“if you don’t get a chance to experience what you’ve learned, you’ll never find out what works for you and what doesn’t.”
Layal Syriani Badaro is a multilingual American/Lebanese actress. She discovered her passion for art and acting at an early age when she read “Anna Karenina” story and felt connected to her, she even wrote a script based on the book to perform for school. Since then, she has been involved in all of her school theater performances and dances, she even choreographed a few. Right after high school, Layal was recruited by Giorgio’s Agency which started her short career in modeling. After modeling for few print campaigns, Layal felt that her calling was more for preforming arts and journalism.
She enrolled in the Media Faculty and pursued an acting career at the same time.
Her personality and looks caught the attention of a media recruiter who got her an audition for a Morning show for the highly admired Infinity TV in Dubai. The producers at Infinity TV loved her audition that they hired her as a main host for their renewed daily live morning show. Layal worked on that show for 3 years, gaining experience in producing, content creating and interviewing celebrities. She even had her own show for 2 consecutive years during Ramadan, a high season for TV in the Middle East.
We sat with Layal this month to know more about her and her recently released movie ‘Mafkoud’. Read our exclusive interview for our readers.
Tell us about your education.
I hold a degree in journalism and communication arts. I also studied performing arts in Hollywood under celebrity’s coaches. I was very interested in politics and psychology as well so I took many courses in these two subjects throughout my education.
When and how did you discover your passion for art and acting?
I was a very shy kid, very quiet, didn’t say much, very polite. I did love belly dancing though, I use to belly dance all the time at any family gatherings. It was the only times I wasn’t shy or hiding behind my mother’s skirt. Later at school one year my class was part of a performance we had to put up for teacher’s day. We performed a classic play by Rahbani’s and it kind of all gave me a great sense of purpose and fulfillment. Later on I was chosen to play Anna Karenina for the school theater and this is when I understood the impact storytelling has on my life. I got obsessed with her life story and wanted to impact someone’s life like she did mine.
How many languages do you speak?
I speak 4 languages, 3 fluently and one intermediate. French, Arabic, English and Turkish. I also speak many Arabic dialects as I lived in Dubai for a while.
What are some of your best movies you have worked on?
Honestly as my career is still young I feel like every opportunity is a great one. Because here’s the thing about acting, no matter how many schools you go to and no matter how many techniques and acting books you read, if you don’t get a chance to experience what you’ve learned, you’ll never find out what works for you and what doesn’t. That’s why I believe actors are made and discovered on sets, not in classrooms. Not to diminish the importance of training, but being on set is the only way to develop your craft as an actor. That’s why I truly embrace every project and learn so much through it.
Tell us about your latest release “MAFKOUD” what is the film about and what is your role in the movie?
Mafkoud is about the journey of one guy who was kidnapped as a kid during the civil war in Lebanon. As a grown man he is looking for his mother and his roots. The movie was released last week in Beirut, but after the lockdown the release has been put on hold for now. The story is written and directed by Bashir Bou Zeid, a brilliant new filmmaker. It covers a reality that so many families still live until today. I also want to mention our cinematographer hassan salameh, him and the director took on a great challenge by shooting a whole scene in one shot, a scene that would usually require different sequences and angles. I was lucky enough to be in the scene, as an actor you wish for nothing more than to be challenged. It is a movie that carries many plot surprises and twists that will keep the audience engaged throughout.
You started into modelling, what made you feel that it wasn’t for you?
I was never a model. Modeling is not something that interested me at all. I did cast for few commercials and was in a beauty pageant once but I never took up modeling.
Between TV and movies, what do you prefer most and why?
Well I’ve always been passionate about cinema and movies. The collaboration on a movie set and the kind of work an actor gets the chance to explore on a movie set is amazing. TV Series are quick, plot driven rather than character driven. However, now with the expansion that TV series are experiencing, specially with new players like streamers like Netflix, I have to say both medium are equally appealing to me. I would love to be on a Netflix show!
