International Disruptors: Tunisian-Egyptian Star Hend Sabry Talks Season Two Of Netflix Hit ‘Finding Ola’, CAA Signing & Producer Plans

Welcome to International Disruptors, a feature where we shine a spotlight on key executives and companies outside of the U.S. shaking up the offshore marketplace. This week, we talk to Tunisian-Egyptian star Hend Sabry, who walks us through the second season of her hit Netflix show Finding Ola, signing with CAA as well as the future of filmmaking in Egypt.

Tunisian-Egyptian star Hend Sabry is talking to Deadline from the set of Season 2 of her hit Netflix show Finding Ola.

“I can’t disclose where we’re filming, only that we’re in production,” she says over a WhatsApp video call, talking between shots in full costume.

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One certainty is that the titular heroine will be leaving her home city of Cairo and Egypt for at least part of the upcoming new season.

The show is a reboot of 2010 Egyptian TV classic Ayza Atgawez, starring Sabry as a middle-class, Cairo pharmacist desperate to get married before she turns thirty.

The role propelled Sabry to household name status across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 2010s.

Sabry came up with the idea of revisiting the character more than a decade later after Netflix approached her asking to collaborate, as part of its drive to grow its footprint across MENA.

“The readiest idea I had was to revive that show. I’d always believed the story wasn’t finished. People related to Ola in a way that was unique, compared to other characters I’ve played,” says Sabry.

“I saw the impact the original had on young women, on families and on mothers. Laughter can break so many barriers and so many taboos, especially in a region with a lot of them like ours.”

In keeping with the regionally ground-breaking storyline of the original series, the new show follows Ola as she rebuilds her life following her husband’s shock decision to call time on their marriage, leaving her to bring up their teenage daughters alone.  

It’s a daring angle, in a region where marital separation and divorce remains a taboo subject for parts of the population.

In a first for Sabry, she took on show-running duties, bringing back on board Ghada Abdel Aal, who co-wrote the original series from her popular-autobiographical blog Wanna be a bride/I Wanna Get Married.

“It was tactically interesting for me to re-explore this character both as an actress and a producer,” says Sabry, who was involved in every stage of the show, from the development to the writing room and signing director Hadi El Bagoury (Hepta, The Guest)

“I like playing with content and as an actress, I don’t get the same kind of control as producer. I’m very detail oriented and production is all about details,” says Sabry, who previously co-produced the 2026 Arabic-language feature The Flower Of Aleppo under the banner of her Salam Production company.

Released by Netflix in February 2022, Finding Ola made it into the Top 10 worldwide and also came in at number one in the Arab-speaking world for three weeks.

“I also started having fans from Brazil and Costa Rica on my Instagram page,” recounts Sabry, who currently has some 3.5 million followers on the social media platform.

“I think it appealed to viewers in Latin American countries because our family structure is not dissimilar and some of their societies can be quite conservative, so it resonated.”

Beyond Finding Ola, it has been a busy period for the actress, who recently launched the Second Chance fashion brand with Dubai-based designer and friend Rym Turki; signed for global representation with CAA, and also took time off from shooting the show to attend the Cannes Film Festival in May, as one of the co-stars of Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s Cannes 2023 Palme d’Or contender Four Daughters.

Sabry, who represented herself until now, says her reasons for signing with CAA are multiple.

“It’s not only about my work as an actress but also my work as a producer. They’re helping me build my company and find opportunities for this company to grow into a female-led production company in the Arab world which is very exciting for me,” she explains.

Steven Brown is Sabry’s global representative for her acting work, while Lubna Salad is handling the business side and the development of Sabry’s Salam Production company.

“We don’t know how this is going to go yet. I have been working in this region for 30 years now. and I know how hard it will be to introduce U.S. agents to the region,” says Sabry. “It’s a region that is very resistant to change and very resistant to representation.”

“I’ve never had an agent before. I had to negotiate everything myself. I was my own agent, my own representative. I’m sure it’s not going to be very smooth. It’s another challenge. I like being the first one to do something, I like to try things, I like to be the lab rat,” she continues.

“This is the last region in the world that is still not open to global representation, and I think we’re suffering from that. It affects our representation globally, compared to other cultures and countries that are now much more global in their industry, such as India.”

Sabry’s career has been tied up with positive disruption of the MENA film and TV scene ever since her teenage debut in Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli’s The Silences of the Palace.

