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Saudi Talents: Actress Summer Shesha

Summer Shesha
Saudi actress and director Summer Shesha is bringing a fresh perspective to the entertainment industry drawing on her cultural roots and personal experiences to create compelling stories that resonate with Middle Eastern viewers.

We spoke with Summer about life her inspirations, challenges, and successes as she continues to make her mark on the world of Arab entertainment.

AM: You're a writer, actor and director. How are you able to do all three?
Acting came first. I started acting in school, but I never thought of it as a career or that I'd be walking the red carpet. I studied banking, insurance and risk management and I worked in the field for several years. I decided to resign in 2022 because I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life especially with the changes and opportunities occurring here in Saudi Arabia.

My first project was in 2013 and it was a Twitter audition. I auditioned and I got a minor role, my appearance on camera was for five minutes but I stayed on set for 12 hours because I was so fascinated. After this I flew to LA, I lied to my parents and did an intensive course in acting for six weeks and from there things started to happen. At first, I was scared of being famous as I was handling big accounts and clients in the bank, I was terrified they would see my face elsewhere. Some incidents happened with my previous bosses who wouldn't promote me if I appeared more on TV. So, I only acted and refused to take interviews. I did short films and feature films.

I just started writing recently, it happened because I want to act in so many stories so I learned how to write. I took a program in USC that really put me on the right path and the show I wrote with them got picked by Netflix for development. It's about a small-town girl who leaves for the city and starts adapting to the changes that are happening in Saudi Arabia. She's coping with two different types of adaptations, it's about a culture clash. This is my first big directing experience.

AM: As an actress what kind of movies do you enjoy the most?
Dark humor and romantic comedies. I also love musicals like Chicago.

AM: And would you see yourself singing and performing at the same time?
I would love that, but I don't know if I can do it. I want to try, and I definitely want to direct a musical.

AM: Would you like to do a remake or create an original Arab musical?
An original. I attended Moulin Rouge in both Paris and LA and they're both very different. The American version is very commercial. I want to do something original and not a remake.

AM: What is the highlight of your career so far?
Last year I won the best actor award at the Saudi Film Festival and it felt like it came at the right time. It was a great recognition from Saudis and it was the year when I resigned from my job, so it was validating my new profession. It really pushed me to continue. The Netflix support is also great.

AM: And how does the Netflix funding work?
They will work with me on the development and after it's done, I'll pitch it again. If they like it, they will produce it as a Netflix Original. If they don't, then I'm free to go and sell it anywhere. I'm very optimistic though.

AM: As a Saudi who has lived abroad, how do you feel about the Saudi Arabian Renaissance?
I feel as though I'm in a magical place, I feel like in Alice in wonderland. I am 15 again. Everything I missed doing as a teenager I'm able to achieve. Before I dreamt about living abroad, but now, I just want to stay and work here. I used to do this by hiding from my family and the police in 2017. I don't have to do that anymore. In the past I saw myself as a black sheep, today everyone is proud of me and I can finally be myself.

AM: Do you think the generation that's in between will face any difficulties in adapting?
Definitely. It's easier for us as the younger generation to adapt than our parents because they didn't get the same opportunities we have access to today. But the older generations are easing their way into it. It's very refreshing to see them achieve what they've always wanted to do and realize that age is not a problem. For instance, my mom decided to become an actress.

AM: Would you ever consider including your mom in one of your projects?
Yes, we already have two projects together. In my Netflix show she's my number one choice for a character, and in another Netflix show she’ll also act with me.

AM: Now that's you're dabbling into acting and writing, do you feel like you can still accept the direction of another filmmaker?
Yes, when I'm there I'm just an actor, I let myself be directed. I might have my comments and I share them. I've been blessed with working with great people who give me room for comments. The last movie I did my character was quite small, but the more we worked it got bigger. It’s all because of the relationship between an actor and director that allows you to give and take. Like a ping pong.

AM: Do you worry about being stuck in the same kind of roles?
I do feel like sometimes I say no to roles because I don't want to be trapped into the same genres. Especially in this day and age they take us young, put makeup on us to make us look older because we lack actors. I don't regret it, but I won't do it again because I'm scared I'll always be casted as an older person. They always want me to play a rebel or a young mother.

AM: Who inspired you growing up?
In the Middle East I love Yousra and Youssef Chahine as a director and I really like Menna Shalabi.