One of the most successful TV series in Ramadan 2017 was Le A’la Se’r (To the Highest Bidder) starring Nelly Karim, Ahmed Fahmy and Zeina. Every night, viewers were glued to their TV sets to find out what twist and turn would be next in the complicated plot. Despite their busy schedules, eniGma’s Samia Farid Shihata managed to sit down with Karim and Fahmy to get a closer look at each of their journeys to success.
How did your journey to stardom begin?
I was a ballerina at the Cairo Opera when I started, but it was like a hobby to me. The first thing I did was Fawazeer Ramadan in 2000. When Faten Hamama saw that, she picked me for the role of her daughter in her TV series, Wagh El Amar (Face of the Moon). I continued to act every now and then after that. I did Iskandareya, New York (Alexandria, New York) in 2003 with Youssef Shahine, then Enta Omri (You are My Life) in 2004. So I got into acting very gradually. It was only about six years ago that I left ballet to focus on acting as a profession.
When did you feel you reached a higher level in acting?
I think the TV series, Zaat was really a turning point for me. It was a very complex role. It was followed by several other strong roles in Segn El Nessa (Women’s Prison), Sokout Horr (Free Fall), and this year, Le A’la Se’r (To the Highest Bidder). In film, I did important films before Zaat, like Wahed Sefr (One Zero), Enta Omri, which won an award. and 678, which went to the Venice Film Festival. I also worked with Adel Emam, and did Huroub Momya (Escape of A Mummy), an Egyptian Turkish production, and several comedy films. But really it was after Zaat that my career took off.
Which is your favourite work to date?
I like Zaat in particular. It’s really a narrative of the history of Egypt, and what’s special about it is that it follows my character through the years. You see what happens to her through her whole life. It was a very satisfying role.
Do you prefer acting in films or for TV?
Each medium has its advantages and is enjoyable in its own way. But, like most actors and directors, I prefer cinema. In films, the work has to be more precise and very attentive to detail. But TV is more important and popular in the Ramadan season.
Who are your favourite writers and directors?
The writer Mariam Naoum is the first that comes to mind. I worked with her in Wahed Sefr, Zaat, Segn El Nisa and Sokout Horr. And I like very much the director, Kamla Abou Zikri. I worked with her on Youm Lel Setat (Women’s Day), Zaat and Segn El Nesa. The three of us work together well and we are very close. This Ramadan, I worked with the writer, Dr. Medhat El Adl on Le A’la Se’r. He is one of the best writers today. His work is always special and has a special ambiance. He’s done Haret El Yahood (Jewish Alley), Adeyet Ra’y Aam (A Public Issue) with Yousra, and El Da’eya (The Preacher). I was lucky to get the chance to work with him this year. I feel we presented something fresh in social drama. People were drawn to Le A’la Se’r because they saw so many human emotions which a lot of them experienced.
Who are the actors you enjoyed working with?
I enjoyed working with all the leading men in film or on TV. Each one of them fit his character beautifully. For example, I cant imagine the role of Abdel Meguid in Zaat, being played by anyone other that Bassem Samra. In Le A’la Se’r, I cant imagine anyone doing the role better than Ahmed Fahmy. His role was a very difficult one because Hisham was a very complex character. He starts out as a kind person then he is transformed to a totally different character. And then he is broken and changes again. It really was a very difficult role and he did it very well. It was the first time we acted together, even though we knew each other from long ago. It was very important that we genuinely felt the two complex characters we were playing. My character also started out one way, then I became something else, then I changed again at the end. The characters had ups and downs all the time.
Is there a director you would like to work with and haven’t done so till now?
There are many good directors I haven’t worked with. And there are new directors coming up all the time who are doing good work and experimenting with new things. I like Ahmed Shaker, of Grand Hotel, and this year’s La Totfea El Shams ( Don’t Hide the Sun). There’s Ahmed Nader Galal, whose genre is action films. Also, Ahmed Yassin, who has his special style. I also like Tarek El Erian. Another director I worked with is Marawan Hamed in Al Feel El Azrak (The Blue Elephant). That was a great and different experience. I also loved working with Mohamed Diab in Eshtebak (Clash), which was shown in the Cannes Film Festival. Every director has his own approach and style. I like to work with different directors, just like directors like to work with different actors.
What are your professional goals at this stage of your career?
Of course, an as an actor I am ambitious and I want to keep making great movies. You never stop wanting to do new things, not only in acting but in everything related to your art.
What advice would you give to young actors and actresses at the start of their careers?
I would tell them that they should make use of the many opportunities available to them. They are not limited to TV or cinema any more. These days, if you have an idea you can get it out on social media. You don’t have to wait till someone discovers you and puts you on TV, for instance. There even are competitions abroad for films done with cell phones. So really, today, there is no limit to creativity. There are stars that rise through their own independent efforts. The opportunities are endless.
How do you like to spend your free time?
When I have free time, I like to head to the sea. I like to go to places where there are no people. I don’t like crowds. I also like to watch films to follow up on what’s going on, to watch what other people are doing, who the new actors, new writers, new directors are, etc… Once I finish my work, I just like to do what normal people do. I like to spend time with my children and to discuss things with them. I like to learn from the younger generation.
You started acting in 2007. How did you get into acting?
I began my career as a professional classical violinist. I won several awards, and performed with great orchestras, with international legends like Berenbaum and YoYo Ma. To try something different, I started to play Arabic music on the violin and participated with Omar Khairat and others in movie soundtracks. Then in 2002, I formed a boy’s band, WAMA, with friends from the conservatoire. This brought me in contact with many people in the entertainment field, especially Tarek El Erian, who encouraged me to consider acting. So I decided to try. I started in 2007, with the film Khaleeg Neama (Neama Bay).
