Cairo has always drawn Arab talent seeking to make a name in cinema, so it’s no wonder we’ve seen a stream of talented Arab actors rise to stardom in Egyptian cinema and television. Thirty-nine-year-old Lebanese actor, Nicolas Mouawad, is the latest Arab actor who appears to be on the cusp of making it big in Egypt’s film industry. eniGma’s Chairman, Samia Farid Shihata, sat down with Mouawad for a wide ranging conversation that covered his career path to Cairo, the roles he has played, his plans for the future, and even his views on love, commitment and Valentine’s Day!
Having obtained a degree in civil engineering in 2002 at his parents’ insistence, an acting career would not have been in the cards for Mouawad, had he not simultaneously pursued a second degree in acting, graduating from film school in Beirut in 2003. As a young boy dreaming to become involved in film, he had always thought of himself becoming a director. The reason he applied for a degree in acting rather than directing was because the former came with free tuition, so he didn’t need to inform his parents about it! Fortunately for him, however, he realised that he really loved acting at the very moment of his entrance exam. “I had to do a monologue from Shakespeare’s Richard III, and while I was doing it, I felt an amazing pleasure. That’s when I realised that I really love acting,” he recalls.
Mouawad began acting in 2002, pursuing a career as a serious stage actor in Lebanon for four years until Marwan Naggar, the Lebanese producer and writer, picked him to be the lead in a television series. The irony is that, before that, Mouawad used to hate television, believing it was not as ‘real’ as theater. In hindsight, this debut in Lebanese television may have been the prelude that led to his big break onto the Egyptian small screen. Not long afterwards, he got a role in the joint Arab series, Leabet El Mot, and that was followed by his first role in an Egyptian TV series, Wannous, with the legendary Yehiya El Fakharany, aired in Ramadan 2016. He has since been steadily making a name for himself in one Egyptian television series after another.
Mouawad admits that being picked for his first Egyptian role, that of sheikh Farouk, the preacher in Wannous, was somewhat surprising. As he recalls it, “Shady El Fakharani, the director, was looking for someone to play the sheikh with a different approach, and Mahmoud Karim, who was an assistant director then, sent my show reel to him. Shady really liked my way of acting and believed that I would suit the role. He gave me the role at our first meeting and we started filming shortly afterwards. I was initially afraid, of course, especially since the role was complex, not that of a normal average Egyptian guy, and this was my first time to act in Egyptian-Arabic. It was a difficult challenge, but that’s what made me enthusiastic to do it.”
Following Wannous, Mouawad was tapped to take part in the last season of the romantic comedy, Heba Regl El Ghorab (the Arabic version of Ugly Betty), before he recently really turned heads in the popular social drama TV series, Sabe’ Gar (The 7th Neighbour), which captivated Egyptian viewers with its depiction of the daily tribulations of several middle class families. Mouawad played the part of Tarek, the sweet young husband who was neglected by his wife and who went on to have had an extra marital affair.
Sabe’ Gar surprised everyone, even its actors and directors, with its phenomenal success, despite the fact that it was aired off season rather than in Ramadan, Egypt’s peak viewing month. “The freshness in Sabe’ Gar, made the audience feel it was a credible story,” says Mouawad. “The characters were very real and the actors, many of whom had not acted before, were very spontaneous. Because they were portraying characters from A to Z, it was easier for the audience to identify with actors they hadn’t seen before in other roles. It was also the first TV series for the three directors, Heba Yousry, Ayten Amin and Nadine Khan, and this added to the freshness. And, of course, the storyline was great.”
Indeed, the story, or rather the stories, of Sabe’ Gar, broke new ground by addressing sensitive subjects that Egyptian television had not dared broach before. Besides the incredibly good acting of the ensemble cast, part of the reason behind the series’ large viewership was its portrayal of elements of the younger generation choosing to lead a more modern way of life, love and commitment. Both the supporters of such modernity, as well as the more conservative viewers who criticised such ‘western’ behaviour, were hooked to the nightly show. One side saw it as a realistic depiction of a change in norms that is actually taking place in Egyptian society, while the other side criticised it as an attempt to encourage ‘immoral’ behaviour that would erode society’s traditional values. “The show dealt with topics we are not used to seeing in Arab drama,” adds Mouawad. “To me, that was one of the strengths of the series. It was good to deal with issues people are not used to seeing, but we really did not expect this level of success. So, our joy was double!”
Mouawad can’t stress enough how brilliantly Tarek and the other characters in Sabe’ Gar are written. “What I like in Sabe’ Gar, actually, is that none of the characters is completely evil or completely good, just like all of us,” he explains. “I believe that human nature is always a mixture of the two. No one is a hundred percent good or bad. In each of us, there is a continuous struggle between bad and good, and at different stages, one or the other wins. That’s why in Sabe’ Gar, at the beginning, people sympathised and liked Tarek a lot, then they started to hate him. That’s natural. That’s what happens. Humans by nature keep changing, depending on circumstances. Tarek is not totally blameless for his bad marriage for sure, but his wife, Noha, is also not totally blameless. The same applies to all the characters in Sabe’ Gar. No one is all good or all bad in my view. And that’s what’s nice about the series – that it doesn’t make you see characters as angels or devils. This is what made the characters closer to people.”