As an Arab woman in Hollywood, do you ever feel pressured to look a certain way for a movie?
The plot of any project usually dictates the physical appearance of its characters. In general, we as Arab actresses are stereotyped in Hollywood when it comes to casting, and unfortunately only thought of for very narrow window of roles and characters. But Hollywood is witnessing a huge shift right now and it is throwing away its old habits. We are in the beginning though and I am certain we will see more changes in the future. Also many Arab actors paved the way like Rami Malek and Rami Youssef and Yasmine ElMasri. Having said that, there is a responsibility that falls on us Arab women, we have to be picky to be able to break the stereotype and we have to work harder to develop ourselves as artists.
How did the pandemic affect you?
The pandemic has been hard on me as I am sure on many of the readers. I developed anxiety and deep fear as I lost all sense of purpose. It took a while to understand what was going on with me and learn how to cope with it and use it to learn more about myself. People think anxiety or panic attacks are loud and apparent. The reality is that they are quiet and disguised.
What is the biggest lesson you learnt from the pandemic?
To live in the moment. We always have so many plans for the future that we forget the present. We focus on the outcome and forget to enjoy the journey. This pandemic proved that the moment is what matters and how you live today is what makes all the difference in tomorrow. I also learned the true sense of community. I learned a lot about myself. I understood myself more. I also understood the importance of mental health. We as Arabs think that term is only used to describe crazy people or those suffering from psychological issues. It is simpler than that and closer to our daily reality than we think.
Any new skills you developed or learnt during the lockdown?
Cooking! And I am still not good at it. It turned out the more you do something is not necessary the better you get at it!
What would be your dream role/project?
I love period projects; I love working on characters from the 50’s or 60’s. I love this era. I also want to work on projects that shows our Lebanese culture in a raw true light.
What according to you is your unique talent or trait?
It’s a tough one! I would say a strong instinct.
What is your advice to young people considering becoming actors?
Work on knowing yourself. The better you know yourself the better actor you become. From the business point of view, it is the toughest business to get into. You would be told no a lot more than yes, and most of the time its not even about you. Be patient, work on your craft and most importantly don’t let people waste your time. A lot of people in this industry pray on hungry young actors.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on developing a project that means a lot to me, it is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but never had the courage to write.
Tell us about your upcoming projects for this year?
I will be filming a pilot for a show created and developed by me, hopefully by summer. I am also working on a new concept for a TV Show for an Arabic channel.
Describe your perfect day:
Perfect day would not start early! Waking up late, Workout, video chat with my family specially my newly born nephew, reading a book by the beach followed by a walk during sunset, cooking dinner with my husband, finish the day with a movie
Your message for your fans in Kuwait.
I honestly am grateful for each person who shows interest in my work or my life in general. So thank you for any kind of support you show. I hope I am leaving a positive impact on you.
Your message for us at CP magazine.
Keep up the good work. You give space for emerging artists and what you’re doing is very important. The world is full of unattainable role models specially for young girls. What you’re doing is important to highlight that for girls so they grow up with a sense of reality. I wish I could meet the team personally, one day for sure.
RAPID Q&A ROUND
All-time favourite movie: Love Actually
Favourite binge show right now: The Queen’s Gambit
If you weren’t an actress, you’d be: A politician
Best career advice you’ve received: Feel the weight of your presence
Three qualities that got you where you are today: Kindness, patience and perseverance
The moment you knew you had made it: The moment I was stopped at a book fair by a teenager asking for my autograph.
Favourite perk of the job: Being challenged by new people everyday
Worst pitfall of the job: Rejection
Favourite food: Italian
Favourite activity to stay healthy and fit: Weight lifting
Book that’s left a lasting impression on you: The 7 people you meet in heaven
Song that always makes you cry: Hero by Mariah Carey
Name one thing on your bucket list: Bungee jumping