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    Actress Cynthia Samuel explains what she faced to follow her dream

    Jessica Michault

    The rising star speaks candidly about her experience

    When Cynthia Samuel steps out from the shade into the bright morning sunshine, her textural Rabbane dress bursts into life, shimmering in the light. An audible gasp can be heard from those who are watching the transformation. And as she begins to move, someone whispers, “She looks like a modern Audrey Hepburn.” 

    The comment feels all the more fitting considering that she has paired the form-fitting dress with a Bird on A Pearl parure from Tiffany. Indeed, if Paramount was looking to do a remake of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Samuel – with her dark doe eyes, thick chestnut hair and luminescent smile – could easily be a contender for the lead. 

    “I was channelling Audrey,” confesses Samuel later as we reminisce about the shoot for this cover story. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s is one of my favourite movies of all time. And Audrey is an icon for me. She is someone I have idolised my entire life. Not just as an actor, but as a human being. The course of her life is so inspiring to me.” 

    A Star Is Born: The actor, who is coming off the hit Ramadan series Zawja Wahida La Takf (One Wife is Not Enough), has just wrapped another regional series, and is currently dipping her toe into the world of Hollywood. Samuel wears a Rabanne dress, with a Jean Schlumberger by Tiffany & Co. Bird on a Pearl necklace, earrings, and ring.

    Right now, Samuel herself is having something of a moment. She is coming off the smashing success of her Ramadan series Zawja Wahida La Takf (One Wife is Not Enough). The dramedy, which touches on a number of taboo topics, continues to hold the top spot in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait on the Arabic content streaming platform Shahid. But, unlike a typical television series, this one features several leading female actors, including Huda Hussein, Sahar Hussein, Ayten Amer, Nour Al Ghandour, Fatma El Saffi, Layla Abdullah, Lulowa Al Mulla and Nour Al Sheikh, which made for an unusual set. 

    “It was really nice, but it was also really intimidating,” Samuel shares with a laugh. “Because you’re surrounded by these wonderful women, and each one is portraying such a strong and different character. It was just beautiful seeing them work. I got to learn from so many different Middle Eastern women about their backgrounds, their cultures and even the way they act because each region has their own style and language. It was a huge learning curve for me.”

    Samuel liked being the comic relief in the series, playing the fourth wife of the main male character. She saw her role as a way to help release the tension in a storyline that covered some sensitive topics. “It’s a daring series. It is really honest about what women go through, and what children face in schools…the subjects were so powerful. For all of my career, for the past 10 years, I have been a ‘Drama Mama’, so it was wonderful this time to play a role that brought in a bit of lightness to the story,” she says. 

    Girl with a Pearl Earring: Samuel once represented Lebanon in the Miss Universe competition and is also a brand ambassador for Dior Beauty – two accomplishments she had written down on the list of goals she has been adding to since she was a child. The actor wears a Magda Butrym dress and Gianvito Rossi heels, with a Tiffany & Co. High Jewelery Bird on a Pearl pendant, earrings, and ring.

    The actor has also just wrapped another series, a drama set in the 1970s, where she plays a lead character “traumatised by the hand she’s been dealt”. Samuel was drawn to the role because of the complexity of the woman she was playing. She loved the challenge of trying to convey her depths and find her humanity, even if she didn’t always take the moral high ground. 

    To prepare for this role – as with every role she takes on – the actor created a journal for the character, writing down her thoughts, feelings, backstory and motivations. She also diligently put together a specific playlist of music she listens to on loop to connect to the character. For this latest role, Samuel shares, “She has a good heart but unfortunately her actions are not so good. She is a little dark and uses people to get what she wants. But she is a human being – we all have facets.”

    Watching Samuel at the cover shoot, it is hard to imagine that this was a woman who once participated in the Miss Universe competition, counts millions of followers across her social media platforms, and is an ambassador for Dior Beauty – because clearly none of that has gone to her head. When she arrived on set with her mother, she didn’t hide behind a veil of celebrity. Instead, she introduced herself to everyone on the shoot, was warm and gregarious, and a team player – game for anything. 

