For Razane Jammal, playing the lead role of Salama in the UAE-produced horror film Djinn was a truly traumatic experience.
Speaking during the Abu Dhabi Film Festival at the Emirates Palace, the Lebanese actress recalls the effects that portraying a housewife being tormented by supernatural beings had on her mental well-being.
“In order to play Salama I really had to believe what was happening to her. I had to believe in the djinn, I couldn’t just pretend ‘oh I’m so scared’,” she says.
“I really had to mind-twist myself, I had to go deep into things in the past that traumatised me. I opened a lot of wounds and it was hard to snap out of it after the film.”
Because of this, once filming was over, Jammal found herself in a state of despondency.
“I did go into a depression for about a month and it was very dark. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was crying all the time and I was very unhappy,” she says.
“I was all alone in LA, so it was a very difficult time. So I started doing a lot of yoga, tai chi, meditation and I saw shamans – and this all healed me.”
The experience has changed her beliefs about the djinn.
“Now I understand that djinns do exist, but the key is not to fear them and they will not hurt you. If you feel they are bugging you, you just have to yell at them like you would a little kid.”
The film premiered to a packed auditorium at the Emirates Palace on Friday evening. Thus far, the response to the movie has been generally positive, with extra praise for Jammal’s performance.
Before its screening, she was so unsure about her rendering of the role that she feared she might be up for a Razzie, the awards that honour the worst in film.
“When I watch myself I hate myself in everything that I do,” she says. “But when I went out [after the premiere], everyone was so warm and welcoming and generous with their words.”
She also sees it as triumph that the film, which has been beset by delays, made it to the big screens.
“It’s been two years and a half and I never actually thought it was going to happen,” she explains.
“There were problems in post-production and problems with the story that had to be fixed. I wasn’t really involved in that process, but we did do some reshoots in LA this year and this is when I thought perhaps this is really going out.”
The film goes on general release in the UAE on Thursday.
Jammal believes it could set a benchmark for other locally produced movies.
“I do hope there will be more horror films made in the UAE, plus films that tackle taboo subjects like children’s rights, women’s rights, or housekeepers who are mistreated,” she says.
“These topics need to be talked about. If a horror film is a stepping stone, so be it.”
And despite the traumas of making Djinn, if its producers call her agent asking her to star in a sequel, would she sign up?
Without a moment’s hesitation she exclaims: “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
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