Spotlight on Celebrity Alumnus Talal Jurdi

Troublemaker-turned-actor tells LAU students, “Make every moment of campus life count.”

Still passionate about campus life, Jurdi urged LAU students not to sit on the sidelines and to stand up for their cause.

Talal Jurdi had no idea he was passionate about acting. It took a yearlong suspension, a student-theater production and a professor’s prodding to make him shift majors from Business to Communication Arts with an emphasis on theater. He graduated from LAU in 1995 and embarked on a successful acting career, appearing in television shows such as Caramel, movies such as the recently released The Insult – which is in the running to be named Lebanon’s foreign film contribution to the Oscars – and the internationally acclaimed miniseries Carlos.

But he will always go back to where it all began.

“I was an upper-gater,” he said as he lit a cigarette, alluding to the popular hangout area on LAU’s Beirut campus. “An upper-gater back then meant troublemaker, and to us, the people in the fine arts were too cool, or too eccentric. There was no way that I would become part of that group.”

However, after being temporarily suspended, Jurdi, encouraged by then-Theater Instructor Ziad Abou Absi, participated in a student play. It was a transformative experience. But in order to change majors and continue acting in LAU plays, he needed to bring up his grades. Motivated by a newfound calling, Jurdi retook several courses in Business Administration and increased his GPA.

“After that I changed majors, and I got A’s in all my courses. I didn’t even know that this would be something I liked to do,” he said. Jurdi also credits then-Production Professor Shakib Khoury and current Theater Director and Lecturer Aliya Khalidi for shaping the performer he is today.

“If it wasn’t for LAU, the quality of education back then, I wouldn’t be the actor I am now,” he said.

Jurdi is currently participating in season two of the Lebanese reality show Celebrity Duets on MTV. One of the requirements of the show is for each participant to choose a social cause to advocate; Jurdi’s was violence against women.

“I say it is shameful that we are still talking about the issue of violence against women,” he said, adding that by now there should have been harsh penalties in place to crack down on such crimes. He also noted other issues that needed attention, such as ensuring that women are not treated as second-class citizens and improving their representation in high-ranking professional positions. 

The fact that the show offered a platform for a social cause encouraged him all the more to participate, he said. This is not strange given his history as a champion of student causes during his years at LAU, which was then known as Beirut University College (BUC).

“Even before I became known as an actor, I was a celebrity in the circle of political parties on campus,” he joked. Jurdi was involved in several student organizations, and campaigned for reasonable tuition fees and maintaining a safe campus, among others. “Back then students used to come to university with guns,” he noted.

Still passionate about campus life, Jurdi urged LAU students not to sit on the sidelines. “You have to stand up for your cause and be involved in advocating for your rights. Don’t take things for granted,” he said.

“I tell students to take advantage of every single moment of their days at university. I tell them to benefit from their failures and their successes. They will never ever have this chance again.”