Lebanese actress’s journey from Beirut to New York to Hollywood

Surviving in the world of show business can be grueling as actors compete for daily parts, but rising Lebanese star Sarah Himadeh said she won’t let the cutthroat Hollywood world discourage her. Despite the pressure and uncertainty of making it in the industry, Himadeh says her passion didn’t only push her to change careers but also move to a new country.

“When I was in Grade 4, I played the father of Hansel and Gretel. At that moment I [had] never felt as free and it was just complete freedom to be in that character,” the U.S.-based actress told The Daily Star in a recent interview. “Coming from a Middle Eastern family I never really thought that acting or theater was possible.”

Although she showed a clear interest in acting and was praised by her teachers, Himadeh’s parents wanted her to pursue a different path. Having been raised in Canada, she followed the path her parents had suggested for her and after school worked in the banking sector and biotechnology industry.

“[But] Then I started taking theater classes and I couldn’t think of anything else. I would take my sick days and vacation to rehearse for plays that I was in. Then I flew to New York because I had applied to many schools and I auditioned and I got in,” Himadeh said.

However, the news that she had been offered a place at the William Esper Studio in New York wasn’t well received by her parents.

“I told my parents and my dad didn’t speak to me for a long time. He was really not happy with me because he was really scared. It’s a dirty industry there’s no security in it. If you’re a hard worker and talented it doesn’t really mean anything,” she added.

Although she said she found it painful, Himadeh understood where her father was coming from. She explained that he started to come around when he realized how passionate she was about acting.

Since graduating in 2011, Himadeh has landed several film roles. Her portfolio already includes parts in Peruvian actor-director Javier Ronceros’ first feature length film “The Miller Prediction” as well as parts in “The Visitor” and “Daughter.” She also appeared in the documentary “Audition.”

Two of the films she appeared in made it to major international film festivals, with Daughter showing at the Cannes Film Festival and The Visitor making it into the Sundance Film Festival. She also won the best supporting actress award at The Madrid International Film Festival for her role in The Miller Prediction.

Despite early successes, making it in the industry hasn’t been easy. In recent years there has been a growing debate in the film business about diversity on-screen. Himadeh explained that while she couldn’t say for sure if her Lebanese heritage had helped or hindered her career, she believed it had constituted a barrier.

“Usually as an actor, if you’re in New York or Los Angeles you need an agent or a manager. You need a representation to get you into [projects],” she said. She added that her experience in New York with agents had been unsuccessful.

“I applied to maybe hundreds of agencies, I tried to get through connections but nothing happened. So I would just audition.”

However, doing this alone is also a difficult route. She admitted that it had been scary given that all attention is on you and casting directors are notorious for either being hard to please or hard to keep focused on the person in front of them.

“I’ve been on a thousand auditions and the amount of rejection and the amount you have to swallow and keep moving is really overwhelming,” Himadeh said.

She recalled meeting actor Adrien Brody, best known for his leading role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, during a Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gala. She said they had talked about the difficulties of auditioning and said that even A-listers find landing big roles that truly represent them and their acting capabilities difficult.

She says that her overall experience in New York was successful but had decided to move to Los Angeles after meeting someone in Lebanon who was investing in a film there and asking her to join.

There, she was able to find an agent and a manager and begin auditions again.

“I almost got on Homeland and Tyrant [TV series]. It’s always, ‘I’m this close’ which is cool because then they call me back for different roles and they get to know me,” she said. “But it’s still an uphill battle for sure.”