Since he first hit our screens in 2006 with Awqat Faragh (Spare Time), we have been witnessing Ahmed Hatem grow up in front of the cameras, as he has portrayed new and daring characters, one after the other. In both movies and television, Hatem has proven that he has the versatility to take on anything, while still adding his personal touch and being authentic to the role. eniGma’s Youssef Hammouda sat down with the star to find out more.

Congratulations on your hit series Hekayti (My Story)! Do you find that there is a lot of pressure when it comes to taking on roles for Ramadan?

Thank you, and yes, definitely! When it comes to Ramadan series, it is a completely different arena. There is a lot of pressure because it’s such a large audience and reactions are instantaneous. Plus, so much of our culture in Ramadan revolves around who’s watching what, so it’s definitely a bit nerve-wracking. When you work on a film, the audience sees the full progression of your character over the course of the film and creates an opinion on that; in a TV series, however, we don’t have that luxury. People sometimes make up their minds after just one episode.

How do you prepare for your roles?

It all starts with the script. I read the script really thoroughly to grasp the overall story. Then I look at the character and see what he adds to the story, and how he develops throughout. That way, I can determine whether or not I can see myself playing that role. For example, when it came to Adham in Hekayti, he started off as a nice guy and then through various incidents and stages in his life, he ended up doing something that was completely out of character for him. Through the script, I was able to understand how and why the character evolved the way he did.

Do you sometimes find it hard to relate to a character?

It is not really necessary for me to relate to the character, it is more important for me to understand him and be convinced by his story, and that is much harder than just relating to him.  

Which of your past roles has been your favourite?

A role that is really dear to me is my character in Al Haram Al Rabe (The Fourth Pyramid), and another favourite is in Qeset Hob (A Love Story). The characters are very different from one another, but they both mean a lot to me. In Al Haram Al Rabe the character is a hacker who started off by doing harmless tasks, but then the hacking escalates and he turns into a Robin Hood-like character, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. He turns into a superhero, not like Superman or Batman, but an anonymous superhero of the people. Then there was Qeset Hob. The character I play is blind and he falls in love with this girl without ever seeing her; it is a beautiful story.

Which type of character do you prefer to play? The good guy or the villain?

If I had to choose between the two, I would have to say the bad guy. It is much more of a challenge and more fulfilling to get the audience to empathize with the villain. In Al Haram Al Rabe the character I portrayed was stealing and doing unethical things, but because the cause was noble, the audience was rooting for him.

Your debut film Awqat Faragh was an incredible success, why do you think that is?

I think it was because the film was very authentic. We were a young and completely unknown cast, and that definitely made an impact. So often in films, an older actor is cast to play a college student and it just does not translate.  But the director of this film, Mohammed Moustafa, made it clear that he wanted to accurately portray the youth. Since we played characters of the same age, spoke the same slang, and had the same trials and tribulations in real life, people could relate to us.

Are there any plans to work with some of the people you have worked with previously?

Actually, there’s some discussion of a sequel to Awqat Faragh, but it’s just a matter of getting the story right. There’s a lot of pressure to have a new story with the same characters that creates an accurate and believable representation of where they would be in their lives now.

This season has been so busy and you have been working so hard, how do you plan to unwind in the summer?

I’m going to Alexandria for a few days just to disconnect. I will most likely go to Sahel in the summer. I love the vibe and just really enjoy my time there.

How do you separate yourself from your character after a long day of filming?

Overall, I don’t tend to carry my characters with me. I have the ability to separate myself from them. That being said, sometimes it depends on the scene I am shooting. If I’ve just filmed a very heavy scene, you might find me quiet and keeping to myself, but the exact opposite is true as well. If I shoot something light and funny, you can find me being really goofy and laughing a lot! It just depends on the day. In general, though, I like to meet with my friends after shooting, just to unwind from work.

Have the soundtracks from any of your works really resonated with you?

The song “Habet Zoroof” (A Few Circumstances) by Asala, from Al Sayeda Al Oula (The First Lady) has stuck with me. There is also the song from the film Vertigo, “Mahadesh Mertah” (No One’s at Ease) by Hussein Al Jasimi, that was hugely popular.

How do you standout in an industry that has so much competition?

I think the most important thing is to just focus on yourself and don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s career path, as that can be very dangerous. I just focus on myself and perfecting my craft, because if you try to do things through someone else’s eyes, or to mimic someone else’s path, you will never be satisfied.  I used to be a swimmer, and sometimes I would train for an entire year just to break my record by one-hundredth of a second; so, I have the discipline and patience that I think is needed in this industry.

What can we expect from Ahmed Hatem in the future?

The sequel to El Kenz (The Treasure) will be released for Eid and I am also working on another film. Also, there are discussions about possibly working on a series where I would have the leading role. That would be something very different for me, because it would be my first time as the lead in a series.

Ahmed Hatem with the eniGma team