    Bird on a Wire: Besides acting Samuel is an avid singer and loves to draw – creative outlets that she uses to stay grounded and connected to herself. Here she wears a Kristina Fidelskaya dress, Gianvito Rossi heels and Jean Schlumberger by Tiffany & Co. Bird on a Pearl earrings.

    Later, when we begin to talk about her career, rather than deflecting personal questions, or trotting out bland ‘PR safe’ answers, Samuel goes in the opposite direction – nothing is off-limits. It’s as if the actor has found a serenity in her life and, because of that, she feels no need to wall herself off. Rather, by telling her story, sharing her struggles, she is leading by example – and proving that being an open book is empowering.

    Born in Qatar, Samuel moved to Canada when she was five years old. She describes those early years as difficult, particularly as she faced constant bullying in school for being an immigrant. “Honestly, to this day, I still don’t know where I belong. When I go back to Canada, I don’t feel Canadian. But when I am in Lebanon, I don’t really feel like I fit there either. I may be both, but I am also not both – if you know what I mean. I just still have this sense of not belonging anywhere. So, I guess I needed to create my own place in the world,” she explains. 

    As an only child, that place became the world of make-believe, and movies an avenue of escape. One film in particular ended up being her constant refuge – The Princess Diaries

    Stardust: Born in Qatar, the Lebanese actor spent her formative years in Canada before moving to Lebanon when she was 15. Samuel admits that she had a sense of not belonging anywhere and needed to create her own identity. Samuel wears a Kristina Fidelskaya bustier with a Tiffany & Co. High Jewelry diamond necklace and earrings.

    “I have seen it at least 300 times,” Samuel says with a smile. “We had this tradition in my home that every Friday we would go to the video store, and we would each pick a video we wanted to watch over the weekend. There were a good six months in a row where I kept going back and choosing The Princess Diaries.”

    Back then, just like Anne Hathaway’s character at the beginning of the 2001 hit comedy film, the actor sported glasses, had a mouth full of braces and was definitely in the throes of her awkward tween years. 

    “When I saw Anne’s transformation in the movie, I used to hope that one day that I would be transformed too… I felt like the characters I’d watch in these TV shows and films were my friends and I could always count on them.”

    It should come as no surprise then that, at the tender age of 12, Samuel announced to her parents that she wanted to be an actor. It was a choice they fully supported, enrolling her immediately in an acting school. Through acting and improv work, she found a way to push past her natural shyness. And it was there that she had her own Princess Diaries moment. 

    After only a year, out of 500 students, she was scouted by the Disney Channel and was offered the opportunity to move to Hollywood to become a ‘Disney kid’. But when her parents read the fine print of the contract – she would have to move alone to California, be schooled on set and her parents could only have visitation rights on the weekend – they decided to say no to Disney. 

    The Princess Diaries: Growing up, Samuel found comfort in watching certain films on repeat. They became an escape from the childhood bullying she confronted as a Lebanese immigrant living in Canada. Samuel wears a Valentino dress. with a Jean Schlumberger by Tiffany & Co. diamond necklace, pendant, earrings, and ring.

    “Even at that young age I really understood why my parents decided against Disney,” says the actor. “They wanted me to have a degree and something to fall back on. That moment really sparked a deeper understanding between me and my father. He started giving me books to read about manifestation and the universe. Like I remember he gave me The Secret to read. That choice really brought us closer.”

    At 15, Samuel and her parents left Canada to return to Lebanon to take care of her ailing grandmother. But it would be the tragic unexpected death of her father from a heart attack when she was 16 that would take the actor to a dark place that would last for most of her teenage years. “When I realised that he was really gone, it was like the light inside of me just switched off,” she says. “I was in a pretty heavy depression for a few years and I was angry with God. His death broke my relationship with my faith completely.” 

