Five years after voicing Lara Croft in Arabic for the first time, and becoming the first woman to do so, model-actress Nadine Wilson Njeim has returned to the role for the localised version of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which releases worldwide on September 14.
For Njeim, a self-identified gamer, the opportunity to voice death-defying English archeologist Croft in 2013 was a dream come true. She was offered the role by Japanese video game developers Square Enix.
“They said voice-wise, I was perfect for the game. But at the same time, character-wise, I think they saw a certain similarity [between me and] Lara. Let’s just say we’re not too girly, the both of us,” said Njeim.
She considered both herself and Croft to be feminists. To her, feminism included “having a very clear realisation of who you are and what you can be and going there.”
Njeim said: “At its own base, Lara is a feminist, because she wants to reach her goal and she can do it on her own and nothing can stop her. And that’s a similarity I, and a lot of other Arab women, have [with her].”
Lara Croft first appeared in the 1996 video game Tomb Raider. She is presented as agile, shrewd and complex, but has also been noted, and criticised, for the idealised way she’s drawn, with many claiming she caters to the male fantasy. Still, the franchise has been hugely successful. Lara Croft was first adapted to film by Angelina Jolie in 2001. She was resurrected by Alicia Vikander for this year’s big-screen reboot.
For fans of the action-packed gaming franchise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider will provide more depth to Croft’s inner journey, as the character goes up against a Mayan apocalypse.
“On an emotional level, you feel that Lara has become a grown woman with a lot of internal struggles — sadness, pain, anger, jealousy, fury, self-resentment, self-exploration,” said Njeim, who counted the games as personal favourites.
Njeim appreciated the gaming world for its ability to detach her from everything and give her a break. Growing up, she recalled playing war games with her father and brothers.
“My dad was a general in the army, so imagine the tactics that went into that,” said Njeim.
Now she plays the Tomb Raider games with her husband, who gets a kick out of hearing his wife’s voice.
“[When] Lara Croft version one came out, and we were playing it, my husband kept insisting on like, making me jump off a cliff and die. He enjoyed me going, ‘Ahhh!’ and he kept repeating it,” Njeim said, laughing. “I was like, ‘Do you have anything to say? Do we need to talk about anything? Are you okay?’”
Njeim arrived on the public’s radar at the age of 19, when she won the title of Miss Lebanon in 2007.
She had never dreamt of participating in a beauty pageant, let alone winning one. But her mother and aunt tricked her into auditioning.
“I got there in my football shorts, because I didn’t know I was going. They told me that we were going to have lunch together, then they got me to the casting location,” said Njeim.
Her initial response was, “Excuse me? What are you doing? No.” But her mother and aunt convinced her to give it a shot. Njeim walked away with the crown and counts herself proud of everything she’s achieved since.
The experience, including her public commitment to helping the Lebanese Red Cross, taught her an important lesson.
“If you want something done, you do it yourself… From then on, I really went into everything in my life with that psyche, with that mentality. Get things done, no matter what,” said Njeim.
Njeim, now 30, is the managing partner for an IT company and the general manager of Designer 24, a rental company for designer dresses, which she launched in Dubai four years ago. She has a double major in international business and political science. But that doesn’t stop her from pursuing other interests.
“Walking around Gulf News offices in my very cute pink dress, it made me feel like a fish out of water, [like] I should have been there with them because I know a bit of what’s going on,” she said.
“I don’t know why you can’t be both. I mean, sometimes it’s flabbergasting, that double standard. Why can a man be a really strong businessman… and at the same time he can go golf, or swim, or do whatever activity?
“Our activity is partly beauty, partly fashion, partly entertainment. So what’s the big deal? We can think and put on mascara at the same time. Imagine that.”
Njeim also teased an upcoming Arabic television series she’s in, set to launch in January 2019. Commenting on the current state of the Arabic entertainment industry, she found that actresses had more opportunities to shine.
“That’s a sure thing, comparative to past years. But I would like to see women in stronger roles. I want to see a bit of an action character. I want to see women in more defying roles,” Njeim said.
After all, that’s what attracted her to Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise in the first place.
“It was kind of a dream come true, for a girl who likes Lara Croft-style dreams,” said Njeim. “Technically, the role is very challenging, when you’re just doing the voice with nothing in front of you. You have to emit all those emotions. At the same time, I wanted to be Lara. I wanted to be that type of women.”
It was also important to provide other girls in the world with more — and stronger — female voices.
“We need to give them that, so that they can find their own voice, eventually,” she added.
Don’t miss it
Shadow of the Tomb Raider goes on sale in the UAE on September 14. It’s priced Dh279 for the standard edition and Dh399 for the Croft edition.