Date and place of birth: Mogadishu, Somalia 1981.
Place of Residence:
Helsinki, Finland.
Qualification in Social and Health Care, BBA.
I dream about…
a career as an actress.
I’m afraid of…
In the future I’d like to…
see people caring more about each other and not caring about where others come from and how they look.

A FRESH new face in the Finnish theatre and film scene, Maryan Guuleed developed an interest in acting after arriving in Finland as a refugee from Somalia. She first lived in Oravainen, where she attended school and acted in an amateur theatre. At 18 years of age, Guuleed moved to Helsinki and studied to become a practical nurse.

Her first touch in professional acting was in the documentary Whole Woman in 2004. She has since starred in Ritva Siikala’s plays Aina Jonkun Tytär and Zambesi. Concurrently with acting, Guuleed studied towards another degree and is about to graduate as a Bachelor of Business Administration. Guuleed can now be seen on screen in the film Kohtaamisia (Heartbeats) by Saara Cantell, currently in theatres across Finland.

You are a practical nurse and study business; meanwhile you have appeared in a documentary, a few plays and a film. Is acting something you have always secretly dreamt of doing or is it something that just happened to you?

Actually, I used to dream of being a doctor. My father is a vet and so I always thought I’d follow in his footsteps, so to speak. That’s why I studied to become a practical nurse and also applied to get into medical school. I didn’t get in, which made me think about whether being a doctor was really something I wanted. I realised it was in fact more my father’s thing. (Laughs) At the same time I got the role in Whole Woman and later in the play Aina jonkun tytär. These roles revived my interest in acting and I decided to apply to the Theatre Academy. Unfortunately I didn’t get in and so I decided to study business. I was meaning to concentrate on studying, but kept getting more roles so I’ve kept up acting at the same time.

How did you end up in the role in Kohtaamisia?

I was asked to come in for an audition and then I was asked to take the role. Since I wasn’t so busy with studying at that time I was happy to take it and I also believed it would be a great experience to act in film since I have more experience from acting in a theatre.

Your character in Kohtaamisia is a practical nurse of Somali background. In the film she has to deal with a patient who throws insult after insult at her. Somehow she always remains calm and understanding. Have you had similar experiences in your own life and how did you manage them?

Oh yes, many times. When it happens I always try to take it with humour and not take it personally. At times though, if I’m having a tough day for example and a patient insults me because of my immigrant background I can’t help but tell them off. But I always try to remember that people get grumpy with pain and their behaviour isn’t really directed at me.

What about with acting, do you find that your immigrant background affects pursuing a career as an actress?

At times, yes, but not really in a negative way. I have only acted in immigrant roles and this is of course due to my background. Still, the only negative thing is that I’m always made to wear a headscarf when I play a Somali woman. Finns seem to think that if you’re Somali you wear a scarf, but this is not the whole truth. I don’t wear a headscarf myself and in Somalia actresses don’t have to.

Headscarf or not, you have acted in some tough roles. In the play Aina jonkun tytär you played a young Somali girl who becomes pregnant with a Finnish boy’s child. How have these kinds of roles been received by the Somali community in Finland?

In Somalia actors are highly respected and theatre is popular, although there are probably not quite as many stages as there are in Finland. But I think that many of the Somalis who live in Finland don’t value theatre that much. Sometimes I feel like people don’t understand the difference between a role that I’ve played and the real me. For example, when I was in Aina jokun tytär I got quite a bit of negative response from the Somali community. But given that the things covered in the play were really quite shocking it was really not that bad.

Despite some of the criticism, do you still find it important to bring these kinds of issues out in the open?

I do. It is not good to hide things about your culture and by looking at cultural clashes we come to understand each other better.

Would you hope to have more roles outside of the immigrant role in the future?

Absolutely! I really hope I could get different types of roles where I wouldn’t have to fight with a headscarf (Laughs).

Do you have a new role lined up; can you tell us where we will see you next?

I can’t say right now, but the future will show.

Kohtaamisia in cinemas now (dialogue in Finnish)

Petra Nyman