Ahmed Malek is just 22 years old but he already has many successful roles under his belt. His most recent role in Amr Salama’s, Sheikh Jackson, however, takes Malek to a whole new level and reveals a mature talent and sensitivity that points to even greater success ahead. eni`Gma’s Chairman, Samia Farid Shihata, has been following Malek’s career closely since she first saw him in the TV series, Shaware’ Khlafeya ( Back Streets) with Leila Eloui and Gamal Soliman. She sat down with Malek at the El Gouna Film Festival after the screening of Sheikh Jackson. Here are excerpts of her interview with the talented star.
How did you get into acting?
I was always a performer. Since I was a child, I would perform at home with my family and at school with my friends. But, it all really started when my uncle took me to a casting call for an ad. Once I did my first ad, the calls kept coming. Within two years, I was asked to act in a TV show called Ahlamna El Helwa (Our Beautiful Dreams) with Farouk El Fishawy. Then, I got cast in a movie, then a TV show. It was like a snowball. Eventually, I was cast in the TV series, El Gamaa (The Brotherhood) with director Mohamed Selim, then in El Shawarea El Khalfeya with Laila Eloui and Gamal Soliman. This was followed by two TV series with Ghada Abdel Razek.
So your parents encouraged you to get into this field?
Of course, at first my father didn’t like the idea, because of the working hours for me as a child. But my parents found that acting was making me happy, so they said, ‘let him have some fun.’ Obviously, it became very hard to coordinate acting with my schooling, but I was obstinate. I guess, if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way.
Did you study acting when you finished school?
I studied acting independently in workshops in Egypt. There are two institutions that offer theater studies in Egypt, AUC and the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts. AUC is very strict with attendance, and since I have a profession, it was difficult for me to study there. As for the Institute, I didn’t go there because they were not offering the study of the techniques that I personally wanted to study. I’m now also studying media management in an online university. Like many other people, I guess I am getting the university degree for bureaucratic purposes, to hang it on the wall and not really to do anything with it.
How do you prepare for a role you are going to play?
For me each role is a whole new journey of exploration into what acting is. Each time I get into a character, it’s like I never acted before. I become so anxious and tense. I ask myself ‘Should I do it that way or that way? Do I go to into the character from this technique or that technique?’ What interests me in a role is how different it is from who I am. That’s what makes it very challenging. You start breaking down who you are, in order to create this character, this other human being with all his faults, with his fears, happiness, smiles, sadness, etc… It’s an art of creation. Acting is embodying a truth. It’s about how truthful I can be in a skin that is not my own.
I took acting courses with a Scottish acting instructor, who taught me that acting is a very mysterious art where your body, your psychology and your emotions are your instruments. These emotions and thoughts are a mystery to humans until now. Don’t you sometimes love something and you ask yourself why do I love it? This instructor taught me that you can’t become anyone else but yourself. But in yourself, you have all the aspects that can make you become anyone. So, I try to find the aspect inside me that can be related to the character. I feel it, then I find a way or a path to reach this character.
What’s you favorite role till now?
My favourite role is Mons, a local DJ, in the movie Eshtebak (Clash), Mohamed Diab’s film that went to Cannes. I really loved that role.
How do you choose your roles?
Right now I am very picky when choosing my roles; Even though sometimes people think I’m being rude, but I can reject a leading role while accepting a role that has just two scenes in a movie. It depends on how valuable I see the role artistically. I also try not to repeat roles I’ve done before. If the roles are too similar, I get bored and I don’t really feel the role when I do it. I feel that I would be taking the easy way if I did that. Actually, there’s something in my personality that makes me always feel unsatisfied and that is what drives me. Of course, this has its negative aspects, but it has a positive side too. When you always want more, you are not satisfied with where you stand.
Your role in Sheikh Jackson was very difficult, yet you succeeded so well in transmitting the pain this young boy went through. Tell us a bit about playing this role.
