One of Egypt’s most renowned architects, who has her own firm, helped design the AUC, has a fellowship from Harvard and a slew of international awards to her name, decided – just shy of 40 – to abandon a decades-long career in a highly respected field to become an actress. Photos: Amr Medhat
Fahmy is now starring in a movie directed by art house darling Hong Sang Soo, opposite Oscar-nominated French Isabel Huppert, that just premiered at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
"At a certain point, I just felt like I had to try this, even if I ended up failing. Because then at least I’d get over that voice inside my head that would otherwise keep asking well what if I’d tried and succeeded? It’s not like I’m going to get to live some other life where I can become an actor in that one.”
“When I was growing up, when I was about seven or eight, I wanted to be an actress. I was in love with Fayrouz – I wanted to be her. But life takes you to different places and I completely forgot about it.”
Over the scale of her architecture career, Fahmy founded her own firm, and has designed buildings strewn across Egypt, encompassing everything from the Malak Gabr Theatre at the new campus of the AUC, to a handful of restaurants such as TBS, to villas and residential condos such as Block 30 in 6th of October’s Westown.
She has also restored iconic historical buildings such as the Mounira Palace.
Fahmy also has projects in the UK and Switzerland and has won myriad awards and competitions, both at home and abroad, for her visionary work, has landed herself not one but two fellowships from Harvard, and she just completed a stint teaching at Columbia.
“I had forgotten about acting for a really long time – maybe I’d buried it, I don’t know."
"And one day at my office, someone handed me a film script and said they wanted me to design the set. And I fell in love with the script. And I realised that I didn’t want to do the set, I wanted to do the movie.”
It was in 2011 that Fahmy was handed the script that jerked awake a long dormant childhood reverie, but she pushed it aside persistently, and it wasn’t until three years later that she stopped trying to drown her dreams and allowed acting to be something she considered.
“For a long time, I just felt like it was way too far from where I was. I wouldn’t even allow myself to think about it.”
While giving innocuous advice to someone who worked with her one day about pursuing what she actually wanted to do, Fahmy finally got it; “I thought why am I giving her advice that I can’t follow myself?’”
Fahmy moved to New York soon after and started taking acting classes at Harvard. For three years, she made the rounds between the Big Apple and Boston, taking endless acting courses, auditioning persistently for shorts and features, and landing roles in several short films and plays in New York.
Now, Fahmy has landed a smattering of roles across different continents.
Most notably, she’ll be appearing in Amr Salama’s much talked about Sheikh Jackson, premiering this Eid in Egypt, which stars Nelly Karim and Ahmed Malek. This May, in what is possibly her biggest coup, she was seen in La Camera De Claire, which opened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Special Screening section.
“Architecture was something that I had a passion and drive for - but now that’s how I feel about acting,” Fahmy shares. “And I don’t have the answers but sometimes not knowing is a blessing. It allows you to do things you know, like the person who’s about to jump into the sea and doesn’t know what’s under the surface, you know? So sometimes you need to know what’s waiting for you there so that you can actually jump.”
How Shahira Fahmy Went from Award-Winning Egyptian Architect to Cannes Actress