Tue, 17 Nov 2020 - 12:11 GMT
Portraying world leaders in cinema and drama is a challenging task; even more so if that leader is a regional icon and internationally controversial figure such as former Egyptian President and Arab leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The Italian actor of Egyptian origins Fabio Abraham is about to embark upon this great challenge, portraying Nasser in an upcoming docudrama produced by CNN and entitled Jerusalem. The new docudrama will tackle the history of Jerusalem and the most important characters that affected it either negatively or positively, including Nasser who played a major role in fighting for its independence.
Abraham immigrated to London in 2002; and since then, he has managed to carve his name in British and international cinema. In 2015, he was named “Actor of the year” by Joe Bol Exquisite magazine.
Abraham also took part in the official competition of Casablanca Film Festival in the feature films category with two British films in 2015: The Truth Is and Mia Changed. He is currently launching his career in Egypt, and in this exclusive interview with Egypt Today, Abraham speaks about his debut, the many obstacles he has faced, and his experience preparing for Nasser’s role.
Tell us more about your preparations for your role in the CNN docudrama Jerusalem.
I read a lot about Nasser, watched a lot of documentaries about him, everything that was filmed or televised about him. I read books, especially by writers who were close to Nasser like Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, to put my hands on all the keys to Nasser’s personality; what made it, what shaped it. I also studied his physical movement and speech to try to convey his huge charisma.
The preparation period was very tough because a lot of incidents occurred at that time. Whether you agree with him or not, Nasser was a unique leader in every sense of the word; he was the action and the whole world was the reaction. He was unpredictable; [it was] very hard to understand what was on his mind. All this makes anyone’s job to imitate him very difficult.
Some Egyptian stars have already played Nasser’s character, such as the late megastar Ahmed Zaki, Khaled El-Sawy; and in TV drama Magdy Kamel. Were you influenced by the performance of any of them? Are you afraid of the comparison?
They are acclaimed Egyptian stars; and they all did a great job especially the late iconic actor Ahmed Zaki. But I wasn’t influenced by their performances because I did it my very own way, and the audience will realize that when they watch the docudrama. No, I am not afraid of the comparison because each one of us puts his identity inside his performance of the character, each has his own acting style and even the nature of the projects is different. They presented two movies and TV series, while I played Nasser’s role in a docudrama.
The CNN docudrama tackles the history of Jerusalem and the most important characters that affected it negatively or positively such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan and former Defense Minister of Israel Moshe Dayan. Of course you know how critical it is to tackle this part of history. ... The plot is objective, credible and you see it presenting the truth without any kind of bias.
I believe that the plot is very credible from what I read, at least my part in the documentary was very objective, even when they spoke about President Nasser they were fair. Besides, the project is about the city of Jerusalem itself, not mainly about people, so no focus or spotlight on a particular character.
How did you start your journey as an actor?
I started my acting journey in England almost 20 years ago. Back in 2002, when I established my career in the UK, I started by presenting myself to agencies all around; then, I started to get different opportunities between acting and modeling little by little.
How do you work on enhancing your performance from one role to the other?
I just dive completely into each and every character I play, completely losing myself and my soul in it. I get into the core of the character’s spirit so I keep it fresh; and I have never imitated anyone else’s performance so nobody can ever compare my performance with others, because I don’t follow the usual old schools of acting nor the traditional methods and techniques.
Most Arab and Egyptian actors prefer to start their careers in their countries or region first, then aim for an international career, but you did the opposite. Why?
My father was very conservative and he strongly opposed my wish to become an actor. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become an accountant because he was a very successful accountant and used to work for a number of international companies in Egypt, Japan, Saudi Arabia, France and the United Arab Emirates. The majority of my mum’s family lives in London so I told my dad that I wanted to move to London to work there. I started my acting career in England, after I had graduated from Egypt with a bachelor of accounting and business administration back in 1999 and finished my military service in the Egyptian army, which is something that made me a proud Egyptian.
I pursued my career in England which was not by all means an easy thing in the beginning. My dad, before his death and after he had seen the achievements I made in the artistic field, told me that he was so proud of me and admitted that I was right.
You were honored at the 10th edition of the Casablanca International Film Festival in 2015 as a successful Arab representative abroad. Tell us more about that and about the other awards that you have received.
