We catch up with actor and GEMS Dubai American Academy alumna Dina Al Shihabi, whose role in Jack Ryan recently earned her a nomination for a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress
How did you first get into performing arts and what role did your school and teachers play in this?
My first love was dance. I studied with Sharmila Kamte in Dubai and was part of her professional dance company. My acting teacher at GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA), Nancy Mock, told me I should consider pursuing an acting career because I had natural talent. I went home and told my mother, who was extremely encouraging about acting.
How did your acting progress from there?
I moved to New York right after leaving DAA in 2007 and attended a small acting conservatory for two years. I was mostly a dancer at that point and would take acting classes in the morning and then go to the dance studio in the evenings. After those two years, I took an acting ‘scene study’ class with a man named Wynn Handman, who I really believe made me an actor. I then decided to apply for The Juilliard School and New York University’s graduate acting programmes and got into both. I graduated from NYU with a Master of Fine Arts in Acting in 2014.
What was your biggest takeaway from your high school experience in Dubai?
My favourite part of DAA was how multicultural it was. Having access to so many different kinds of people and nationalities was such a gift.
The acting business is notoriously difficult to crack – what helped you to succeed?
I didn’t want to do anything else. Dance was what I wanted at first and then it felt like acting chose me. It just feels like this is what I was supposed to do. It feels fated in a way. Everyone says getting into acting is really hard – and, sure, it is! You have to have a thick skin to deal with rejection, but that ends up being the easy part. I think what’s hardest are the ups and downs – the wave, as I like to call it. You have to get good at riding the wave.
You have to have a thick skin to deal with rejection, but that ends up being the easy part. I think what’s hardest are the ups and downs – the wave, as I like to call it. You have to get good at riding the waveActor Dina Al Shihabi
What’s next for you and where do you hope to go?
I’ve been writing and am currently in the process of making my own TV series that I would star in. We’ve signed on with producers and a studio and the next step is to sell it to a streaming service. It’s my baby and I am so excited!
Any advice for those looking to get into acting and follow in your footsteps?
Never be shy to ask for guidance or help, but also trust your instincts. There is no rulebook for this, so allow for trial and error. I’ve done so many things I thought would be setbacks or mistakes and then a year later it led me to where I wanted to be. So, whether it’s acting or investment banking, you just have to pick what is, for you, most worth going through all the hard work. You have to really love it and, if you do, I think ultimately it’s the best job in the world.