Stories of meteoric rise to fame often include the hero turning tragedy into motivation that leads to ultimate success. Contrary to public perception driven largely by the roles he portrays on screen, the story of Mohamed Ramadan, known as El Ostoora’ (The Legend), is not one of tragedy spurring his fascinating rise as an actor. It’s more of a story about a little boy discovering his calling and talent while in school. As he tells it, the little boy “put his faith in God, took a chance on himself, not really expecting that the path he chose would be the start of a skyrocketing career.” eniGma’s Laila Rostom got the chance to sit with the highly driven star to learn the story behind his rapid rise to fame, how he started from scratch and overcame a multitude of challenges with determination to reach the place he’s at today.
As a young boy in school, Ramadan was known for cleverly imitating one of his professors, who in turn, directed him to pursue his talent on the school stage. Discovering that he had a natural gift for acting, Ramadan became very fond of performing on stage. To his delight, he received the award for Best Young Talent at his school, “El Saeedeya El Thanaweya El Askareya” (Saeedeya Military High School), twice in a row, a first in his school’s history.
Ramadan recalls, “During my second year of high school, I began what I call, ‘the journey of pursuit’. I would seek out many acting tests, where I would be asked to just call out my name and be photographed by the cameraman; but I always insisted on acting out a small role instead, because I knew no one could actually judge good talent based on looks alone without seeing an actual performance.”
After high school, Ramadan applied to the Higher Institute for Acting and was rejected. But he never lost his faith in his talent or his vision of becoming a professional actor. He got his break when the late Sa’eed Saleh, the famous comedian, recognized his talent and asked him to take part in the play “Aadeen Leh?” (Why Are You Sitting?). To a great extent, the play was the gateway to the opportunities that followed. The offers for roles began coming his way and Ramadan wasted no time, accepting and putting his heart in every one of the roles he played. He was asked by established actress Hanan Turk to join her in the television series “Awlad El Shawarea” (Street Children). Simultaneously, Dr. Samir Seif cast him in the TV series, “Cinderella,”starring the respected actress Mona Zaki, where he played the role of Egypt’s iconic, late actor, Ahmad Zaki. This was followed by a role with the internationally acclaimed legend, Omar Sharif in the TV series,“Hanan & Hanin” and another role with superstar, Yousra, in the series “Ayadi Ameena” (Safe Hands).
By then it seemed Ramadan was on an unstoppable roll. His hard work and dedication eventually led him to the big screen, where director Yousry Nasrallah cast him for “Ehky Ya Shahrazad” (Tell The Story, Shahrazad), once again opposite Mona Zaki.
Looking back, according to Ramadan the key to his success lies in his unfailing belief in himself. Even when doors were shut in the face of his talent, he believed in fighting for his dream. He likes to say that “only a stupid person keeps using the same key when trying to unlock a stubbornly closed door; why not use different keys, or in other words, different approaches? Try to always change to become better. Always work on fixing yourself. Study yourself well. Know your potential and set a goal for yourself. No matter what your occupation is, being ambitious is key. The clock is ticking and if you don’t start, you’ll miss out on so many things in life.”
As a young man, Ramadan admired the works of the previous generation in the industry. People like Ahmed Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Zaki, Adel Emam, and Yehia El Fakharany made him fall in love with cinema and inspired him to practice the art of acting. Watching his idols, he absorbed their artistic skills like a sponge, and used that to cultivate his own talent. He eventually got the chance to work with many of his role models and he still looks forward to working with more.
Through it all, Ramadan has successfully created his own identity in the film industry. His acting methods rely on becoming a character’s personal advocate, rather than just getting in touch with the role on a personal level. His idea of nailing a role means committing to being honest and compassionate to the nature of the character, whether it is good or evil. Ramadan explains, “I have to fall in love with the character in order to play it and to make the audience believe me. Judging the character is the audience’s task; they get to decide whether this person is evil or has a good-heart.”
While many perceive Ramadan’s roles are a reflection of himself in reality, truth be told, Ramadan’s skills in mastering the details of a certain character, only prove his uncanny ability to influence the judgement of his audience. Insisting that his roles are only portrayals of fictional characters and are not a reflection of his personal identity, Ramadan states, “ I’m asking everyone not to judge me by the roles I’m playing but by Mohamed Ramadan’s real-life character, who is someone who started from scratch, with no shortcuts into the cinematic field, yet managed to prove himself until he became the Mohamed Ramadan of today.”
In reality Ramadan’s persona is a far cry from his on screen characters. To a large extent, he leads an average life. He is a man of faith who, when not working, spends his time with his wife and two kids. He also likes to spend time exercising.
Most recently, Ramadan shocked the public in the highly successful 2016 Ramadan TV series ‘El Ostoora’ (The Legend) when he simultaneously took on two very complex leading roles. Explaining the challenge he faced portraying the role of Refaai, the 40 year old hard-hitting man, one of two twin brothers, he says,“Playing Refaai was a tough job. He is a 40 year-old man who is married with grown-up daughters, and is also responsible for an entire family. I’m only 28 years old, so I had to find a way to be as honest as possible with the character.” On the other hand, he very much admired many of the complex qualities that built his other leading character Nasser El Desouky, the second twin. Ramadan explains how difficult it was to illustrate Nasser’s inner complexities in his personal behavior. Although the character was an exceptionally ambitious positive young man, he later changed into someone with several internal demons that led to his death.
‘El Ostoora’ proved to be a huge success, making Mohamed Ramadan one of the highest paid actors in Egypt today. Nevertheless, after this latest remarkable achievement, taking a break was the last thing on his mind. A few weeks after the series ended, Ramadan made his first debut on the private sector commercial stage with the play, ‘Ahlan Ramadan’ (Hello Ramadan) at Al-Haram Theatre. Topping the popularity charts, the play proved to be an enormous success. ‘Ahlan Ramadan’ will next be performed in Kuwait and Bahrain. Ramadan wistfully notes, “I wish people would go back to watching theatrical performances. I personally believe that this will boost the country’s tourism as well as bring back a very important industry.” Having first discovered his talent on stage, Ramadan’s love for theatre has inevitably remained with him. He describes the theatre as ‘a building block of the Mohamed Ramadan character’.
His latest ‘legend’ role aside, Mohamed Ramadan is obviously aspiring to become a different kind of legend in reality; a legend that proves that hard work pays off and that reaching for the stars is not impossible. Stay tuned for the many upcoming works of Mohamed Ramadan. A new film will be released in Eid al-Adha in September, called “Gawab Eetiqal”(Arrest Letter), written and directed by Mohammed Samy, in collaboration with many prominent actors. In addition, he is working on another film called “El-Kenz” (The Treasure), written by Abdel Rahim Kamal and directed by Sherif Arafa.
Despite his phenomenal success, Ramadan likes to think of himself as a work in progress, and wants the public to do so as well. “I really hope that I meet my audience’s expectations,” he notes. “I hope they don’t rush to judge me as an actor after only having been in the business for six years. You can’t judge someone whose picture isn’t yet full. The picture is only full after an actor plays multiple roles. Until now, Mohamed Ramadan’s picture is half full. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, I will always remain confident in myself and trust in God. One day, I’m determined to make all of you so very proud inshaallah (God willing).”