Mouawad enjoyed playing Tarek very much and, in some ways, identified with him. “I find that I am close to the role somewhat,” he explains. “I am someone who likes to keep the fire burning in a relationship. I’m also impulsive like Tarek. These are the things in me that are close to Tarek’s character.”
“By the way,” he adds, “The case of Tarek and his wife is very common, and should provide a lesson to married couples. I see this all the time with my friends. Ninety percent of the time, the wife is like Noha and the husband is like tarek. In the Arab world, generally, when a woman has children, she forgets that she is a wife and thinks of herself just as a mother. Her only preoccupation becomes the children. She forgets that she has a husband, and she even forgets herself, too. Noha is not only guilty towards Tarek; she is guilty towards herself as a woman as well. She completely forgets that she is a woman as well as a mother and wife. Unfortunately this is very common.”
It’s not surprising that TVs newest heartthrob would speak with such authority on matters of love and commitment. Given that Mouawad now divides his time between Cairo and Beirut, his experience in romance has also gained a bi-country perspective. Asked whether there was a difference between Egyptian and Lebanese women, he diplomatically insists that he really sees no difference between them, and that in any case, he doesn’t like to generalise. Mouawad, nonetheless, does go on to add, “Generally, the Egyptian woman pays more attention than the Lebanese woman to how people perceive her. That’s the main difference. She cares more about what other people will say than about her own personal happiness.”
To a follow up question on whether Lebanese women are more liberated than Egyptian women, Mouawad is quick to reply, “Actually, I don’t think that’s true. There are people here who are more liberated, and there are people in Lebanon who are not liberated at all. You can find both kinds of women here and there. I can’t say this or that nationality is such and such. I believe that a person is a person, regardless of his or her nationality. Again, I really don’t like to generalise.”
While Mouawad expects he will be with his Lebanese girlfriend on Valentine’s Day in Cairo, which she visits frequently, he insists that he doesn’t believe in Valentine’s Day at all. “That’s because every day should be Valentine’s Day,” he exclaims. “And if I were to give advice to young people in love, I would tell them exactly that. I would also say, don’t take the person you love for granted. Always treat her as if you are on your first date.”
Mouawad currently spends much of his time in Cairo. He is busy filming an upcoming TV series, a romantic comedy where he plays the lead role, produced by Mohamed Mamish and directed by Rami Rizkallah, He is also writing his own movie, which will still take some time to finish, and which he hopes to direct himself. Looking further into the future, he says he would love to do theater in Cairo too, although he is not yet familiar with the theater scene here.
While he is happy with how his career is advancing, Mouawad, insists that he is not someone who follows a road map with career targets. “The thing is, I act simply because I honestly enjoy acting. My plan is simply to do things that I would be proud of when I look back in 20 or so years,” he explains. “I’m the type of person who doesn’t really go after things. I suppose this is a fault in me, but I don’t have big goals that I am going after. Everything I did till now, happened to come my way. I wasn’t chasing after it. Of course, at the beginning of your career, you sometimes compromise on certain things and take on some roles you’re not really convinced of. But, three or four years ago, I learnt to say no, and this was a turning point for my career. Now, I take decisions that I think are right, not those dictated by social relationships.”
For a man without a plan, Mouawad is obviously doing something right. His easygoing attitude may actually be his strength. He gives the impression that he is not in a hurry to get to the top, and that relaxed attitude seems to make him all the more endearing to the movers and shakers in the industry. One thing is for sure, however; Mouawad is a talented actor with a rapidly growing fan base. This rising star has a bright future ahead, and he has the charms to go with it.
What words best describe you?
What aspect of your personality would you like to change?
Being too impulsive.
What’s your biggest regret?
It’s strange, but I don’t have any regrets.
What makes you laugh?
Animals. I laugh a lot with my cat, and I laughed with my dog when I had one. I also laugh with my sugar glider now. It’s like a cute little squirrel.
What’s your favourite film?
I love The Hours and Magnolia very much. I also like the old Hitchcock and old Ingrid Bergman films.
Do you have a favourite actor and actress?
I love John Malkovich, Daniel Day Lewis, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like alternative music, nineties rock, U2 and Bon Jovi, among others. I am a bit old fashioned in my taste.
When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?
I watch movies and spend time with friends and people close to me. I value that a lot.
Do you like to play sports?
Yes. I play water sports; mainly scuba diving and windsurfing, which I learned in Ras Sudr, Egypt.
Do you have a role model?
I don’t really have a role model, but I love people who do good to other people. I am affected by such people.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Peace of mind.
What do you admire most in a woman?
Being an artist. I feel that there are a lot of things I like that come with her being an artist.
If someone were to write a book about you, what would you like the title of the book to be?
Art Direction & Styling: Maissa Azab
Photography: Khaled Fadda
Make up by Shariff Tanyous
Hair by Mamdouh at Mohamed Al Sagheer
Fashion Assistant: Fatma El Assiouty
Beymen: Four Seasons Hotel Cairo at Nile
Plaza, Corniche El Nil, Garden City, Cairo,
Egypt. Tel: +(202) 29726640
Maison 69: 15 Imsail Mohamed St., Zama
lek, Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +(202) 227365250, +(202) 224188769
Kojak Studio : Tel: +(202) 01008148471
Boss: City Stars, phase 2, 3rd floor, shop
3175, Omar Ibn El Khattab St., Cairo, Egypt.
Tel: +(202) 01141357027