For a few years now, British/ Egyptian actor Amir El Masry grabbed the attention of both the Egyptian and international media. His latest BAFTA Breakthrough selection is the cherry on top of a very successful year. We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we called him the Breakout Star of 2020.
We had the pleasure of interviewing the 30 year old star and got to learn about the preparations for his movie “Limbo”, his role in the Star Wars franchise and his take on the social awakening movement currently taking place in Egypt.
1- Tell us about your BAFTA Breakthrough selection. How is that for a milestone?
It’s super amazing, not only for myself but also for the fact that I am representing Egypt back home. In previous years, it seemed like somewhat of an impossible task for Middle Eastern leads. So to be pitched by the production company and to be selected as one of the five talented actors for 2020 is definitely a huge honor. Hopefully when others see this, they’ll believe it’s achievable. If I can do it, many people can too.
2- Were you always set out to be an actor from a young age?
Yes. I did my first play at the age of seven, where I was a cat actually. I instantly fell in love with acting and theatre, but also the escapism. I was a shy kid, so getting the chance to play “pretend” and to impersonate other characters was super fun for me and it gave me a great deal of confidence.
3- We want to know more about your role as Omar in the movie “Limbo” and how do you feel about all the appraisal and international critical acclaim?
Honestly, I was a little reluctant to play the refugee role. It’s a pretty sensitive topic. I don’t like it when a movie about the refugee crisis centers more on the “white savior” rather than the suffering groups. But upon reading the script, it was obvious that the focal point was the character of Omar, the Syrian refugee seeking asylum.
I’m not exaggerating, but I literally cried and laughed just reading the script. And that was a first for me. Ben Sharrock so masterfully gave Omar the power of decision-making in addition to the agony and the suffering.
This movie went through a huge process. We filmed on a Scottish island with tough climate conditions. I self-isolated a lot to try and get sense of the suffering. I also had the pleasure of meeting with real-life asylum seekers who gave me time to get to know them and understand their circumstances first hand.
When the movie came out and was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and then winning at San Sebastian’s, I was honestly in tears and I couldn’t believe myself. It also got some pretty great reviews from tough movie critics. I felt like all our effort really paid off.
4- How do you feel about casting Arabs in international productions? Do the stereotypes bother you at times?
Over the years I was very frustrated with this and I wanted to break that stereotype. I wanted to have the chance to play any given role and perfect it. However, I can’t hide the fact that I am an Arab with Middle Eastern/Egyptian features.
Starting out, my agent told me that I had to accept the fact that I’ll be “in somewhat of a mold” in order to get roles and make my face more familiar. And, I didn’t mind, as long as the narrative was inclusive and real.
In my movie Daniel, I portrayed a real-life jihadist. Obviously, I have no interest in the terrorist role, all the time. But it’s a character that is alive and well. And getting into its psyche and the humane part of it seems crucial.
5- Were you a Star Wars fan growing up? Tell us about your role in The Rise of Skywalker.
I have deep admiration and respect for the franchise. It’s a part of history, without a doubt. And I love what George Lucas has done over the years in the sci-fi realm. Frankly, I haven’t always been the biggest Star Wars fan growing up, but I was super excited and honored to be part of Skywalker. But honestly it was my friends that went crazy about me starring in it!
7- You worked alongside major Hollywood stars, which one made you feel intimidated?
I was intimidated when I first met Woody Harrelson. He has a very strong presence in a location. We’re still friends and sometimes we meet when he’s in London. He’s very down to earth and he never forgets people. I’m a huge fan of his.
I also have a funny story for you guys. We once went to get Falafel and as it turns out, the people serving Falafel were Egyptians. I was worried people would crowd Woody and want to take pictures and all. But to our surprise, they easily recognized me from the movie “Ramadan Mabrouk” and gave us free Falafel and all the way back Woody was like “ Wow Amir, you’re more famous than me” and I was like believe me, I am not!
8- What’s your take regarding the anti-sexual harassment movement in Egypt?
I feel like credit must be given to the brave women who decided to come out with their stories. And also, all the platforms who have given them the space to express that freely. Like Assault Police, Sabah Khodeir and many others.
Finally people are giving the matter appropriate attention. I wasn’t on the grounds so much when it was all happening, but I always keep up with the news. It’s prevalent within all the social classes. It has nothing to do with your socioeconomic background really; it’s all about the way you were raised.
It’s great to show men, who always thought they could get away with any act of abuse towards women, that things are changing right now. I hope the awareness campaigns find their way to our educational systems to teach people how to treat women with dignity and respect.
9- Is starring in an Egyptian movie or series something you’d consider for the near-future? And, what do you think of the Egyptian cinematic scene at the moment?
Absolutely. I was set to star in an Egyptian series but couldn’t due to my packed schedule for the time being. But once I am offered a good script and the timing is right for me, I will definitely go for it. I always want to work more in Egypt, on the right projects and with the right people!
I think that independent cinema is where we are very strong. We have incredible producers like Mohamed Hefzy and many others who pioneered the indie genre here.
10- What are your future plans/dreams?
I want to work in Egypt. I have a great independent film that’ll hopefully be filmed in Liverpool. If I’m lucky enough, I might catch some matches and cheer on for Mo Salah. I’m a huge fan!
I am also starring in a Netflix series soon, but unfortunately that’s all I can tell you about it for the time being.
11- A piece of advice for young aspiring actors?
Be well prepared to get rejected. Get used to the fact that you’ll be turned down a lot. Develop a thick skin and don’t take it personally. Also, keep practicing this craft with workshops, practice with friends and educate yourself and you’ll eventually get there. If I could do it, anyone can!
update: Amir won the Golden Pyramid Award at the CIFF’s closing night and is now competing for the BIFA’| Best Actor Award against Sir Anthony Hopkins!