Archive 81’s Dina Shihabi on Meditating, Retinol and the Art of Shoveling Out a Snowed-In Car

From dancing in SNL shorts with Andy Samberg to a lead role as Melody Pendras in Netflix’s popular don’t-watch-this-one-in-the-dark Archive 81, Saudi-born Dina Shihabi’s career path has not been a straight line—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. The 32-year-old NYU grad recently chatted with us to share the stress that came along with shooting the series (no spoilers!) and the long list of finely curated skin care in her current rotation.

Watching Archive 81 is a high-stress situation. Did that carry over during filming?

“It was definitely stressful because there was also COVID. We started to shoot, and I was first up; I think I was basically alone for that first week, except for a couple of scenes, and then everyone is in masks and visors and you’re not seeing facial expressions. You’re doing this stressful thing and you’re emotionally distressed. It was intense! I remember I worked every day, Monday to Friday, woke up on a Saturday morning and I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’ I need to relax. It was a high stress–subject show and the hours were intense.

It was also freezing in Pittsburgh, where we filmed, and really snowy. I’ll never forget the first day I shot, I went in at 4 am and I came out at 8 pm to my car being submerged in snow and ice. Our lovely production assistant Adam had to basically cut my car out of ice! It was nuts. It was a lot, but it didn’t necessarily feel like I was shooting a scary show. It just felt like I was shooting something that was emotional. It felt very much like I was shooting a show where Melody needed her mom and to find out who she was. It felt it was a lot of depths and a lot connected to some trauma and pain.”

JJ Geiger

How to you separate yourself from that in terms of work-life balance?

“I’m a big meditator. I’ve been meditating for seven years. No matter what time I have to shoot, I’ll wake up and do 20 minutes of meditation in the morning. During my lunch break, which is usually a half an hour, I’ll always eat lunch first, then use that quiet time to meditate. No matter where I am, it grounds me. I’m very attached to it. I try and prioritize sleep—even though sleep goes out the window when I’m working for some reason. It’s impossible. So I’m into the melatonin and magnesium, desperately trying to figure out ways to get to sleep because that makes a huge difference.”

You first came to New York as a teenager. What was it like for you just coming into a whole new world for the first time?

“Oh, my God. I loved New York; I still do. I was obsessed with it when I first moved there. It felt like I had found where I belonged. It felt like I could be so free with my fashion sense. I remember I went through a phase of wearing nightgowns and blazers and ’80s boots. I just felt so free to express myself in any way I wanted to in New York, which is such a unique New York thing. In New York, you can be whoever you want to be.”

You’ve already done a lot of different projects in your career. Are there any favorite beauty products or tips you’ve picked up along the way?

Oh, yes, I always use an oil cleanser. My favorite one is from Agent Nateur. My friend, Jenna Sloan, is a partner in the company. I use that often. I’ll always double-cleanse—first, with an oil cleanser after working all day, and then I use another cleanser. I’ve gotten really into retinol. It’s totally changed my skin. I think YSL Beauty’s Touche Éclat is the greatest beauty product ever. It is unbeatable—nothing can beat it. I’ve been using Diorshow Mascara my entire life. That’s my daily thing. And I love using the Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid, too.”

Is there anything you can share that you’re looking forward to, project-wise for the rest of the year?

“I did a mini-series for Netflix that wrapped in November called Painkiller that Peter Berg directed, that I’m really excited about. It’s very different—it’s about the opioid crisis in the Sackler family. My character couldn’t be more different from Melody. It’s going to be cool to have something totally different come out. I’m really excited for that.”

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