, patient and persistent.
Rapid Fire Questions:
1. All-time favourite movie: Beetlejuice
2. Favourite binge show right now: Stranger Things
3. If you weren’t an actress, you’d be: Perhaps an archaeologist
4. Best career advice you’ve received: Don’t have a plan B otherwise you’ll end up doing it
5. Three qualities that got you where you are today: Persistence, passion and hard work
6. The moment you knew you had made it: I always push and challenge myself. I strive to grow and learn, so my targets are always moving
7. Favourite perk of the job: Seeing new places and meeting talented people
8. Worst pitfall of the job: Schedule can be unpredictable
9. Favourite food: I’m torn between béchamel lasagna and Koshari
10.Favourite activity to stay healthy and fit: Juicing and pilates
11.Book that’s left a lasting impression on you: The Way of the Actor: A Path to Knowledge & Power by Brian Bates.
12.Song that always makes you cry: There are a few actually, but Évangeline by Marie-Jo Thério takes me there every time
13.Name one thing on your bucket list: Perform on Broadway
14.Something every woman should try once in her lifetime: Letting go of inhibitions and just enjoying being. Learning a new language and flaunting it.
Leaving a job you don’t enjoy
15.Describe your perfect day: A bright sunny day. I love sunshine. It motivates me. Seeing the sun in the morning and feeling its positive energy fuels me
Photographer: Efren Beltran (@efrenb)
Hairstylist: Denise Madrigal (@glamwithdenise)
Haircut: Tauni Dawson (@tauni901)
Videographer: Jessie Ochoa
Video Editor: Andrew Thabet
Location: Los Angeles, California