The drama, exploring female oppression through the memories of a young woman who returns to the palace where her mother once worked as a servant, world premiered in Competition in Cannes in 1994.

Tlatli became the first female Arab director to be feted by Cannes when the film won a special mention in the Camera d’Or first film category.

The drama then screened to strong reviews at the New York Film Festival, Toronto and Chicago that same year, becoming the first Tunisian production to connect with North American audiences.

Sabry reveals was a reluctant participant in film and did not even step-up to audition when Tlatli visited her high school to scout for a young lead.

“I was 14. I was not at all into acting,” recalls Sabry.

She was roped into the casting process after director Nouri Bouzid, who was a co-writer on the film, spotted her at a birthday celebration she was attending with her parents.

“He asked my mother if I was interested. I wasn’t really excited about it and my parents had to push me. I wasn’t Moufida’s first choice but the first choice: her parents’ said no. This is how I landed the part that changed my life.”

Sabry credits Tlatli with laying the foundations for her future acting career, with her sensitive, intimate approach, giving her a cinema culture and exposing her to strong female stories at a seminal moment in her life.

“She was my school… the first time I stood in front of the camera, those 35mm cameras, she is the one who kind of de-inhibited me. She showed me my power in front of a camera and this you never really forget.”

After The Silences of the Palace, Sabry stayed away from acting, opting instead to study law on finishing school.

Tlatli coaxed her back to the set for her 2000 feminist work The Season of Men, which world premiered in Cannes Un Certain Regard.

The film also played Tunisia’s Carthage Film Festival, where Sabry connected with Egyptian director Enas El-Degheidy, who would invite her to Egypt to star in her 2001 film Diary Of A Teenager (Mothakerat Morahkah).

The tale of a day-dreaming teenage girl who embarks on a sexual relationship was controversial in Egypt for breaking taboos around pre-marital sex.

Sabry was unprepared for the backlash: “I came from a cinema that much more progressive and visually much more daring as well as in the storytelling. I was very ignorant about Egyptian cinema because I was Francophone, Francophile and more into Western movies so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It was also very disruptive for me.”

The film connected Sabry with Egypt and opened a new chapter in her life, with the actress working between the country and Tunisia, until moving permanently to Cairo when she completed her Masters in law in 2004.

“I was back and forth because I really liked working in Egypt. It gave me more independence and financial independence,” she recounts. “There was a challenge to it as well and I like challenges. I instantly felt there was a challenge here just to kind of bring my perspective to what was being offered in the Egyptian industry.”

She got her big Egyptian break on Marwan Hamad’s 2006 international breakthrough title The Yacoubian Building, adapted from Alaa Al Aswany’s eponymous social satire set against the backdrop of an apartment block in downtown Cairo.

“That was my first real blockbuster,” says Sabry, who also went on to work with Hamad on Ibrahim Labyad (2009), The Blue Elephant 2 (2019) and Kira and El Gin (2022).

The pair have been friends since Sabry’s early days in Cairo.

“We’re from the same generation. He instantly became my good friend when I first moved from Tunisia. He was my neighbor and then he became my kind of advisor/counsellor. We’d watch films together and had a common view on many movies,” she says.

Sabry points to a timely coming together of a “young generation of filmmakers in Egypt” with a new generation of local actors and talents from across the MENA region who moved to Egypt to work in its then regionally dominant film industry.

“Together, we made ground-breaking films, for the region,” she says.

Alongside building her mainstream career in Egypt, Sabry has also remained loyal to her native Tunisia, starring in arthouse productions such as Ben Hania’s hybrid Cannes contender docu-drama Four Daughters and the tough 2019 social drama Noura’s Dream by Hinde Boujemaa.

Sabry also has a penchant for getting involved in short films by emerging talents.

Short film credits include Rise and Shine by Egyptian director Sherif Elbendary, who went on to make festival hit Ali And The Goat, and The Parrot, by Jordanian directors Amjad Al Rasheed and Darin J. Sallam, who have since distinguished themselves with solo features Inshallah A Boy and Farha.

“I love short films as a format, and like to watch short films. I also like to play, and shorts give me that freedom, because there is nothing at stake. I just go to be an added value,” says Sabry.

“I like beginnings. I like to witness a director finding their way. It’s something magical to witness, when you’re an actor who has a little bit of experience and you can add a bit of reassurance. It’s a beautiful thing.”

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