With the advent of the first year of the new decade, once again a generation of hot young actors and actresses are ready to take centre stage. As we have done through the years, we take this occasion to bring you a select group of rising young talents we believe are on their way to the top. Remember how we featured Nelly Karim, Ahmed Ezz, Asser Yassin, Amina Khalil and Dina El Sherbiny before they catapulted to superstardom and became screen icons? Well, we are proud to bring you the next crop of scene-stealers on their way to becoming the reigning stars of their generation. Meet Karim Kassem, Asmaa Galal, Cynthia Khalifeh, Amir El-Masry and Sarrah Abdelrahman, part of the next generation of talented young stars set to take the world by storm in the coming years. Remember that, when they make it big and we say, ”We told you so!” eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham and Ezz Al-Turkey sat down with these superstars-in-the making to learn more about their career journeys so far and their hopes and plans to reach new heights in the period ahead.
Starting at a very young age, Karim Kassem has been acting for over a decade. In the past few years, his star has been rising at a fast pace with a slew of successful roles under his belt. Kassem first caught people’s attention with his very first role in the iconic 2006 hit film and cautionary tale Aw’at Faragh (Free Time). Having demonstrated his acting skills with this initial success, he got the chance soon after to star in the critically acclaimed film, Bel Alwan El Tabe’ya (In Natural Colours), as well as the blockbuster film, Welad Rizk (Sons of Rizk) and its sequel.
Kassem is known as one of a handful of actors who is very careful in his choice of roles and who makes sure he takes on different characters and does not repeat himself. Ranging from taking on the role of a careless teenager, to roles of an art student, a hooligan, and an Islamic extremist – Kassem has done a variety of vastly different characters. Most recently, he starred in Exterior Night, as a curious film director enamoured with a local sex worker. His performance was acclaimed and the film was screened at several international film festivals. “I take acting workshops continuously and I try new techniques. When I get a script, I ask questions in order to understand the character I’m playing. My approach really depends on the role, because they’re all very different personalities,” he explains.
A closer look at Kassem’s choice of roles shows that he tends to take on films that deal with controversial topics that are often avoided in mainstream films. Kassem explains that he cares about telling stories which people don’t see a lot on screen, and that such films are high in his priorities. He takes pride that his films often spark discussions and challenge people’s points of view on different topics. He believes that this is what cinema is supposed to do. “I believe that art can affect and change people. If you present a controversial topic, it starts a discussion in society and it makes an impact. I would love to do more movies like Exterior Night because it fulfilled me as an artist. At the same time, I also appreciate taking part in blockbusters because that allows me to take part in independent films when I get the chance,” says Kassem.
Earlier this year, news of an upcoming sequel to Aw’at Faragh, where Kassem played the role of a troubled and spoiled college student, got people excited to see the film’s young characters grown up and experienceing adulthood. However, it seems that plans for the sequel have been put on hold, for now. “We actually had a really good concept and story for the sequel, but the time just doesn’t feel right yet,” Kassem explains. 2020 also pressured producers into putting a hold on Wilad Rizk 3, which is highly anticipated by fans of the first two films. “It’s a major production. A film like Wilad Rizk 3 needs a huge box office opening, and unfortunately, because of the pandemic, that won’t be possible right now,” he affirms.
Kassem is currently wrapping up post-production on a short dark comedy film, titled The Ditch, which he produced and is planning to show at international film festivals. The film reunites him with his Aw’at Faragh co-star, Amr Abed, who has written and directed it. He is also in talks to star in an upcoming TV series, but he can’t reveal much about it at this point. Judging from Kassem’s past successes, we can easily predict that his huge fan base will be tuning in, as they always do for him.
With her infectious smile and her upbeat vibe, Asmaa Galal is, simply put, a ray of sunshine. At 25, and, refreshingly acting her age, the rising actress doesn’t take herself too seriously and knows how to have fun. For her, acting was always the only choice. “I’ve dreamt of being an actress ever since I was six. My mum kept refusing, but I kept begging,” she recalls. When asked how she ended up convincing her mother, Galal answers with a laugh, “To be honest, she never agreed. But I did it anyway. When I started being financially independent, I went to an acting workshop to find out if I was talented or not.” Her mother came to know about her daughter’s decision only when she saw her on her television screen. “When I landed a role, she found out when she saw it on TV. She was basically in denial for the longest time, but she eventually came around,” Galal recounts.
Galal’s first acting gig was in the series, El Ab El Rohy (The Godfather), where she had a starring role. “I had no idea what I was doing. I literally did not know other people’s roles, who does what, what to do. But I pretended that I did, so that everyone would take me seriously. Ultimately, I learned with time,” she says with a giggle.