I was just telling a friend that while I was watching the film in the Toronto Festival, I felt personal unease. I saw myself in a place I don’t want to see myself in. I was very vulnerable during this movie as I gave it an aspect from my own history and projected it on the screen. Usually, I never like watching myself, but it was especially hard in this film because it touched me in a very vulnerable place that I don’t like going to. I can still remember how I felt while I was shooting the film. During the filming, I was uncomfortable with myself, I didn’t like the way I looked, the way I was feeling, the way I was so anxious and paranoid all the time.
How were you picked for the role?
I was already a fan of Amr Salama and I heard that he was doing this film. Movies today are all about the filmmakers and to me, a good filmmaker is a rare gem. A film embodies the filmmaker’s own perception. It’s how he sees things. So, I sent congratulations to Amr and said, ‘I heard you are doing this movie.’ Of course, it was a way of saying, ‘hi I’m here!’ At that time, he was casting someone else in the role. He actually went through three different casts before settling on Fishawy and me. At one point, he had one guy who was going to do both roles, and then I heard that a problem happened with this guy. So, I said to myself, ‘ok this is interesting,’ and then I found him calling me!
Do you usually call people for a role?
Yes, when I’m interested in a filmmaker, I do that. When I feel he’s doing something that’s truthful, I go for it, of course.
Who are the directors that you follow now?
We have plenty of good directors now. We have Tamer Mohsen, Marwan Hamed, Kamla Abou Zikry, Ahmed Abdallah, Mohamed Diab , Amr Salama, Mohamed Shaker Khodeir, to name a few. It’s important to know the directors and follow them closely because as an actor, you are the tool with which they will create their projects.
Do you have any preference between TV and cinema?
I prefer cinema, personally, of course. Cinema is the base for filmmakers. Cinema is history. You can watch a movie from the 60s, but you will never watch a TV series from two or three years ago. Cinema is magical. You enter the theater and the lights go out, then you get into a special mood to watch the movie, unlike TV, where you are sitting on the couch with your popcorn and doing other things at the same time.
What’s your ultimate ambition?
I want to excel in my art. What I want to achieve is to be a true artist. I don’t want to assume a certain path. I want to find my own path, and I don’t know where it’s going to lead me. I want to be dedicated and passionate about my art as much as possible. I look up to actors who are passionate and dedicated to their roles. They motivate me to be as passionate about my work as well.
How do you achieve a balance between your demanding career and your private life, especially at this young age?
Actually, everyone faces this challenge. As actors, the problem is what comes with our job: the spotlight and the fans. I try to ignore the spotlight as much as possible and try to be true to myself, while not hurting anybody. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and show an image which is not really me, just to satisfy others; otherwise, I will lose myself. Of course, I have to do it smartly. At the beginning, the spotlight was interesting, but not anymore. I don’t want the love that comes from some place where you don’t really know me. But of course, my art is part of who I am, and I appreciate my fans, but the spotlight can become tiring after a while. Now, I just want more stability. I want things to calm down a bit.
What word best describes you?
Limaza (Why) (as he points to the word tattooed on his wrist.)
What make you laugh?
What do you do in your free time?
Hide in bed.
What is your favourite food?
I like everything. I have a good appetite.
Do you play sports or work out?
I am in my first year of a three year program at the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center. We take anatomy, biomechanics, ballet, contemporary, jazz, etc…I go everyday from 10 am to 3 pm. I do it because acting and dancing are so similar and both use the body as their instrument. The more you are connected and aware of your body, the more you can use it and break limits.
What is your favourite vacation?
My bed. I like hiding in my room. Just kidding! Actually, any new place excites me. I like to explore other cultures.
What is your favorite film of all time?
I have more than one. The Doors, Fil lail Yarkusanna (At Night, They Dance), a long feature documentary, and West Beirut (Downtown Beirut).
Who is your favourite actor?
Daniel Day Lewis, of course. He is a master actor. From Egypt, I would say, Mahmoud Morsy and Ahmed Zaki.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
There is no perfect happiness. It’s unreachable. I would say happiness is to achieve peace and neutrality.
What is your idea of the perfect woman?
Each woman has her own feminine beauty. Actually, each human is perfect in his own way.
If a book were to be written about you, what would you like the title to be?
Please don’t. (laughing)
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