Have you ever considered combining your singing with acting, like in a musical, for instance?
As for a possible musical, it’s a nice idea, but it would be a huge undertaking. It’s difficult to find a producer for that and it would require a lot of money to do it well. But I am actually working on a play with Sherihan, which includes singing and dancing. This will be my first time on stage and I’m looking forward to it.
Which do you consider your strongest films and TV series to date?
I believe that I achieved a certain level, or turning point, starting with the film, Mama Fil Esm (Mother is at the Police Station), followed by the TV series Al Daeya (The Preacher), the Egyptian-Syrian series, El Ekhwa (The Brothers), the Egyptian Lebanese series, Samra, and this last series, Le A’la Se’r. I haven’t been in films for a while because I didn’t get an interesting offer; I don’t mean financially, but rather a challenging role that would be a step forward for me professionally.
Do you have a preference between acting in cinema or in TV?
Actually I love cinema. In film there are fewer scenes in total, but you get to spend more time on each scene, as the details are very important. On the other hand, a television series, on average, involves over 2000 scenes, and you shoot about 10 scenes a day. This makes it more difficult for the actor.
Who are your favourite writers and directors?
I like very much the writers Tamer Habib, Dr. Medhat El Adl, and Mohamed Amin Radi. As for directors, I like Sherif Arafa very much, even though I haven’t worked with him. I like Tarek El Erian, and Mandou El Adl a lot, and I worked with both of them. I also like Mohamed Gomaa a lot; he did the TV series, Ard Gaw (Land to Air), this Ramadan.
Which leading ladies did you enjoy acting with the most?
I liked working with Nelly Karim very much. Le A’la Se’r was the first time I worked with her, even though I knew her since she was in the Opera ballet and I was playing violin with the ballet’s orchestra. She is very talented and has been very supportive. I also enjoyed working with the Lebanese actress, Nadine Njeim, in Samra. I also worked very well with Sherine Abdel Wahab in the TV series, Tareeqi (My Path).
How was your experience of joint Egyptian-Arab productions?
The benefit is that through them you are exposed to a different acting tradition. In Egypt, we rely more on expressing feelings in our acting; while Syrians, for example, rely more on technique and articulation. The second benefit, is that it helps you get exposure to a wider Arab audience.
Is there any film or series that you regret doing?
No, I have no regrets about anything I’ve done. Everything you do is always a learning experience. It helps you grow, and as you grow you learn.
What are your goals at this stage of your career?
My hope is that every work I do represents a step forward. I am not trying to achieve things in a hurry. From the start my goal was to have people appreciate me as a professional actor, not a singer who acts. I believe in myself and know my capabilities. I know I have more to offer, and I am pleased people have started to change the way they view me. I am taking on more complex roles and people are appreciating that.
Your wife is an accomplished singer. Would you ever think of singing or acting with her?
I would consider it, now. Previously, I used to completely refuse to have her sing, but finally I agreed. I’m really quite traditional when it comes to things like that. Now she sings with the group, Ayamna El Helwa and I support her in all that she does. We actually met in the Opera where she was singing, so my objection didn’t make sense.
What advice would you give to young actors and actresses starting their career?
I would tell them, don’t ever let anyone put you down. Listen to your own inner voice. You are the one who knows what you are capable of. There will always be people who will try to break you, but let that be an incentive to prove yourself. And when you are successful, don’t listen to those who tell you how great you are all the time. Be confident, and look at yourself objectively to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and keep trying to improve yourself.
How do you like to spend your free time?
There are three things I do in my free time. First, I play with my children. I love to play with my two boys. Second, I like to visit my mother and spend time with her. I’m her only son amid daughters and I am very attached to her. Finally, I like to play playstation. For privacy, I like to travel abroad for vacation with my family when I can. I love going to Los Angeles. I love the energy there and we have a good time.
WHAT WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
KARIM: Straightforward, committed, clear, patient. When I like something I give it my all. In a way, to me things are either black or white.
FAHMY: Smart, but stubborn.
WHAT ASPECT OF YOUR PERSONALITY WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE?
KARIM: My excessive trust of people. I always give excuses to people. My expectations are higher than reality.
FAHMY: My stubbornness.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST REGRET?
KARIM: I regret spending time with people who don’t deserve it.
FAHMY: I have no regrets.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
KARIM: I laugh a lot when someone makes fun of my work. I like laughing at myself.
FAHMY: My younger son, Hassan. He’s very funny.
IF THERE WAS A BOOK WRITTEN ABOUT YOUR LIFE WHAT WOULD THE TITLE BE?
KARIM: No Title. or Take It Or Leave It.
FAHMY: Al Tareek (The Path) or Min Al Kaa lel Kemma (Rising to the Top).
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD?
KARIM: I love potatoes, cooked in any way.
FAHMY: I used to love moloukheya then four years ago I stopped liking it. I don’t care much about food, actually.
WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF PERFECT HAPPINESS?
KARIM: There is no perfect happiness. I think if you are content you are happy.
FAHMY: To be content.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT EGYPT?
KARIM: I love the people.
FAHMY: I love the people. Egyptians are the kindest people.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO CHANGE IN EGYPT?
KARIM: People’s lack of discipline and punctuality.
FAHMY: Negligence, not finishing what we start, applying the law selectively.
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