by Sherif Awad
Although many Arab actors and actresses migrated from their own countries to land in Cairo where they consecutive careers significantly kickstarted on Egyptian film and on TV, it is hard to imagine that a foreign western or eastern artist would rather prefer to be based here to venture into acting and modeling on different Egyptian media.
Maria Una (Born Maria Orlova) is one of those few artists. She was spotted in many bit roles in Egyptian TV serials and films then became a popular face on TV commercials and printed advertising. Surprisingly enough, Una ventured into acting and modelling in Egypt after an accidental meeting with film director Tarek al-Arian. But this is another story. When we invited to Egypt Today office, she was happy to tell us how it all happened…
“I was born in Arkhangelsk, the Russian northeastern city names after the archangel”, says Maria Una. “It is the Russian prime maritime port nicknamed the Russian City of Angels or Los Angeles of the East”. Like many Russian girls at early childhood, Maria took lessons of dancing and singing which heightened her curiosity about arts while growing up. Eventually, she joined the local art secondary school then art history studies at the university of my city for four years. “It was expensive and far to try to study acting as well in Saint Petersburg, which needs fulltime attention, reveals Una.
After her graduation in 2009, Maria Una accidentally visited Egypt for a vacation following an invitation of her best friend and classmate who opened a coiffure shop in Hurghada. Once arrived there, ten months before the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, another friend of hers helped to be considered among the extras in an Egyptian film that happened to be shot at the sea: Walls of the Moon (Aswar al-Kamar), a romantic thriller directed by Tarek al-Arian. “Instead of being an extra, the producers gave me a speaking role, the girlfriend of Amr Saad’s character, which became my Egyptian film debut”, she says. However, the film was delayed for five years and never saw the light until 2015. Nevertheless, Una was already active: she moved to Cairo where she became a wanted model and actress. “During that period, I was sporting a black hairstyle yet I did many TV commercials but the most remembered one was for Cancan Chocolate in 2012 and for GlySolid Cream in 2014”, she remembers. “And so, in the first ad I played a young lady walking into a party with a lavish dress accompanied by a voiceover explaining how sweet to have the chocolate at party. As for the other one, I play a tomboy who used the cream that makes her a very attractive woman”.
Una’s follow-up came with great star Adel Imam in his Ramadan’s TV series Naguy Attalah’s Squad (2012). “In the episodes, I played a cabaret artist who became the girlfriend of Mohamed Imam’s character but soon we discover she is an undercover agent”, she explains. “I only knew some words in Arabic like yalla, shukran, maa elsalamaand so I had a dialogue coach who translated the dialogue for me into English and helped me in the pronunciation in Arabic”. Flashforward to Ramadan 2017, Una reunited again with Adel Imam in Adly Allam’s Ghosts where she played one of the ghosts appearing to Imam’s title character. “Although my Arabic was improved, this time my role was a silent one where I appear as a speechless ghost”, she laughs.
This year, Una landed her first starring role in the narrative short film Oil: The Three Appearances by Fady Gamal Atallah. The film revolves around an artist who encounters a mysterious girl three times during his life: the first when he was a little boy as she guides him to discover his talent in painting; he second when he became an adult as she inspires him to achieve his masterpiece; Finally, she tells goodbye when he becomes an old man. “I play the muse or the source of inspiration to this painter”, explains Una who will promote this short in film festivals soon. “I am enthusiastic to attend film festival like Elgouna because I met lot of Egyptian and international stars”, she adds.
Upcoming project for Una is a female-oriented collective series of film projects where all cast and crew are women from Egypt and other countries. “The project is led by Egyptian independent filmmaker Ghada Ali who is seeking new means in telling new stories from different perspectives”, explains Una who joined the collective without hesitation. “Our first step was to meet many filmmakers and producers during the first edition of Elgouna festival last September to seek ways of kickstarting our first feature film entitled In Another Place”, she adds. Maria Una uses her senses to breakthrough into the Egyptian and maybe the Arab film industry. “I think I have developed a personal thermometer to know who is serious and who is not among many people I meet on daily basis. You must have it if you want to continue working in the entertainment business.”