With over 40 productions secured in his burgeoning career, there is no stopping Asser Yassin. The charismatic star has proven to be a leading man in every sense of the word and has a knack for choosing those perfect meaty characters. Good looking, sensitive, and sharp, Yassin is capable of portraying dark and tortured souls with a depth not many possess. We visited him in his private study for a lengthy chat about his latest project Diamond Dust.
CWM: What can you tell us about your role as Taha?
A.Y.: The movie introduces Taha as the primary caregiver for his handicapped father Hussien (played by Ahmed Kamal). Taha falls in a coma from a head injury upon witnessing the murder of his father and wakes up a week later as a different person. He has a shake in his hand, suffers from terrible migraines, can’t play the drums anymore, and he experiences minor seizures. Upon discovering and reading his father’s memoirs, he uncovers a new side to Mahroos he never knew existed. This leads Taha to discover new parts of himself and a new identity emerges.
Essentially, you were playing two roles within this film.
Yes, and grappling with the conflict within the two. This is a man who thought he was a rat and discovered that he has the might of a falcon! He transitions from being prey to being the predator.
This role relies heavily on a father-son dynamic and carrying on a legacy, how did this translate onto the screen?
The relationship between Taha and his father is intense, and we had to convey that in a small number of scenes. We used small details to illustrate and detail the exhaustive care and routine Taha went through every day for his father, for example, picking him up out of bed and wheeling him across the apartment, giving him the injections for his diabetes, showering him. It was important to show how repetitive the actions were until it became second nature, thousands of times over.
Did you read the book when it came out?
I read the script first, and then I attempted to read the book but didn’t finish it. I saw the character differently from the script versus the novel. They are two different mediums, there are elements and characters in the book that didn’t make it into the movie and I didn’t want that to influence my portrayal of the Taha I had read from the script pages. I will probably read the novel now that I’m finished shooting!
What did you do to prepare for the role? Were there any particular challenges involved?
I’ve been preparing for this role over 2 years and it required learning how to play the drums, losing 9 kilos, and changing my posture, because I needed to look unhealthy and weak. I needed to reach a state physically and psychologically where the character would blend into the background and go unnoticed.
I would say learning to play the drums so seamlessly was certainly a challenge. He isn’t a professional drummer, but has been playing for many years, so I needed it to look that way and it really adds to my performance when I reach this level of atonement with the character.
It is a pretty dark and twisty part, how did that affect your personal life and mood?
The psychological impact of preparing for this role was intense. Transforming from Taha to Asser and back again, sometimes there were residuals. Those who are very close to you are the ones who suffer, like my wife and family. I would go through phases of insomnia, hyperactivity, and anxiousness. My father noticed I was acting differently towards my mother, which was probably transference due to the nature of Taha’s feelings towards his mother.
Any other books you would love to see turned into films?
Neset Kelmet El Ser is a great book written by Hassan Kamal about Amr Khairy, one of Egypt’s legendary Taekwondo players. I used to play on the national team and was a national champ, so I’d love to see his story on the big screen. Khairy used to coach the Olympic team and the National team and was a world champion – he also led a very peculiar life and suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, so it’s an inspiring story.
What direction would you like to see Egyptian cinema and TV heading in?
I would love to see more of the genres I enjoy, like horror – I love zombie films – or musicals. I think the production costs on these types of movies are high, and the market response may not be great. I love comedy, and I’d like to do more comedic roles, but I’d like to see the type of comedy that is situational, witty, and with a touch of black comedy like Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. I loved Bashtery Ragel with Nelly Karim, for example.
Are there any roles you have turned down, and can you tell us why?
Yes, I’ve turned down roles many times. At the beginning of your career, you are plotting out a path and your criteria for selection is moving you towards a goal, which for me was to work with key people like Khairy Beshara or Dawood Abdel Sayed. Now the factors could range from positioning, age or maturity level, or the quality of script.
There are a lot more workshops being offered now in the field of film and theatre; do you consider this a worthwhile investment for any working or aspiring actor?
Definitely, it’s like going the gym for actors! You’re always discovering new things about yourself, and learning new techniques. Well-known actors work with acting coaches all the time.
What is the best way for young actors to forge their way in this very competitive industry?
It’s difficult to say, because the landscape changes so much over time. You can get yourself noticed through social media nowadays. I don’t really subscribe to the simplistic “follow your dreams” idea; you have to create a logical and practical plan. When I started, I gave myself a timeframe of one year to make it work and support myself from show business. You have to combine your artistic drive with the more practical side of things.
Favorite international destination?
That’s a very easy one – my wife!
Piece of advice?
Direction, production, and screenplay. If you are comfortable with two of the three elements, do the project
Daily habit that keeps you balanced?
A long shower.
Favorite childhood memory?
I have a terrible memory!
Feel good music?
Blues, Jazz, Swing.
Favorite TV show?
Best way to unwind?