Real Life

How Sherin Darwish went from migrant mum to superstar

The TV newcomer wasn’t fazed by the role that seemed made for her
Emily Chalk

Single mum-of-two Sherin Darwish has always told her children to get back up and keep chasing their dreams. And at 60, the early childhood education lecturer has followed her own wise words and, with no prior professional experience, scored a lead role in the new television series Miles From Nowhere.

Until recently, Sherin’s life was largely devoted to supporting her son Omar, 33, and daughter Soha, 30, helping train other teachers and serving her community.

But when Soha saw a call wanting Middle Eastern women who spoke Arabic for a new TV show, she knew her mum had to apply. Initially, Sherin wasn’t convinced.

“I thought, ‘There’s so many Middle Eastern women in New Zealand, I’ll never be picked,’ but I agreed to try,” she says.

“The first lines for the audition were going into my son’s room to wake him up and clean. With those specific lines, it didn’t feel strange at all. When I showed my daughter, she laughed and said, ‘You don’t have to act that – you do it every morning!’”

After an in-person casting call and a few more weeks waiting, Sherin was thrilled to learn she’d been chosen for a key role, Shadia, the mother of lead character Said.

The drama-comedy series follows young Kiwi-Muslim songwriter Said, played by Arlo Green, who forms a dangerous friendship with the Security Intelligence Service agent spying on him.

“At the beginning, I couldn’t believe it was real,” says Sherin. “My daughter was so excited, saying, ‘My mum’s going to be an actress!’” 

Daughter Soha was the one who made her mum audition for the role.

It’s been a life-changing experience for the Egyptian, who moved to Aotearoa from Cairo in 2000 with her then-husband and young children looking for better education opportunities. Sherin recalls instantly liking the friendly Kiwis she met, the more laid-back lifestyle and an abundance of nature.

Then just two weeks after arriving, her husband accepted an international contract and left to work overseas. Alone and not knowing anyone, Sherin embraced the Christchurch community with gusto, volunteering at a local daycare centre until she was offered a job there, and supporting other immigrants and refugees through local charities in her spare time.

It wasn’t long before Sherin realised her husband wasn’t coming back and they separated. But with her usual determination, she refused to let anything stand in the way of the life she had dreamed for her kids.

“From day one, since I got married, I’ve said to myself, ‘When you trip, stand up, learn the lesson, turn the page and carry on’, and I’ve taught my children this too.

“I wanted them to know they are very important and I always have their backs with unconditional love – no matter what is happening,” says the proud mother.

Now based in Auckland, Sherin has a Master’s degree in early childhood education and alongside acting is now a lecturer at the Universal College of Learning.

Reading the script for Shadia, who is also a solo parent, Sherin quickly noticed the similarities.

Sherin with Miles From Nowhere co-stars Arlo and Hannah.

“Maybe that’s what attracted me to the story,” she reflects. “It’s about bringing children up on your own in the middle of nowhere, away from home. I know exactly the feelings and challenges she’s going through.”

During filming, Sherin quickly became on-set mum to her castmates and the wider production team, who loved her authenticity, and being able to ask advice about Egyptian culture and the language. 

“It was reciprocal,” explains Sherin of her relationship with her co-stars. “Arlo and Hannah [Tayeb] called me Mama, and they were so helpful and kind supporting me in areas where I was a baby, brand- new to this experience.”

Reflecting on the journey, Sherin says Miles From Nowhere is a show she would have loved to have watched as a new immigrant, when it was rare to see Egyptian or Middle Eastern actors on Kiwi screens. But she believes many viewers from diverse backgrounds will connect with parts of the story.

Watching the first two episodes with her daughter, Sherin was delighted with the end result and according to Soha, in some scenes she couldn’t tell her mum was even acting.

“My daughter joked, ‘We knew you were a drama queen, but now we know how talented you are too!’”

Sherin’s not sure what her show business future holds, but if she gets another chance to act again, she’ll be ready to embrace all opportunities.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” she insists. “I won’t limit myself and I’ll keep trying new things, exploring and finding my talents.”

Miles From Nowhere screens Wednesdays at 8.30pm on Sky Open, and On Demand on Sky Go and Neon.

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