Multi-Faceted and Multi-Talented
By Francesca Sullivan and Hana Nassar
Just by stepping inside Ahmed Mekky’s Giza office you get an immediate sense of what makes this intriguing and immensely talented director, actor and musician tick. The interior is a riot of three-dimensional images, a mélange of styles that could have come straight from a film set, along with a copious number of well-thumbed books. His unique persona and high energy lifestyle is reflected through his rugged combat boots and simple black T-shirt, right down to the distinctive bird symbol on a ring he constantly wears. This is a man Cairo West Magazine had been eager to meet, and he proved every bit as fascinating as we expected.
CWM: You have just had your birthday, congratulations! Do you consider yourself a typical Gemini?
AM: They say that Gemini has a double personality – well that’s definitely an understatement in my case – I have 1,800 personalities!
Director, actor, writer and rapper. Which role is closest to your heart, or do they all feed off of each other?
Music was always my first love, I played the keyboard and always loved classical music, but if you want these in order of importance, then being a director comes first as it enables all of the other things. By the way, I was also a keen artist when I was young, drawing portraits and caricatures. Art was really important to me, learning about the use of light and shade. My first cinematic inspiration was watching Braveheart – the first time I saw it was without sound, and I realized, watching carefully, with how much skill each frame was visually constructed.
I am also, as a director, especially concerned with getting the best out of each actor’s performance – because I know what it’s like being in front of the camera. Also being able to place each actor in the right role to bring out what they are capable of.
How important is music in your life?
I was inspired musically as a teenager by ska, reggae and early funk – the original music of James Brown was a big influence. I love classical music as well. I grew up partly in the UAE and we had neighbors there who were really creatively inspiring; they introduced me to a lot of different kinds of music. (Through them my brother also developed his interest in interior design.) I also hung out with African-American friends in the UAE who influenced my musical tastes.
What attracted me to rap was its real-ness, the way the lyrics describe true to life situations, relationships, a mix between the emotional and the physical, difficulties as well as happiness. More recently the rap world has become more focused on money, it has become commercialized, and I don’t relate to it as much. But I’ve enjoyed rap with inane lyrics sometimes, and even frivolous subjects can be interesting – ‘Facebooky’ started out as a joke-song, and yet it’s relevant.
Controversial subjects can be tackled through rap, served up with a catchy melody. Eight of my friends died through drug abuse, and ‘Qatr al Hayah ’ on drug addiction was one of the songs I’m proudest of as it actually affected people emotionally and maybe encouraged some addicts to seek help. It had more impact than any anti-drug campaign. Ex-addicts have come up to me in the street and told me the song had encouraged them to quit drugs. My favorite though was ‘Ayam Zaman’.
How do you manage to keep rolling out ideas so creatively? What inspires you?
Life, the real world, what I see, stories from just about anywhere, I’m lucky to be Egyptian. According to many books I’ve read, the greatest diversity of characters is found in Egypt, Latin America and India. I read a lot. I have friends from all levels of society. I used to hang out at train stations observing or recording people, asking about their lives, watching their body language, the way they would act, I’m fascinated with what makes people tick. I also love being around animals, some of my best ideas come when I’m with them and I kind of go into another world. Breeding pigeons is one of my passions. Another one is boxing; I sometimes still box in the backstreet clubs abroad.
Which do you enjoy working on most as an actor, full-length films or series?
TV series are a lot more tiring and take much longer. You can finish shooting a film in a few weeks. But my series have had an impact, like El Kebir Awy, which aired several Ramadans in a row. People started to associate me with that character. As a kid growing up I always remember watching the Fawazir in Ramadan, with Nelly and Sherihan – light-hearted entertainment. That’s why I wanted to do El Kebir Awy, something warm and funny.
What in your personality has made you a natural for comedy roles?
Actually I see myself in both comedy and serious roles equally.
Is there a particular role that you would love to interpret?
I’m mostly attracted to play all types of people; every person has his own dimensions that intrigue me and motivate me to digest each character.
Is there any one director that has influenced your work more than others?
Not only one. Tony Scott, Guy Ritchie, Oliver Stone (for his scripts as well as direction), Alan Parker and Quentin Tarantino.
After studying to be a director how did you transition to becoming an actor?
Aged 22, I directed a five-minute short movie called Al Hassa el Sabb’a (The Seventh Sense). Two years later I was asked to make the film starring Ahmed El Fishawy longer and more accessible – it was my first real break, and I love a challenge. The acting came almost by accident; I was supposed to direct Tamer W Shawkeya when the actor playing Haitham’s role couldn’t take the part – that’s when I stepped in. After the sitcom came out I got a call from Adel Imam offering me a role in Morgan Ahmed Morgan. Things really took off from there.
What were stand-out moments for you while filming your Ramadan series Khalsana b’ Sheyaka?
The hardest thing about creating the series was that there was no reference for it anywhere else – most series that are comparable in concept outside Egypt are not comedy.
It’s had a big impact on my life, maybe because it was a breakaway character for me to play and got me out of my typecast role in El Kebir. After five seasons of El Kebir, it was important for me to find the right vehicle to show the audience a different side of me. It’s always risky – but in the end you have to go ahead and do what you feel is right for you as an actor, not what the public dictates. Even though El Kebir fans were disappointed there wasn’t another installment this year, it was time to move on and make a change.
What do you have in the pipeline at the moment?
I‘ve been offered a lot of new film scripts, but right now I’m more interested in writing and producing more songs.
Night owl or early bird?
It depends on my mood – sometimes I’m up early, sometimes I work all night.
Favorite way to relax?
Spending time with my birds!
I like all food! I love Egyptian oxtail and tourly, but cooked with minimum fat – I eat quite lean.
Getaway holiday destination?
Most recent book read?
The book that I almost read. I asked a friend to get me a book from overseas, on how to improve your memory. It is a major issue for me. The book arrived and before I had a chance to read it between lending it to friends, it got lost.
Best advice ever received?
You reap what you sow…if you put yourself in a bad situation, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t end well!
I find the gym boring – I prefer boxing.