DUBAI: Passion changes everything. Ten years ago, Saudi actress Summer Shesha was thriving in the finance world, her drive and talent seemed guaranteed to carry her to the top of the industry. Then, a casting call on Twitter that began as a fun weekend activity ended up transforming the plan she had for her life (and, years later, would transform her mother’s as well). Now, as the star of Netflix’s first female-led Saudi original series “Crashing Eid,” which launches Oct. 19, she is set to become a global star in an industry fueled by an ambition that matches her own.
“I’ve always been a practical person. If I’m going to pursue something, I want to know that I’m going somewhere. And for a long time, I didn’t think that something I was passionate about could be the thing that gets me to the heights I once dreamed of in life — to do something that resonates across the world,” Shesha tells Arab News.
“That’s why I’m so proud of this series. I truly believe it’s great. It’s really entertaining, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and it has themes that feel specific to Saudi but will resonate everywhere. This is an unconventional story, one that doesn’t represent all Saudis. But it’s told with love for Saudi, with a Saudi heart, and I think the world will love it, too.”
While much has changed for Shesha since she first stepped on set for a small scene in Mahmoud Sabbagh’s 2013 web series “Kash,” the feeling that she discovered then has never left her. At first, she thought it was just curiosity. She was scheduled to be there for just two hours that day, but found herself lingering long after her scene had wrapped.
“I just couldn’t leave the set,” Shesha remembers. “I sat next to the camera man, then the make-up artists, then the art department… I was fascinated. I stayed for 14 hours. And because I couldn’t get enough, I went to LA to try a course, and it unlocked something within me. When I finally made sense of what I was feeling, I realized what it was. It was passion.”
Still, for nine years, Shesha couldn’t bring herself to step away from the career she had built for herself, torn at all times between her two identities. Even after appearing in hit films such as “Book of Sun,” or winning Best Actress at the 2021 Red Sea International Film Festival for her role in “Kayan,” she was still unsure whether to introduce herself to people as an actress or a banker. And as a senior manager in one of the top banks in the country, it was hard to let that part go.
Eventually, fate stepped in, in the most unexpected of ways. In 2022, Shesha was having a conversation with her friend, Saudi actor and filmmaker Fatima Al-Banawi, who was in the process of casting her directorial debut. It was impossible, Al-Banawi told her, to find great 50-year-old Saudi actresses. That gave Shesha an idea.
“I said, ‘I think my mother would make a good actress.’ I told my mom, and she was dismissive immediately — ‘What? No, no, no,’ she said. I told her that I knew she’d be a natural. I gave her number to Fatima, and Fatima called her, auditioned her, and cast her. Mom was still resisting a day before the shoot was going to begin, asking me how she should apologize because this was all a mistake. She was ready to quit!” says Shesha.
“I told her, ‘Mom, it’s normal to be afraid right before doing something new. But the truth is you’re doing great. This is natural. And you know what? You’re an inspiration. You’re in your fifties, and you’re trying something new, and you’re getting out of your shell.’ She did it, and never looked back,” Shesha continues.
It wasn’t long before Shesha’s mother — Amani Idrees — was booking roles herself. She was cast as the mother in “Crashing Eid” before they had yet found the right actress to play the daughter.
“I hadn’t taken a vacation in two years, I wasn’t looking to do any role at the time because I was exhausted. But then when my mother was cast and met with the showrunner and the directors, and they said, ‘Doesn’t she look just like the actress Summer Shesha? We should ask her to come!’ The casting director had to explain that I was actually her real-life daughter,” Shesha explains with a laugh.
“The second I read the script, I loved it. I loved the character, the story, how unique it is. It’s about accepting the other — people who are different from you. And it’s comedy, which I’d never really explored before. And not just constant punchlines, but absurd family situations that make you laugh by their very nature. I was hesitant before, but once I read it, I couldn’t say no,” she continues.
While having her mother around made the family aspect of the series feel natural, there was one aspect that was completely alien to Shesha — playing a mother herself.
“I’m not a mother, so I didn’t think there was any way I could play the mother to a 15-year-old. When the actress and I first met, it felt silly — she didn’t feel like my daughter at all. I was so scared that the chemistry would make it feel like we were just friends instead,” says Shesha. “But then I realized, actually, my mother and I are friends. We don’t have the usual dynamic, and that’s OK too. It works for us. So I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m going to play it that way.’ And suddenly it all started to feel more natural, and our relationship started to feel real.”
Now, a year since she left the finance world behind, Shesha is more driven than ever. She’s writing her own projects, having received a grant from Netflix’s Grow Creative Initiative, and is excited to continue navigating the many aspects of a being Saudi woman that have only just begun to be explored. And with three more films in post-production, “Crashing Eid” may be her breakout moment to the world as an actress, but it is only a herald of the myriad things to come.
Perhaps what she enjoys most of all, though, is that her best friend is joining her on this journey, too. And that the unique mother-daughter dynamic they’ve fostered has now become that of two creative voices who are in love with a craft that once seemed impossible for both of them to pursue.
“My sister came home recently and found us both screaming in the kitchen and had no idea what was wrong, but we were just doing an exercise assigned to us by the acting coach. She said, ‘I’m living in a crazy house!’ And, yeah, acting can be crazy sometimes. But I’m not the only crazy one in the house anymore,” says Shesha. “I’m so happy we’re doing this together.”