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Interview with Joy Karam – Tannoura Maxi




Joy Karam first began her acting career onstage performing in “Les Miserables”, when she was only 16. The same year she  performed in several stage plays, touring inside and outside Lebanon. She began face modeling at 18, then found herself in film/ television when she started landing roles in numerous short films and Lebanese dramas. “Tannoura Maxi”, on which she began working on five years ago, will be released on May 3.

Joy and Charlize

In the meantime this year will see the release of many projects she had accumulated and finished over the past several
years, including a TV series in Teleliban (where she met me! :)), and now in another period drama portraying Lebanon in the 40s (in which we are both in). In 2008 she had another break in an American Docu-fiction feature film directed by Mary Jordan, where she played the role of a girl obsessed with suicide. She is fluent in 4 languages: Arabic/ French/ English/ Spanish.

She gave birth to her adorable/edible daughter Charlize (whom she named after Charlize Theron) in 2010, with husband David Elias, a photographer and drummer.

Tannoura Maxi (which in Arabic literally means “long skirt”), tells the true story of a priest in a village in 1982 who is seduced by a confident, high heeled woman, much to the chagrin of the village. The interesting perspective in the film could only be so truthfully by the director, Joe Bou Eid, who in fact, told his parents’ love story, and focuses particularly on his mother, who is portrayed by Joy.

Note: The interview below is a translation from Lebanese Arabic/ French into English.  

How did you take this role? Tell us a bit about her.

Joe spent a lot of time casting and auditioning for the right people. But eventually when I was contacted,we agreed to set up a meeting. From the first phone call there was a voice inside me that told me that I was going to get the part. When I met Joe, there was suddenly a common understanding between us. Perhaps it was in my presence; perhaps in my expression. He sensed that I was able to carry the responsibility of portraying his mother. From the first meeting we had he began to give me so many particular details of the story and of her; and we discussed them at length. Since then, I knew that he was going to trust me with this delicate role.

I met his mum after he chose me for the role. We agreed to go to his home and that he would show me pictures of her and study details of her character. She opened the door and welcomed me to their home, but I didn’t really start to understand her character until I started seeing the photographs, particularly that of her wedding. I saw that this was a very complex woman, and you cannot know if she is happy or not, even when she smiles.  And I started to understand how she suffered and fought in order to marry the person that she fell in love with. She is an introvert and her eyes carry so much emotion that she does not convey as a character. She is a human being who suppressed so much that the projection she gives out to the people around her is very powerful.

Another interesting aspect in her character is that she does not behave as she is expected to in society. Not that she does things the way she wants no, but she lives on the emotions of the world around her. She senses matters strongly, that is why she is so different and in touch with matters that confused the society around her.

Joe Bou Eid and Joy Karam. Photographed by David Elias

From the moment I arrived on set, I saw the art direction and wardrobe. I saw how everything was ready, how Joe keeps
everything going on track, working as a director and preparing everyone for every scene with such detail. From the moment we began, I said to myself that this was not a project where matters are taken simply; the manner in which everything was being done and the devotion and perfection that every detail, however big or small was worked on was amazing. Joe is a perfectionist by nature and the passion with which this project was worked on infected us all. The passion that I still have for this project till today is still there, and I recall how I threw myself with such devotion to perfect  the character to the best of my ability with  transparent honesty rather than simply acting a part. And I recall how I discovered myself, under Joe’s direction to explore territory in myself as an actress I did not know I had at the time. He had prepared us so well that I became “Randa” before the first “action”.  My movements, my reactions, my embodiment of the role was no longer a portrayal of his mother. I became her.

The film took 5 years to complete. But how long was the actual shooting?

Yes the film took years to complete. I shot my scenes throughout this period according to how to production was moving. When we began shooting I hadn’t yet met my husband David. By the time I finished, I was married with a one month baby daughter on set staring at me.

Was it difficult to take the major role without actually speaking?

The thing is, the portrayal of her character was worked on so much that speaking was not necessary. Randa’s world is different from the rest of the society. We cannot relate to her as we relate to any other person. There is so much mystery in the way she thinks and lives and behaves that I cannot explain her character as I would anyone else, though I can understand her. I portrayed her the way I saw her. We had to explain everything through her expressions and her behaviour and make the audience understand her without actually speaking. For example, if I Joy am happy, I would laugh. When Randa is happy, she does not necessarily laugh. She might be weeping miserably, even though she isn’t sad. My job would be to portray her weeping to the audience but having them understand that she was actually happy. Words are not needed when you focus on such details of her behaviour. The silence of the leading characters was to emphasize on the ridiculousness of society’s gossip, to separate the two worlds of honest emotions and endless chatter that wear masks.

What was the best compliment you have heard about the film so far? 

The best compliment was in the Dubai Film Festival. After the film was over, one of Randa’s relatives came rushing to me  saying: “I congratulate you. I saw in you the young Randa. It was like seeing her again when I was watching the film.” The feeling that moment was more important than any critic’s opinion, because it was a confirmation that I had justified the character.

Another compliment also in Dubai. I overheard a conversation in the lobby of the hotel that we were staying in, between a very well-known cinematographer and his friend. They were wondering whether it was me or not. So the cinematographer approached me, introduced himself and asked me if I was the leading role in Joe Bou Eid’s film. I answered him in the affirmative and he said that he was shocked. When I asked him why he said, because we saw you from afar, you have your own identity, your own behavior, your own character, regardless of your look, yet you wore a completely different personality in the film that is detached from the person you actually are. I see that you are a young girl but I congratulate you on the maturity it took from you to embody a woman in so much pain. You made us feel how burned she is and I cant relate it to the person infront of me now.”

For me that was an immense compliment, because it is very normal and sometimes inevitable for actors to put a part of their identity in the character they portray.

What are you working on now?

I finished a TV series “Zaman Al Shok” (Time of Longing) with director Milad al Hachem, where I took the main role “Dunia”, a woman who endures struggles in her lifetime. Charlize appeared as my daughter in the series in her role as “Soraya” when she was 7 months old. It will run during Ramadan in Al Jadeed TV and TeleLiban. I am now working on “Jana el Omar” (Reaping of Age) with director Liliane Boustani. There are three main roles in the series, myself with Youssef el Khal and Elsa Zougheib. And another series coming up for the Gulf audience, called Nisa’ al Kamar (Women of the Moon). It has a similar concept to “Desperate Housewives”, in which I am one of the female characters with a storyline in the series. And I am also preparing fora dark comedy series coming up. It’s a new genre in Lebanon, so I’m really excited about it. And other projects I cannot mention at the moment. All in good time (smiles).

Coming soon to all Circuit Empire theatres:

  • Tannoura Maxi: 95 min Drama/Romance

Soon showing on TV:

  • Jana el Omer: 19 episodes
  • Zaman al Shok: 30 episodes
  • Nisa’ Al Kamar: 20 episodes
Throughout the Middle Eastern festivals, Tannoura Maxi is now heading out to Santa Monica soon

Follow Tannoura Maxi on :
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TannouraMaxi
Twitter: @TannouraMaxi 
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1906470/
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