Dina Shihabi to play lead role in Netflix's 'Painkiller'

The series on the opioid crisis in the US will see the Saudi-born actress play a pharma representative

Actress Dina Shihabi has previously starred in 'Jack Ryan' and 'Altered Carbon'. Getty Images
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Saudi-born actress Dina Shihabi, a former student of Dubai's Chaloub Dance Studio in Ductac, is to play a lead role in Netflix's forthcoming mini-series Painkiller, about the origins of the US's ongoing opioid epidemic and the role played in it by pharmaceuticals company Purdue Pharma.

Shihabi, who describes herself as "multi-ethnic Arab/European” was born in Riyadh to Saudi-Norwegian journalist and political commentator Ali Shihabi and his wife Nadia, who's half-Palestinian and half German-Haitian. Dina herself was raised in Dubai and Beirut after her parents left Saudi Arabia.

Shihabi became interested in acting after enrolling for dance lessons with acclaimed teacher Sharmila Kamte at Chalhoub Dance Studio in Dubai, and has said of the experience: “The more I started dancing, the more I got involved in acting, and it changed my life.” The budding actress moved to New York at 18, where she became the first woman born in the Middle East to be accepted to both The Juilliard School and NYU Tisch Graduate Acting programmes. Shihabi first came to prominence with her role as Hanin, the wife of the lead antagonist in Amazon's 2018 adaptation of Jack Ryan, starring John Krasinski, where she apparently enjoyed the opportunity to offer a slightly different view of Arab women to the Hollywood norm. She said at the time: “When you see Arab women on screen, they are usually victims and not driving the story. The character I play is anything but a victim.”

In Painkiller, Shihabi is set to play Britt, a sales rep for Purdue, the big pharma behemoth that is held in some quarters to be a key driver of the wave of opioid addiction which has struck the US in recent years. The company has faced numerous lawsuits over a number of its products with allegations including bribing doctors to prescribe its medicines, mislabelling, and failing to disclose the highly addictive nature of its products. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019, although in March of this year a bill that would deny Purdue's owners, the Sackler family, legal immunity following the company's bankruptcy was introduced.

Shihabi will line up in the new drama alongside Matthew Broderick as billionaire Purdue owner and senior executive Richard Sackler, John Rothman as co-owner Mortimer Sackler, and Uzo Aduba as Edie, an investigator leading the case against Purdue. Rothman, the star of classic movies such as Ghostbusters, Big and The Devil Wears Prada, is also overseeing the project as part of his long-term deal with Netflix.

Painkiller takes its inspiration from the New Yorker article The Family That Built an Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, and the book Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Barry Meier. Keefe and Meier are both acting as consultants on the show.

Painkiller will begin shooting its six episodes in Toronto later this year, with a release date yet to be confirmed.

Updated: July 11, 2021, 7:08 AM