    Finally, when she was 19, in a moment of desperation and sorrow, Samuel decided to give her faith one last chance. She prayed and asked for a sign that her dad was still there watching over her. Days later, she was having lunch with a friend when the waiter brought her the change and there, she saw the name of her father written across one of the bills. “And it was like that light came back. My motivation to accomplish my dreams and be the person that I want it to be in this lifetime all came rushing back. I realised in that instant that life is a blessing and was not going to let my life pass me by,” Samuel recalls.

    Sea of Love: Samuel credits her husband Adam Bakri for helping her find a way back to her love of acting after she faced inappropriateness behaviour on sets. Samuel wears an ensemble by 12 Storeez with a Blue Book Collection brooch, earrings, and ring.

    From that pivotal moment, Samuel became laser-focused on making her dream of being an actor come true. She graduated from the Lebanese American University with a degree in Film and Television, dove head-first into learning Arabic to boost her chances of landing an acting job and in 2015, to increase her visibility, she entered the Miss Lebanon competition. She was first runner-up but, in a twist right out of a Disney movie, when the pageant winner had a conflicting Miss World competition at the same time, she was tapped to participate in the Miss Universe pageant and represent Lebanon.

    “I wanted someone to see me and think to themselves, ‘Maybe she’s a good actress, let’s give her an audition.’ That’s what my goal was,” confirms the actor. And that is exactly what happened. Soon after, she was approached by a producer who gave her a shot to audition for a brand new series called Beirut City. It would become the actor’s first bonafide hit. 

    Working girl: In preparation for each of her films Samuel creates a unique playlist for her characters and a personal journal, which she fills with thoughts, feelings, backstory and motivations of the person she will inhabit. Samuel is wearing an ensemble by Kristina Fidelskaya with Jean Schlumberger by Tiffany & Co. Bird on a Pearl necklace, earrings and ring.

    But Samuel admits that there was a time when she thought about giving up acting altogether. A little over three years ago, she stepped back from her calling because of the inappropriateness she had to deal with while on set. “People put me in disgusting situations,” she shares. “I had quit. I didn’t want to be a part of it. And I went through a very difficult time. I blamed myself for a lot of it. I thought I deserved it.” 

    In the end, after taking time to recover from the trauma and to work on herself, Samuel says it was her husband Adam Bakri, who she first met while filling the series Hell’s Gate, that helped her find a path to acting. “He told me that what brings me pure joy in life – other than being surrounded by my loved ones – is being on screen. I love it so much. And being away from it was really hard for me. So he kept supporting me to find a way back where I would feel strong enough to handle any situation and to create a protective environment around myself. I’m so grateful for his help.”

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Samuel admitted that during this cover shoot, she was “channelling Audrey”. Not only is “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” one of her all-time favourite movies, Audrey Hepburn is a actor she has idolised since childhood. Samuel wears a dress by Rabanne with a Jean Schlumberger by Tiffany & Co. Bird on a Pearl necklace, earrings, and ring.

    Today, Samuel, who is also remarkably skilled at both drawing and singing and has something of an obsession for K-dramas, finds herself in a moment of true contentment. Both her career and personal life are in a really good place. There is talk of starting a family, there are Hollywood screen tests, and there are other exciting projects in the works that are still under wraps. The actor feels that this newfound serenity comes from continually putting in the work to understand herself better and also accepting that she can only control how she acts and reacts to the world around her.

    “I used to want to be in control of everything,” she admits. “And that created a lot of anxiety, just having that constant stress of like, ‘I have to know if I can make this or that happen’. Now, I just want to take it easy on myself. I want to let things flow. If something happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But either way, I’m so happy, content and at peace.”

    Editor in Chief: Jessica Michault
    Photography: Greg Adamski
    Styling: Daniel Negron
    Hair: Maggie Semaan
    Make-up: Jean Kairouz
    Stylist Assistant: Ale Platz

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