Q. What are some of the challenges of being an actress in Dubai and not Hollywood?
A. One thing that’s an advantage in the US is that there are more people in the industry, so you come across more projects and you have a little more, perhaps, choice in what you want to do. Here, the advantage on this side of the world is that we are a small community, we’re all friends, we all know each other, we’re all supporting each other - it’s really good to have this intimate group but at the same time we’re all learning together and I think a lot of us are also more focused on the directing, producing, acting side. And I think one thing we’re starting to do, and we need more of, is encourage more screenwriters and people just entirely focused on creating wonderful stories because there are so many stories to share here. And that is probably a challenge that I will try to overcome by trying to write myself. But that’s one thing I think we lack here, but other than that it’s moving in the right direction. I think in the next five years we’re going to have a wonderful, flourishing industry. It’s quite young right now, but it’s a great place for people to start because it is so small and so intimate. [It’s a] small pond and I think that’s a really good thing to have at the beginning, that support and you walk in with some hefty guns into the bigger market later.
How did you come to speak four languages?
I guess it’s a result of what sociologists call “third culture kids.” It was actually the norm for me to be at least bilingual because that’s the kind of the environment I grew up in. In Dubai you see households where parents speak at least two languages, if not more. I think I have a really good ear for languages, so even from an accent perspective I think I’m pretty good, so I would say that’s a strength when I do acting roles. German passport, [I’m] German born, Eritrean background, UAE raised. I learned French in school. And in the summer it would be pretty hot in the UAE so we would go back or travel to Germany and other places in Europe, and that would give me the chance to practice the languages I had already picked up. I didn’t really realize that it wasn’t the norm until I moved to the US and people thought that that was not normal.
Which roles are your favorites to act?
I think I enjoy playing roles that are probably quite different from who I am. I also like taking that challenge and [taking on] roles that are empowering female roles that don’t depict women in the way that you usually see - you know, when women are always somehow objectified.
Can you name an example?
There’s the very first short film I shot here when I first moved back home [to Dubai] and it has done really well in festivals around the world. It has gone to Cannes, Amsterdam, Berlin, Sweden, and Beirut. The short was about an Ethiopian maid that comes from Ethiopia to become a housemaid in this little desert town called Liwa, which is right outside of Abu Dhabi.
And it’s this wonderful story of her journey from the airport in this completely foreign country to the village that she’ll be working in, in this taxi - and that’s why it’s called “The Journey.” Between her and this taxi driver, and they both have [different journeys] - as a taxi driver, as a housemaid, and yet you still see this strength completely expressed in these two people and [they] kind of slowly accept what they do and make the best of it. And they teach each other lessons along the way. It’s really beautiful, and it’s one of those stories where you think ‘Oh well this is going to be well received in our culture, in our community, but it’s been sort of well received everywhere else. I think because there are some global themes that come out of it.
What other projects are you working on in the U.A.E?
This year I've been also participating the last two years from the producing and acting side in the 48 hour film project competition, which is actually a global competition and Dubai is one of the cities that participates. We got runner up - our film came in second and it’s being submitted to festivals now. I’m hoping we’re going to do really well. My co-producer Alastair [Newton Brown], who also acted, directed it, and wrote it too - he’s great - he and I are working on trying to give it an international audience because we think it’s pretty good (I think) and we’ve gotten some good feedback for the private screenings we’ve had.
What has your experience in Hollywood been like?
Last summer [I had] my first audition in the U.S. There was a major, major franchise planning to film in Abu Dhabi and I just happened to be in LA. One of the managers I was working with got me an audition, and they were looking for an Indian girl and they saw my pictures and said ‘sure we want to see her’ and I did the whole thing in an Indian accent - like full on, I played it in an Indian accent and did the whole two scenes. So that was interesting and the casting director believed it, she was convinced I was an Indian from Dubai, and she had seen my pictures so they obviously thought I fit the look. I thought that was interesting because you know, I’ve gotten a few Indian castings here, and I’ve done some work in Mumbai as well but it’s not something I would’ve necessarily thought of right away. So I think I’ve got a lot of flexibility with accents - and I think I have a pretty good American accent, which is really important in Hollywood. You need to be able to speak English really well. I see that with my friends who are also international actors, sometimes they have a really hard time mastering an American accent. So that’s probably going to be my advantage as well, not having to wait to master the American accent.
Originally published June 13, 2014.
Mylène Gomera is a Dubai-based actress, director and producer. She plays the leading role in the upcoming movie “51,” and has already taken home the Dubai 48 Hour Film Project’s Best Actress award for her role. She co-stars with “24” and “Homeland” regular Navid Negahban. Gomera grew up in Dubai, attending German, British, and American schools. She mastered four languages before moving to Philadelphia, PA for her undergraduate and graduate studies in Clinical and Counseling Psychology, specializing in working with children with autism. She has appeared in five films over the past two years, and took home the Mumbai Women's International Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award for “Melody,” and the Pearl Jury Award for “The Journey.” Gomera has launched her own production company, Principessa Films, as a platform for her writing, directing, and acting projects.