She went on to appear in series like Zel El Raees (The President’s Shadow), La Totfea El Shams (Don’t Turn Out the Sun) and Nesr El Se’eed (The Eagle of Upper Egypt), and not long after, she landed the leading role in the series, Hekayat Banat (Girls’ Tales), which was a reboot of the previous beloved long-running series with the same name. Ironically, afraid she was not yet ready for a leading role, she was not too excited about the part at first. “It was a huge responsibility, and at the time, I thought it came too early. But, the producer, Tarek El Ganainy, explained that the reboot was a younger, more lighthearted version of the first show,” she reveals. That meant she would get to develop her own character to an extent,” she reveals. Galal ended up receiving very positive reviews and gaining an entirely new generation of fans.
Another role, perhaps her most acclaimed to date, is that of Ghariba in the TV series, Mamlaket Eblees (Satan’s Kingdom). “The entirety of filming was done in real local communities. To prepare for the role, I visited those places every day for three months, to see how people there talked, walked and acted. I spent time observing them going about their lives. I had a great time doing the show and I loved playing that character,” says Galal. Recalling another Ramadan TV series, Lea’bet El Nesyan (A Game of Forgetfulness), in which she played the role of a woman driven by jealousy, she adds, “I liked that people really ended up hating my character. That meant I did a good job portraying an unlikable character.”
Galal went on to star in big screen films, such as 122 and El Hareth (The Plowman), and most recently took part in Mona Zaki’s new movie, El Sondouk El Aswad (The Blackbox). She is busy these days filming two seasons back-to-back of her upcoming series, Ansaf Maganeen (Half Crazies). She also reveals that she is keen on trying new genres, especially a musical film where she’d get to dance, act, and maybe even sing. Additionally, she would like to try her hand at horror. “I’d love to do a real hardcore thriller,” she exclaims. Well, whether she becomes a dancing queen or a scream queen, it looks like Galal will soon reign the scene.
Lebanese actress and beauty queen Cynthia Khalifeh is a relative newcomer to Egyptian cinema. However, she’s had an extensive career in Lebanon ever since she was 10 years old. She got her first major gig during her senior year of high school on the Lebanese channel, MTV, as a presenter, and later on landed her first big role alongside Amir Karara in Ruby.
Khalifeh moved to Egypt a year ago after landing a role in the upcoming TV series Wadi El Jinn (The Demon’s Oasis), set to premiere in early 2021. While in Egypt, she also got the opportunity to star in the first episode of the romance series Nemra Etnein (The Other Thing), alongside Asser Yassin and Arwa Gouda, as Zeina, Yassin’s career-oriented wife. While Zeina, in the series, chooses her career over her husband, Khalifeh says that, personally, she would not have made the same choice in real life. “I don’t think I would have done that. I would’ve found a middle ground rather than leaving my husband. I do respect Zeina’s decision though,” she confesses. In the meantime, Khalifeh continues to work on Wadi El Jinn, which is a fantasy show filled with a lot of CGI creatures and magical elements, completely different from anything Egypt has seen before. The series recently had an exclusive screening for its pilot episode at the Cairo International Film Festival. Khalifeh is also interested in doing comedy and says she would love to get the chance to work with the legendary Adel Emam.
Khalifeh says that being an actor is like playing Russian roulette, where the chances of a miss are a lot more than those of getting a hit. “For every 10 no’s, you get one yes, and this is always the case. It doesn’t matter if you are a big star or not. I knew from the start that succeeding in the movie industry was going to be tough, but I never hesitated or doubted my passion. There has always been an adrenaline rush for me when it comes to acting. It is always on my mind, and I feel like it’s ‘now or never.’ Getting ahead in this industry is not easy at all. It is an ongoing struggle; you may make it and you may not. But if there’s a will, there’s a way,” she says, adamantly.
Khalifeh also has a connection with France, where she attended courses in cinema and did a bit of acting. But her interests lie beyond cinema, as well. “I want to do so much more,” she exclaims, adding, “Actually, working between Egypt, France and Lebanon, is growing my chances and my ability to make an impact in several places. I still have a lot to give to people and to humanity. I want to do a lot more humanitarian projects and to give back, especially to my country, Lebanon, which is now going through a hard time. I really want to help as many people as I can.”
Amir El-Masry was born and raised in London, to Egyptian parents. While he now seems to be as confident as they come, the magnetic star, surprisingly, was a very shy kid growing up. “When I was five, my mum took me to after-school acting workshops to get me out of my comfort zone,” recounts El-Masry, who played a cat in his first ever role as a child. His mother made him a cat costume that ended up looking like “a cow with a tail,” he laughs. “When I acted as someone else, I developed confidence.” He went on to attend several summer workshops at the National Youth Theatre while in school. After that, El-Masry took an unusual route, studying Criminology and Sociology, “just to get that university experience,” he explains. As part of his studies, he frequented prisons and talked to criminals, which, oddly, gave him a sense of fulfillment; that is, until his life took an unexpected turn.
