As the son of big screen legend Ahmed Zaki and silver screen beauty Hala Foad, Haitham Zaki is proving the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. The 24 year old American University marketing student kicked of his acting career in 2006 with a stellar role in the long awaited blockbuster biopic Halim. It was a part that was to prove historical in more ways than one. Not only did Zaki have to play Egypt’s greatest ever icon – legendary singer Abdel Halim Hafez – but he had his own father’s colossal shoes to fill. Zaki senior was also playing Halim during his last years; a character which he’d always dreamed of embodying. Yet in a cruel case of life imitating art, he died tragically during the final days of filming. Haitham Zaki stood up to the fore, fulfilling his father’s lost dream and earning himself rave reviews. Enigma’s Daliah Galal speaks to a young man who is much more than just a reflection of a legend…
Your first ever acting role was playing Egyptian icon Halim, a film which many had waited decades to be made. That must have been absolutely terrifying!
When I first started the whole thing was very shocking to me! It was very hard because I wasn’t prepared for the role at all, but my father’s incredible strength, his determination to stand in front of cameras knowing it was his last movie deeply inspired me and even though it wasn’t easy for me, I did it. Until this day I am proud of Halim.
Did you always want to follow in your father’s footstep and head for the silver screen?
When I was young I actually wanted to be a pilot! My father was very gifted, a natural actor and I always felt some things just couldn’t be taught. But around four years before my father passed away I suddenly shifted my interest to acting because he always used to tell me how amazing it is to get into a character and for people to love you and see themselves in you. We even used to play this game were we would act as if we were in a movie scene just to see who’d last longer!
Your last movie El Belyatsho (The Clown) didn’t do very well at the box office . What went wrong?
That film was made in too short a time. We had a meeting about the film and four days later we started shooting! And apart from preparing for the role, we were trying to release the movie in the summer so we ended up rushing everything. I’m not pointing any fingers; all I can say is that I’ve learned a lot from this experience. I think I now know what it takes to make a successful movie and the various elements I need to consider before accepting role. I will think very carefully before the next step because I don’t want people to come watch Ahmed Zaki’s son, I want them to come watch me as an actor and if I can’t achieve that, I’ll quit! .The hardest thing has definitely been dealing with press. They were criticizing me before I’d even started acting. When my father was dying I used to hear a lot of rumors and there was a lot of abuse of the situation which made it much harder. Many people envied me for my role in Halim and didn’t even consider that I was losing my father. There were moments when I thought about just giving up the role.
And how has stardom affected your life?
Well I hated the looks of sympathy everyone gave me when my father was dying. That was very difficult to deal with. And of course after I did Halim, everyone suddenly wanted to be my friend. Fame really reveals a lot!
So do you feel you’ll always be living in your father’s shadow?
I’ve always been proud of my father’s genius so for me it’s not a problem as long as people don’t compare me to him and don’t expect me to be on the same level as him.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
When Halim was screened in Cannes. I loved people’s reactions and superstar Adel Imam even took me in front of one of the TV cameras and with tears in his eyes he said: “I announce the birth of a big star and an addition to Egyptian cinema.” Another moment of pride surprisingly was my father’s funeral! I witnessed what was close to a presidential funeral and I really felt proud to be the son of such a great man who’s loved by both the rich and poor.
What’s the one song that you relate to the most?
Any song by Mohamed Mounir.
Which high profile Arab do you admire the most?
Hassan Nasrallah because when he says something he actually does it and he proved to everyone that when we go by God’s rules no one and nothing can defeat us.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Do not trust people easily because no one will look after you but yourself.
What irritates you the most?
Commercial breaks in movies.
What do you hate most about the Middle East?
The absence of unity.
What do you love most about the Middle East?
What makes you laugh?
A good comedy.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Which fictional character you most associate with?
Scarface’s Tony Montana
What do you always carry with you?
Favourite book or author?
Which movie had the greatest impact on you?
Men of Honour.
Who’s your real life hero?
What would the title of your biography be?
Ups and Downs.
Who would play you in a movie?