The first big award that was a surprise for me was the “actor of the year” in 2015 from Joebol Exquisite magazine in the UK. I received the honorary accolade, after a tough competition with a number of acclaimed actors. I was speechless and thanked God a lot for it. It was a great surprise and a push for me to do more and to work even harder.
The award came after 15 years of pursing my career as an actor in the UK. It was an honorable recognition for the very hard work I have done, for every drop of sweat, every doubt I fought, and all the naysayers I had to face.
The journey was not at all easy; and it was full of obstacles.
I received a second award in 2015 as well, but this time in the beautiful Moroccan city Casablanca from Casablanca International Film Festival. I was selected the best international actor of Arab origin. Along with me in the same festival, there was the great actor Mostafa Shaaban and the lovely actress Wafaa El-Hakeem. It was an unforgettable moment when my name was announced as a winner preceded by the word Egyptian. It really was an amazing feeling.
You performed voiceovers for all the Arab characters in the film Aladdin. Tell us more about this experience and your career as a voiceover artist.
Aladdin’s voiceover experience was great. I was nominated by Aladdin director Guy Ritchie’s assistant, then Ritchie himself chose me to perform all the Arabic characters’ voices in the film.
It was an honor for me to be part of this great successful movie. I loved the fact that Ritchie selected a genuine Arab cast, it made his film so credible and a real genuine masterpiece, unlike other movies. I was chosen based on my previous voiceover experiences in films and adverts, like my role in Afua’s Diary where I played the lead role of Alan Freeman. It was my debut in the British cinematic field and for that role I got the recognition and the awards.
You faced numerous difficulties at the beginning of your acting career; how did you manage to overcome them?
This question is the most emotional one for me. It was not easy to establish my career as an actor in the UK. I had to start from scratch in every sense of the word. First, I had to develop and enhance my English language, and that took some time.
But I have learned the best and the most important lesson in my life which is to be patient while pursuing my dreams and goals, and that everything takes its time. Then, I had to start to become familiar with the art industry in England. But the most difficult part of it was trying to learn how to master the English way of acting, which is completely different from our Middle Eastern and Mediterranean acting techniques and culture, in terms of emotions expressions, body language, facial expressions, and so on. The way we solve problems, the way we think all had to be changed. With patience and hard work I managed to overcome all these obstacles.
Ahl El-Shar is the name of your first project in Egypt. Tell us more about this project; and to what extent are you enthusiastic to debut your acting career in Egypt?
This project is very promising and houses a notable group of Egyptian stars, such as Nihal Anbar, Ahmed Abd El Aziz, Hady El Gayar, Fadya Abd El Ghany, Ahmed Khaled Saleh and Hanady Mehanna. It is directed by the great Hany Ismail and produced by Ahmed El Zawawy and Act Art Egypt company. [We’re waiting for Synergy] to give the green light and I really hope [we can kickstart] this project so that I can finally participate in an Egyptian drama and present something to the Egyptian audience.
What is your dream role?
My dream role hasn’t happened yet, and you know what? I actually enjoy every single role I am playing and I consider them all my dream roles. It will not be easy for me to say which is my dream role. I believe people will be able more to tell which one they consider my [best performance]. But my main dream is to work with all the big names in the industry, internationally and in Egypt as well. I do have a personal wish which is to work with great director Christopher Nolan because I am a big fan of all his work.
What is the role that you consider a milestone in your career?
The role that I consider a milestone in my career is still yet to come.
Tell us more about your relationships with Arab and Egyptian stars. Who are your friends among Egyptian celebrities?
I have a lot of Egyptian superstar friends such as Amir Karara, Ahmed Abd El-Aziz, Dr. Ayman El-Shiwy, Nada Basyouni, Wafaa El-Hakeem, theatrical director Mazen El-Gharabawy, Diaa Abd El-Khalek, the great director Sameh Abd El-Aziz, Nour Mahmoud, Mahmoud Fares, Mohamed Mahmoud Abd El-Aziz. Also Ahmed El-Sakka, we’ve spoken occasionally.
Which international stars with whom you’ve worked have influenced your career?
I’ve worked with so many big names and learned a lot from them, such as Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dame Helen Mirren and Bruce Willis. Willis especially taught me how to be very natural while acting as he usually does it superbly. Also, I worked with Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem. I have met before my idol Al Pacino who gave me all the best advice technically and spiritually, which helped me to master my skills and to always be ready to dive into the characters I am embodying.