With a new movie and a new attitude, Karim Abdel Aziz is back in the spotlight. We caught up with the star of Al Feel Al Azrak (The Blue Elephant) days before the release of the movie. He revealed the mystery behind his earlier disappearance from the scene, his recent comeback, and what he has up his sleeve.
It’s almost one in the morning, I am standing outside Marina Home Interiors in Designopolis, where the shoot is taking place, while Karim Abdel Aziz changes outfits inside. The juxtaposition between the busy store and the stillness of the Cairo/Alex desert road is quite fascinating. I am brought back to earth by someone calling me to get inside and ask Abdel Aziz a few questions till the set is ready.
Abdel Aziz moves around the place as if he owns it, like he’s climbed those stairs and sat on all these chairs a hundred times before. I let him guide me to where he would like to sit. He ushers me towards a couch and instead of taking a seat on the other end of it as I expected him to, he takes a chair, places it right in front of me and leans forward so he is only inches away. Abdel Aziz is confident, charismatic and relaxed. I understand why people fell in love with him from his very first role 17 years ago.
Abdel Aziz has come a long way since his first role as the young man in Edhak El Sora Tetla’a Helwa (Smile to the Camera) in 1998. He was 23 years old when he took that first acting opportunity opposite superstar Ahmed Zaki. His father Mohamed Abdel Aziz, a famous director, wasn’t a fan of the idea. He wanted Abdel Aziz to graduate from the Cinema Institute as a director to follow in his footsteps. “I was all prepared to be a director but during my final year as I was working on my graduation project we were short on actors so I had to also act in it. There’s something very special about being in front of the camera. I realised that even though I enjoyed directing, I enjoyed acting more so I just had to pursue it,” he explains. “And my father eventually encouraged me. He told me that I have to be like a soldier, always on time, always focused and professional. And I made it a point to live by his words,” he continues.
In the same year he landed a role on the hit Ramadan TV show Emra’a Men Zaman El Hob (Woman From the Romantic Era) in 1998. A series of blockbusters followed, from Abood Ala El Hodood (Abood on the Borders), 1999, to Harameya Fi Thailand (Thieves in Thailand), 2003, Abou Ali, 2005, Wahed Men El Nas (One of the People), 2006, and most recently Fasel wa Na’oud (We’ll Be Back After the Break) in 2011. Each role revealed a different side to Abdel Aziz’s performance capabilities and proved that he had much to offer as an actor.
Some would argue that it was just Abdel Aziz’s good looks that helped him advance in his career. He strongly disagrees. “I never depended on the way I look. I am not a model. I wanted to be a good actor. In most of my movies I play the role of a simple guy from a simple family who is trying to get by. I make it a point to focus on such simple people because they are the people who really need to be given a voice,” he says.
In his upcoming movie Al Feel Al Azrak (The Blue Elephant), he steps into entirely new territory. Al Feel Al Azrak, the best-selling novel by Ahmed Murad, tells the story of Dr. Yehia Rashid who works in a mental hospital where he has to decide whether some patients are mentally ill or are criminals. In his search for the truth he has to deal with his own demons. Given the success of the book on which the film is based, readers probably have already built their own image of the main character in their mind. Which makes Abdel Aziz’s role all the more challenging.
Together with director Marwan Hamed and writer Ahmed Murad, Abdel Aziz has been preparing for the movie since 2012. “I always wanted to work with Marwan Hamed, but when he told me about the story and sent me the script I was a bit reluctant. It’s a very difficult role. It’s a genre that has never been done before in the Middle East,” Abdel Aziz says. As he prepared for the role Abdel Aziz had to read psychology books and meet with a lot of psychologists to be able to predict how Dr. Yehia would behave. “All the characters I have played on screen have had something in common with my real personality, but I have absolutely nothing in common with Yehia Rashid so I had to prepare extra hard,” he says. Abdel Aziz spent seven months preparing for his character and about a year and a half filming. Impersonating this character left such a mark on him, that after filming he needed to spend some time recovering from the intensity of the role. “It was definitely the most difficult role I have played, it took a while for me to get out of character,” he tells me.
Al Feel Al Azrak is Abdel Aziz’s 14th film and it marks a transition in his career. Abdel Aziz is growing up and starting a new phase of his life, leaving the kind of roles he used to play to the younger generation. And he is okay with that. “Cinema reflects life and life doesn’t stop at a certain age or phase. There’s always space for a new phase in one’s career. I follow the progress of the new generation, some of them are very good and I have worked with some like Ahmed Fahmy, Chico, and Hisham Maged,” he says.
Abdel Aziz’s new movie is being released during a difficult time for Egyptian cinema, especially considering that it was made with a high budget of EGP 25 million. Yet Abdel Aziz is optimistic. “I am sure cinema will recover. I am very optimistic about this Eid season as a few good movies will be released. This will encourage more people to produce more movies in the coming period,” he says.
In fact he is so optimistic that he is already preparing for his next movie, a much lighter one that it set to be released in 2015. He is also preparing for a series in Ramadan 2015. “You know what? I feel I have only revealed 10 percent of my potential as an actor and I still have a lot to offer,” he tells me. And I am not surprised. It seems Abdel Aziz will be around for a while making movies only he can do.