Photo By Egypt Today/Mohsen Allam Photo By Egypt Today/Mohsen Allam

Maria Una: Making It in the Hollywood of the Middle East

Sat, Mar. 3, 2018
Although many Arab actors and actresses have migrated from their own countries to land in Cairo where their careers significantly flourished in Egyptian film and TV over the years, it is hard to imagine a non-Arab preferring to be based here to venture into acting and modeling through Egyptian media.

Maria Una (born Maria Orlova) is one of those few artists. Una first got into acting and modeling in Egypt after an accidental meeting with film director Tarek al-Arian. She was then spotted in many bit part roles on Egyptian TV and in films, before becoming a popular face in TV commercials and print advertising.

“I was born in the Russian northeastern city of Arkhangelsk,” Una tells Egypt Today. Like many Russian girls at early childhood, Una took dancing and singing lessons, which fostered her curiosity about the arts while growing up. Eventually, she joined the local art secondary school then received a bachelor’s degree in art history studies.

After her graduation in 2009, Una visited Egypt for a vacation, following an invitation from her best friend and classmate who had opened a hairdressing salon in Hurghada. Once she arrived there, ten months before the Egyptian revolution in 2011, another friend of hers helped her get an audition as an extra on a film that happened to be shot by the sea; Walls of the Moon (Aswar al-Kamar), directed by al-Arian and starring Mona Zaki, Asser Yassin and Amr Saad. “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 only saw the light in 2015. By then, Una had moved to Cairo where she became a sought-after model and actress. “During that period, I did many TV commercials, but the most memorable ones were for Cancan Chocolate in 2012 and for Glysolid Cream in 2014,” she says.

With Adel Imam on set of Adly Allam's Ghosts (1)
With Adel Imam on set of Adly Allam's Ghosts


Una’s next career move came with the great star Adel Imam in his Ramadan series Naguy Attalah’s Squad (2012). “In the episodes, I played a cabaret artist who became the girlfriend of Mohamed Imam’s character, but we soon discover she is an undercover agent,” she explains. “I only knew some words in Arabic like yalla, shukran and maa elsalama, so I had a dialogue coach who translated the dialogue for me into English and helped me with the Arabic pronunciation.” Flash forward to Ramadan 2017, Una reunited again with Imam in Adly Allam’s Ghosts, where she played one of the ghosts appearing to Imam’s title character. “Although my Arabic has improved, this time, my role was a silent one where I appear as a speechless ghost,” she says with a laugh.

In 2017, Una landed her first starring role in the narrative short film Oil: The Three Appearances, directed 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, the second when he became an adult as she inspires him to achieve his masterpiece. Finally, she tells him goodbye when he becomes an old man. “I play the muse to this painter,” explains Una, who will soon start promoting the short movie at film festivals I am enthusiastic to attend film festivals like El Gouna’s because it’s where I met many Egyptian and international stars,” she adds.

Una’s upcoming project is a collective series of film projects where the cast and crew are all women from Egypt and other countries. “The project is led by Egyptian independent filmmaker Ghada Ali, who is seeking new means to tell stories from different perspectives,” explains Una, who joined the project without hesitation. “Our first step was to meet many filmmakers and producers during the first edition of El Gouna Film Festival last September to seek ways of kickstarting our first feature film entitled In Another Place,” she adds.

Since her arrival Una has been taking in both Egyptian and Arab culture as background research to her roles. “I think I have developed a personal thermometer to know who is serious and who is not among many people I meet on a daily basis. You must have it, if you want to continue working in the entertainment business.”
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