Raya Abirached is familiar to local movie fans as the face of MBC’s Hollywood coverage, and Arabic cinema as host of her own show Scoop.
This weekend, however, Abirached takes a break from interviewing the stars of the silver screen and becomes one herself – she is the voice of Smurf Willow in the Arabic version of the Smurfs latest big screen outing, The Lost Village.
This is the TV presenter’s second outing as a voice actress, having previously voiced Matilda in the Arabic version of last year’s Angry Birds.
Even so, she says she doesn’t have any plans to make a full-time career switch. “I have always thought my talent was talking about Hollywood, not acting,” she says. “I don’t really think I have much talent as an actress, but voice acting is quite similar to what I do on television.
“It wasn’t really a direction I planned to go in, but I really enjoyed myself when I voiced Matilda in Angry Birds, so I was happy to give it another go.
“And, who’s not a fan of the Smurfs?”
Abirached is a big fan of the little blue creatures and says the film has a special resonance for Arab viewers of her generation.
Dubbed in Arabic and titled Al Sanafer, the series was an afternoon staple for children across the region.
“They were huge in the Arab world when I was young, as it was one of the few shows back then that was actually broadcast in Arabic, not with subtitles, so it’s almost like a natural progression that I should end up voicing it years later,” she says.
There’s been an increasing trend in recent years, particularly with animated movies, for dubbed Arabic versions to be released simultaneously with the English original. It’s a trend Abirached welcomes, although she still believes there is a place for subtitles too.
“Dubbing works well with animated films, plus is nice for kids as they can engage with it more in a language they’re more familiar with,” she says.
“But I don’t think it needs to be either or because the subtitles help us learn English, so it’s good to have a good proportion of both and to give movie goers the choice of whether they want to see it in Arabic or English.”
As an avid Smurfs fan, it is no surprise that Abirached noticed that her character, Smurf Willow, does not follow the usual Smurf naming pattern of role/attribute Smurf, hence Brainy Smurf, Lazy Smurf, Papa Smurf.
We will have to see the movie to find out why and Abirached reveals there is a vital narrative reason for the unusual name. “I don’t want to give too much away but she’s part of a new breed of Smurfs that we discover in The Lost Village,” says Abirached.
“The Smurfs discover they’re not alone, and Smurf Willow comes along and really gives Papa Smurf a run for his money.
“That’s as much as I can divulge right now, but it’s quite exciting because we get to see the Smurfs in a different environment, there’s a refreshing twist and some exciting new characters that could be part of Smurf folklore for another 50 or 60 years.”
Abirached is also well-known to viewers as the co-host of the popular talent show, Arab’s Got Talent, and with the latest series currently airing on MBC, she offers some hot tips for fans on who to look out for. “Everybody’s talking about the first episode where they awarded the golden buzzer to this Moroccan folk singer [Imane Mustapha Chmiti],” she says.
“She was eight months pregnant at the auditions. I’ll never forget her. She’s got this voice that just gives you goosebumps and a wonderful personality and energy.
“She was really special and the highlight of my audition season.
“I can’t say what will happen when we go live, but she’s one that will stick in the panellists’ mind for sure. There’s really something very special about this girl.”
• Smurfs: The Lost Village is in cinemas from Thursday, March 30