ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Egyptian actor and film-maker Amr Waked, equally at home in Cairo and Hollywood, says the time is ripe for a host of other Arab stars to make it big abroad.
Waked, an established celebrity in Egypt, has also appeared in a string of global hits alongside George Clooney in “Syriana”, Kristin Scott Thomas in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and Scarlett Johansson in this summer’s sci-fi extravaganza “Lucy”.
His latest venture brings him back to Cairo where he plays a gangster taking on an organ trafficking ring in “El Ott” or “The Cat”. The movie, which he also produced, premiered at the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival this week.
The film is his second collaboration with director Ibrahim al-Batout. The first was “Winter of Discontent” which dealt with Egypt’s 2011 uprising.
Waked was heavily involved in the street protests that eventually toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and also took part in the 2013 protests that led to the overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.
The actor spoke to Reuters about his latest role and why more Arab talent is finding international success.
Q: In your latest movie “El Ott” the themes are quite grim — organ trafficking, street kids and gangsters. Do you feel the situation in Egypt now is as sombre as the movie?
A: The problems in Egypt go way back, not just for the past three years since the revolution, they are for the past 60 years and for the years of colonisation before that. When you have all these years and a lot of the population learning from their parents before them to accept that they can’t get more rights, it will take more than two or three years to convince them that they can ask for more and get more. But it will happen eventually.
Q: How does making foreign movies differ from making them back at home?
A: It is not different at all, especially when I am working on meaningful films like “El Ott” with Batout. Nationalities are not important. Cinema is one religion and I think all cinema people belong to this one religion and one family. I don’t see it any other way.
Filming is like praying - you go in the morning you wash and dress up and get ready for the role and then you go in and do imaginary things in your head to be that role and then you come back out. It’s always the same in every production no matter where you are in the world.
Q: Why do you think we are seeing a lot of Arab actors taking up parts in movies abroad?
A: Well, the world is getting smaller. I didn’t have to go to Hollywood to act there like in Omar Sharif’s time, for example. I’m living in Cairo and go do my role and come back. I don’t have to move there to do it. Also, the world is concerned with us now and looking for stories about Arabs so that is part of it. The young Arabs in the business are also very talented and they can see how they can be at par with the world much easier and much faster.
Q: What is your goal - more success abroad or at home?
A: My ultimate ambition is to make an Arab movie that is seen everywhere and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s the producer in me speaking.
Editing by Michael Roddy and Andrew Heavens