El-Masry recalls that, he was with his dad in Paris when they bumped into the one and only Omar Sharif. After expressing his admiration for Sharif and telling him about his own love of acting, the legendary star gave him his own invitation to the Paris premiere of his film, Hassan & Marcus, written by Youssef Maaty. El-Masry went to the VIP premiere, where he met the screenwriter, who, after a brief chat, invited the young man to audition for a supporting role in his next film, Ramadan Mabrouk Aboul Alamein Hamouda, starring Mohamed Heneidy. Next thing he knew, he was flying to Egypt for a camera test, then on the set filming the new comedy. “Heneidy loves to improvise and bring out the best in whomever he’s working with. He taught me that being as serious as you can be in those comedic roles, makes it funnier,” recalls the young actor, who went on to star in another Egyptian comedy film, El Talata Yashtaghaloonaha (The Three Play Her). “I used to fly to Egypt, do it, and come back and finish my studies. I would tell them that I was sick,” he confesses, with a laugh.
El-Masry went on to study at LAMDA, an acting school in London, for two years. While there, he did showcases in front of casting directors, including the casting director for John Stewart’s new film, Rosewater. El-Masry did an audition tape for Stewart, who then flew over to London and told El-Masry in person that he got the part. That was El-Masry’s first role in an American film. “It’s very difficult to do a film there then come back to Egypt, because when you’re away, casting directors over there just sort of forget about you. So, I had to make my mark abroad in order for me to come back to Egypt and take on even larger roles,” he explains.
After a few years in the limelight, appearing in films such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and shows like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, El-Masry made headlines for his raw performance in the new British film, Limbo, which became a critical darling at the recent Cairo International Film Festival. The movie revolves around Omar, a Syrian musician forced to leave his country and become a refugee in Britain. El-Masry had to perfect the Syrian accent, speak in broken English, play the violin and show an Olympic-level range of emotions, including topnotch deadpan humour, which he seems to have mastered ever since his days with Heneidy. El-Masry explains that Limbo was his biggest challenge to date, “The weather was insanely cold and it was super windy. I also didn’t have any signal on my phone, so I was isolated and disconnected from the outside world, which was actually useful to get into character.”
Most recently, El-Masry appeared in the new HBO hit series, Industry, and he is now set to work on three upcoming projects – a social drama film, a period war miniseries and a play called Two Palestinians Go Dogging. Beyond that, the star has a specific goal in mind. “I’d love to direct in order to bring a more accurate representation of the diverse cultures that exist in the world today,” he shares.
Sarrah Abdelrahman got her debut role in the 2009 comedy blockbuster Alf Mabrook (Congratulations), alongside superstar Ahmed Helmy. She then got to be a part of the ensemble cast of the 2017 major hit TV show, Sabei’ Gar (Seventh Neighbour), which went on to release over 60 episodes, and is still being rewatched by fans today.
Although Abdelrahman often appears in family dramas, she’s a chameleon and no two roles she plays are ever the same. This is something she pays great attention to. She doesn’t want to be typecast or put in a box that would dim her creativity. “Empathising with completely different characters and personalities is at the core of what I enjoy doing most. I think everyone sort of tends to notice your strong traits and what roles fit you best, and just give you more of those same roles. I would like more of a variety of roles so that I can push myself outside of my comfort zone and begin challenging myself more,” she explains.
It’s hard to speak to Abdelrahman and not bring up Sabei’ Gar, in which she played the role of Heba, an average woman in her early twenties dealing with life one day at a time. Heba was outspoken, confident, and, at times, impulsive. Abdelrahman, however, isn’t exactly like that, although she wishes she was. “I was going through a very difficult time personally, and embodying Heba really inspired me and gave me courage. She is so bold and confident. I’m a very big over-thinker, I tip-toe around ideas and the things I want to say, so Heba really gave me the push that I needed at the time,” she recalls with a smile.
Although fans are strongly hoping for a new season of the series, it doesn’t seem like this is going to a happen any time soon. “Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be more. Initially, we did plan to release another season, but now the producers aren’t as sure. Honestly, it was such an unexpected and groundbreaking project! We recognise that, but now all we can do is congratulate the producers and the people who really believed in this series from the start. It was a very different kind of project. You can tell how the directors were from the ‘independent scene,’ from the subject matter, and the way the scenes were shot and the locations used. The series was just very distinct in every way.”
While acting is her top priority, Abdelrahman also likes to focus on other aspects of art. She is passionate about spreading awareness on sustainability, especially in fashion. She was the first Egyptian celebrity to rock a thrifted dress on a major red carpet, and she did it shamelessly. She also uses her social media presence to spread awareness on women’s rights and sexual harassment.
While Abdelrahman is reluctant to share much about her upcoming projects, she reveals that she is almost done writing a rough draft of a screenplay for a feature film. Being an over-thinker, it was scary for Abdelrahman to take this leap, but she’s ready to see it through to the end. She excitedly exclaims, “It’s still very early to even mention anything about it, but I’m really pushing myself to go through with it and really make it a long-term part of my future. So, we’ll see where that takes me!”
Photography by Emad Kassem
Styling by Angie Neklawy
Makeup by Wedyan Mohy
Girls’ hair by Haitham Dahab
Guys’ hair by Wael Diego
Fashion Assistant: Marina Abdel Malak
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