IN CONVERSATION WITH DINA SHIHABI
Interview by Jana Letonja
Dina Shihabi is the leading star in Showtime’s four-part drama from ‘Ghosts of Beirut’, which was released this May. This August, she is co-starring in Peter Berg’s Netflix series ‘Painkiller’ alongside Uzo Aduba, Matthew Broderick, West Duchovny and Taylor Kitsch. ‘Painkiller’ is being released today (10th August). On film, Dina will co-star in the upcoming film ‘Catching Dust’, written and directed by Stuart Gatt. ‘Catching Dust’ had its world premiere in June at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.
Dina, you played the lead in Showtime’s ‘Ghosts of Beirut’. How was it working on this four-part drama?
It really felt like working on an indie movie. It was very intimate and raw and we covered a lot of ground everyday, so we all had to really be on it and problem solve. I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and really struggling with nausea, so it was very challenging in that regard, but I’m grateful to have been doing what I love during that time.
What initially got you into acting? How did it become your passion?
I always really loved movies and TV shows and felt such a deep connection to that experience, just wanting to be inside of the things I loved. That’s a feeling I always remember having. I was involved with drama in school since the fourth grade, but my first priority was dance, since I was in a professional company. When I was 18, I moved to New York to pursue both and acting just ended up pulling me stronger. I had some teachers that really believed in me and then that obsession for dance just transferred over to acting very naturally. It felt very organic and written.
You will be co-starring in the new Netflix series ‘Painkiller’, a series that explores the origins of the US opioid epidemic. How hard was it to work on a series with such a heavy topic? And how was your general experience of filming this series?
It was heavy for sure. I had a stomach ache the entire shoot that disappeared once we wrapped, which I attribute to the darkness of the reality of the subject and of the particular role I was playing. Filming the show was also the most fun I’ve ever had on set because of the people. I loved working with Pete Berg and West Duchovny, and the rest of the amazing cast and crew. Everyone really wanted to be there and gave it their all. When you’re telling a story based on real events, there is a responsibility you feel and that was never lost on us. I feel proud of being a part of something that continues to examine the truths around the opioid crisis.
Can you share with us a little bit about what we can expect to see in the series when it will be released in August?
You’ll spend time with a couple different perspectives, the Sackler’s, the woman who’s going after them, a family personally affected by OxyContin and Purdue pharmacy reps. The tone of the show is unexpected thanks to Pete’s wildness and the writers Noah and Micah.
Since the birth of the opioid crisis, it has only gotten worse. What is your personal view on this topic?
It’s just absolutely heartbreaking. The selfishness of everyone behind putting OxyContin on the market and how they marketed and pushed it really makes you pessimistic about the pharmaceutical industry. The families that have had to pay the price is what really kills me. Also how we still have such a terrible relationship to addiction and how we talk about it. We need to destigmitize it as a culture, so that we don’t alienate people that are suffering and can bring them closer. Connection and community is so important.
Is it hard for you to get into new characters or are you able to immerse yourself in them quickly?
It’s not hard, if feels like one of the most natural things to me. Each character presents challenges. Some take more work than others and can really test you, but hard isn’t the right word. I actually think you get into trouble when it starts to feel like effort. There needs to be a level of relaxation to everything.
Before acting, you were a dancer. Do you ever miss dance?
All the time. I just had a baby and I can’t wait to go back to class. I think about it every day.
When you moved from Saudi Arabia to New York, you were accepted at both Juilliard and The graduate Acting Program at NYU Tisch School for the Arts. How big of a personal accomplishment was that for you?
Massive. It felt so validating. A sign from the universe that I was on the right path.
You will also be starring in the upcoming film ‘Catching Dust’, which tells the story of a young couple living in turmoil and isolation at a commune in the heart of Big Bend. Tell us more about this film and what makes it such a gorgeous cinematic viewing experience.
We shot on film and that was a whole new thing for me, hearing the film roll end and just the magic of it. I loved it. Stuart Gatt, the writer-director, is very special and he got together a really remarkable group of actors and crew. The DP, Aurélien Marra, is world class. It was one of my favorite projects ever. Everyone was so open and collaborative and it was an unforgettable, emotional experience.
Dina, what are you goals for the future of your acting career?
To continue to deepen myself as a human being, so I have more and more to give as an actor. I think that is a life practice that is so exciting to me. It never ends.
photographer KATHRYN BROLIN @kathrynbrolin
stylist OLIVER VAUGHN @oliver_vaughn
hair YVONNE MORENO @hvnnyb
makeup APRIL KATERI CHAVEZ @aprilkateri