Whether fronting a couture shoot, lighting up the big screen alongside Hollywood heavyweights, or getting behind a gender equality campaign, Razane Jammal is a multi-faceted talent to be reckoned with.
One of Business Of Fashion’s 500 people shaping the global fashion industry, actress Razane Jammal caught her big break in Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, and has gone on to star in Kanye West’s Cruel Summer, Tobe Hooper’s Emirati horror, Djinn – her first lead role – Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones – alongside Liam Neeson, no less – and Robert Guédiguian’s Une Histoire De Fou (Don’t Tell Me The Boy Was Mad). The latter enjoyed a glittering opening at the Cannes Film Festival last month.
While she may still be on the periphery of being a household name, that doesn’t mean Razane is not in hot demand. On the contrary, she’s an intrepid actress who is starting to wrap Hollywood around her dainty little fingers. Couple this with her high-end modelling shoots and the 27-year-old is nigh on impossible to pin down.
After a manic couple of days in Seoul, South Korea, for the Chanel Cruise Collection 2016 show – and to shoot our cover story – Razane managed to pop back to her birthplace of Beirut (via Dubai), before spending a night at her home in London (where she studied) en route to the Cannes Film Festival. It’s just after she lands in London that we manage to catch up over the phone. Understandably, given her peripatetic existence, the actress, who recently resided in New York, is reluctant to claim anywhere as home, simply saying, “At the moment I’ll live wherever the work is.” She’s making the most of her rootlessness. “Whenever I travel I just absorb everything from all the different people I meet – it feeds me as an actress and widens my repertoire,” she says. It’s one of the reasons she adores Dubai so much. “I love spending time in the UAE because of the people I always meet there – so many beautiful, unique and talented people from all over the world. I’ve never met so many interesting people as I have in Dubai; it’s a real definition of a melting pot – of both culture and talent.”
Of her whirlwind trip to South Korea, Razane enthuses, “Seoul was so new and so different. It was a quick, crazy, exhausting experience. We slept for three hours a night, but it was fantastic meeting new people and experiencing new things.”
Having caught the attention of Chanel last year, it’s a reciprocal love-in between the newest ambassadress for Chanel and the brand itself.
“I love how Karl integrated Seoul into the collection, paying homage with nods to Korean traditional dress. Like in his Dubai show last year, he bridges the gap between the East and the West. And, of course, the cut and the fabrics are all incredible.”
Razane’s been acting since she was six but it’s really only in the last couple of years that her hard work has started to pay off on a global level, carving a name for herself as a new kind of Hollywood heroine.
Describing herself as “ethnically ambiguous”, the petite, blue-eyed beauty, with her porcelain skin and shiny dark hair – which she claims to cut according to the phases of the moon – is taking full advantage of her interchangeable looks.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I have managed to play so many diverse roles. In Une Histoire De Fou, (which opened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) I play an Armenian woman. I played the Lebanese wife of an Emirati man in Djinn, for which I had to brush up on my Arabic, I’ve acted in Egyptian series Embratoreyet Meen, I’ve played a Ukranian/American/Lebanese character, I’ve done French and Jordanian roles… being ethnically ambiguous is definitely a strength,” she says.
This attitude is in stark contrast to the one she possessed when she was first making a name for herself. Razane insists that her quote on Imdb.com – where she claims she was always being told that “you’re not Lebanese enough/not American enough/too tall/too fat/too skinny” – is an old one and she’s since transmuted her ethnicity into something far more positive.
“I love submerging myself into the background, history and culture of the character I’m playing or the film I’m in. In Une Histoire De Fou I learned so much about the Armenian genocide, which I believe so many people don’t know anything about. And the more I learned the more I was determined that everybody should know about it.”
If you had asked her ten years ago if there are enough roles for Arabic actors, she would have said no, but she’s grateful this has changed. “Nowadays there is much more diversity in the industry, boundaries are opening up, there are less stereotypes and Arab actors no longer have to be confined to playing terrorist roles,” she says with a wry laugh.
Having grown up with strong women, it’s almost inevitable that this feisty, feminist firebrand has found its way inside of her. Citing both her mother and her grandmother as the most influential women in her life, Razane’s voice overflows with emotion and passion as she describes her grandmother, who sadly passed away three years ago.
“My grandmother played a huge part in shaping who I am today. I know a lot of people say that about their grandparents, but she was adored by thousands. She was an art teacher who studied history and all of her students loved her. She had this way of making everyone feel special and like they mattered, she never judged anyone. She had so much compassion for all of humanity and she honestly taught me to be a better person. She was so educated – she was like a walking encyclopaedia – and she imparted so much knowledge to me. I got to spend a lot of time with her.”
It was also her wonderful grandmother, who Razane used to perform and dance for, who encouraged her to be an actress, because her mother – “as any other mom” – was worried about the pitfalls of the industry.
So what if Razane ends up having a daughter who wishes to follow a similar path? “My supporting her would depend on why she wants to be an actress. If it’s a true passion I will encourage it, but not if she wants to get into it for the wrong reasons, i.e. just for fame. Her desire will have to come from a very real place. And then I will be there to guide her and equip her with all the tools she will need. She’ll be lucky to have me there – I had to find my own way.”
Career guidance and inspiration have come to her from what may seem like an unlikely source. “Working with Kanye West was amazing,” she gushes. Hearing the unconcealed scepticism in my “Really?” she continues, “He’s a true visionary, very cultured and very hard working. He is so talented and knows exactly what he’s after when he’s working on something. I learned a lot from him.” She may be on first-name terms with the Kanyes, Karls and Kristens (Stewart) of the world, but Razane is adamant she will not turn her back on her roots.
“The Middle East is evolving so much – in all industries, whether it’s fashion, acting or in terms of business – so it is still very important for me to be involved in projects here,” she says.
It’s safe to say that Razane, who is proving to be such a positive role model for this region, will soon be able to pick and choose between projects both abroad and closer to her ancestral home. Her fairy tale journey only just got started.
Main image: White organza dress with white organza bolero, Black glitter buffalo high boots.
All clothes by CHANEL Paris-Salzburg collection
Style Director: Jade Sprowson | Photography: Shin, Sun-Hye | Words: Lyndsey Steven