Prior to heading to Britain and embarking on his acting career, L’abidine was a professional football player in the Tunisian league. A Birmingham School of Speech and Drama graduate, L’abidine is also an international actor who appeared in Sex and the City 2, Rise of the Footsoldier, and is appearing in the upcoming film A Hologram for the King, starring Hollywood’s Tom Hanks. Although he started his acting career in the West, he is still interested in being part of the industry in the Arab world. He’s also well-known in Tunisia for his role in the TV series Maktoub (Written).
When did you get into acting?
I was always interested in acting and watching films, but at the same time I was passionate about football and I played professionally with a team. When I stopped playing football at the age of 23, I started to seriously look into becoming an actor. That’s how it started.
What was your biggest breakthrough?
My biggest breakthrough came when I was just out of drama school and was cast straight away as a lead character in a drama series in the United Kingdom. So right after I graduated from Birmingham School of Speech and Drama I was fortunate to join the cast of the British TV series “Dream Team” on SKY TV for two seasons.
What is the difference between working in the Middle East and in the West?
In my opinion the main difference is time. In the west, for example, a TV series would be 12 episodes and take eight months to film, whereas in the Middle East it would be made up of 30 episodes and would take only four or five months of filming. Having more time gives you the ability to focus more on the details in the script, filming, and post production. That requires more money and a bigger budget. You can’t compare big budget films like Avatar or Star Trek to the films we make in the Arab World, in terms of the time and funds given to actors, cinematographers, writers, and directors. But I believe that in the last few years there has been a quantum leap in the quality of Arab TV dramas that address many interesting topics, and I hope that will continue.
In your opinion, what enhances an actor’s skills?
Life experience is very important for actors. It helps you understand and portray the characters you play. You also have to study and work on yourself as an actor. Reading books, following the news, watching films, learning from the people you work with are all things that will contribute to making you a better actor.
What has been your favourite role so far?
It is really hard to choose one role that I like the most. I have a few favourites though, like my role as Dali in the series “Maktoub” (Written) which I played in Tunisia. In Egypt I enjoyed the roles of Diyaa in “Vertigo” and Raafat in “Neeran Sadeeqa”. In productions abroad, I’d say the role of Marcel in Dream Team. In general, I like roles that are complex and different from who I am; roles that challenge me as an actor. I enjoy putting myself in other people’s shoes, how they think, and what they would do in complicated situations.
How is your relationship with your fans?
Fans are the most important people for any actor. We perform for their enjoyment and their opinions are very important to us. My job is to give the audience something different and entertaining, to tap into their emotions, and take them on a personal journey with the role I’m playing. When a role I play echoes with people, it means that I’ve succeeded as an actor. Their communication with me is proof of their satisfaction with my work. It is very important for every actor to communicate with his fans and get their feedback. I think that’s the most important relationship in our line of work.
On a personal level, how did fame change you?
When you are on TV or films people start to know you. So fame is inevitable in our job. However, for me being an actor is just a job like any other job, and I don’t like to change my lifestyle because people recognize me on TV. I like to have a normal life and enjoy my family time as much as possible.
Tell us about working with Nelly Karim and the cast of Taht El Saytara (Under Control) this Ramadan.
Nelly Karim is a very unique artist. People follow her work because it is always great and distinctive. I discovered what a wonderful person she is to work and interact with. When you’re comfortable working with a person, this smooth relationship reflects positively on the screen. Also, the team behind Taht El Saytara are young and have fresh ideas. I believe that since this was a team effort, the series will be a success because of everyone’s hard work, whether in acting, directing, or writing. The atmosphere on set was wonderful as well, and the audience will sense that.
Who inspires you?
Life itself inspires me. Being with people, listening to their stories, and observing things in general. Getting to know people and being with my loved ones inspires me. For me it’s important to be connected to the world around you, and to live the happy and sad moments with your loved ones; this inspires and refreshes the human spirit.
Where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I see myself as older for sure, but to be honest I have no idea where I’ll be. I am happy with how things are going for me right now and I will continue acting here and abroad. But the most important things are to maintain my health, to enjoy my dream job, and to be with my family. I don’t have any specific goals, but I always do my best. I try to do new things I’ve never done before, and to have new experiences in different places around the world. This was always my motto and it will continue to be so in the future. Life goals are important, but enjoying the journey of life is of more significance.