Mila Al-Zahrani is a well-known name in her home-country of Saudi-Arabia, where she’s been pursuing her career of a TV actress for several years. With the title role in Haifaa Al-Mansour’s feature film “The Perfect Candidate”, she’s writing history by being the first woman ever to take over the lead in a Saudi-Arabian film, and even more so, by portraying a woman of strong education who is not only doctor by profession, but also a candidate for the political function in the local government.
Asian Movie Pulse sat up to talk with Al-Zahrani shortly before the film was officially screened in the main competition of the Venice International Film festival.
You are playing a very interesting role, of an empowered young woman who’s making a career in a difficult environment dominated by men, which is I guess pretty much different from your TV work. What attracted you to this role, and were you directly approached by the director?
This role is actually not much different from the ones that I’m usually assigned to do, because most of them deal with the issues of women and empowerment. Haifaa has indeed contacted me directly about this role, and as soon as I read the script, I agreed to it. What attracted me is the message it tries to convey to women: they can be stronger, self-dependent and braver.
You worked mainly with unprofessional actors because there are no acting schools as such in your country. What was the synergy at the set like?
I love acting and I am very patient, because I can put up with a lot. When I looked at my colleagues, I realised that I once was just like them, and that I stood where they are now. When I was at that stage, I didn’t have anybody to tell me what and how to do, precisely for the reason that we don’t have professional training in Saudi-Arabia. I hope that we will have one in the future. So, I saw it my duty to be patient and to try to support them and guide them into a right direction. I love my work, and it’s both my pleasure and my duty to help as much as I can.
Do you see any changes since the lift of the ban on the cinema in 2017, in terms of shooting? What are your personal observations?
Yes. In the past we lacked the film industry and that’s why we turned to Netflix. Now there are new developments, but not only after the ban was lifted; it happened a bit earlier. The youth started travelling, and many of them went studying abroad. You can say that over the past ten years we started seeing more qualified people who now have the opportunity to get involved in the filmmaking process inside of the country.
I guess that this is your first major international film promotion.
I had another tour in order to promote my TV show, but of course it was on the small scale and being here in Venice which is the oldest film festival in the world and being side-by-side by the world’s greatest actors is something that makes me really happy and proud.
Would you consider acting in international film productions?
Not in the near future. The reason is that we have just opened the cinema houses and that we need national film professionals. My duty as an actress is to try to do this for my country. Maybe sometime from now in the future, when there are going to be more Saudi-Arabian actresses.
After the title role in “The Perfect candidate”, you are probably having acting offers flying in.
Yes, I have many offers for the coming four years, but the selection is not completely done.
You are a star of a popular TV series “Boxing Girls” shown at the most popular Arabic TV channel.
It’s about a female boxer who was boxing in America before coming back to her home country. In our culture, boxing is not something that women do, so she’s fighting for her right to pursue her career. She’s a strong-willing, powerful, woman who wins her battle in the end.