Abbas Aboul Hassan Speaks Introspectively on Film and the Art of Living a Good Life
Actor, scriptwriter, designer, man of many facets and considerable depth, the often reclusive Abbas Aboul Hassan opened up recently to Cairo West Magazine about what drives him, what defines him, and his recent role in El Kenz (The Treasure).
On El Kenz and working with director Sherif Arafa
“Not much information has been leaked about the plot of this film. It is an epic, period film of grand proportions, and actually had to be cut into two parts. The story is by Sherif Arafa himself, with the script by Abdelrehim Kamal, and bridges four different eras, from Pharaonic times, through the Mameluke or Ottoman period, the 1930s and then on to the 1970s. I can’t give away the plot, but the 30s and 70s periods complement each other in that they have the same set of characters.
My role is during the Ottoman period, along with actors Mohamed Ramadan, Ruby, and other well-known names. This part is actually loosely based on an Egyptian folklore story, about Ali Zeeba, considered to be the ‘Robin Hood’ of the Middle East. I play the villain, and the father of Ruby. The storyline develops over 15 years, with the hero Ali Zeeba, played by Mohamed Ramadan, falling in love with the character played by Ruby. Of course, things get complicated!
There is such a large cast, with so many actors all working under the umbrella of one man, director Sherif Arafa. Many of the characters don’t meet in the movie, as it extends over so many eras. It was actually fun to inhabit a historical character in a period piece. The use of wigs, makeup and costumes actually makes it much easier to step into a totally different type of character.
I was very excited to work with Arafa again, it had been around 14 years since we worked together in a movie where I also played a villain. It was important to me that he could see how I have grown and evolved as an actor. He wanted to experiment with me, but I asked him to let me stay fresh and trust in my interpretation of the role and then see on set if he wanted to make any changes. I was flattered when he complimented me during the shoot, as he is a pragmatic person who expects everyone to do his/her job and does not give out praise lightly.
I had gone into the film more with a desire to enjoy it, rather than stressing out and being anxious. I felt that if I felt comfortable and enjoyed acting the role, that would transmit through to the audience. And this is what happened.
It is important to have a strong figure on set, like the captain of a ship. Someone who knows what he wants from the cast and crew, and how to get it. This makes it a pleasure to work with Arafa. I have also worked with other talented directors like Marwan Hamed and Daoud Abdel Sayed, who have confidence and the ability to express their vision. It makes a world of difference to work with strong-minded people who are not afraid to experiment or deal with other strong characters.
I am very excited about the launch of this movie, it has one of the biggest budgets in the Middle East and I hope it is the success it deserves to be.”
On working with Ghada Abdel Razek in Ard Gaw
“It was my first experience of working on a Ramadan series with 30 episodes, especially with a mega-star like Ghada Abdel Razek. It was my first time working as long and as hard with a group of actors and crew whom I didn’t initially know. As a professional actor you need to be able to work outside of your comfort zone.
On the first day of the shoot I had to go to Abdel Razek’s character’s home, to propose to her. I was with seven actors I didn’t know, with a producer, director and cinematographer I didn’t know, so it was rewarding that I was able to play the role well on the very first day. I think it was one of the times when I prepared for a character more than any other.
Acting is a cumulative work in terms of experience, you learn about the tools of acting and how you function as an actor; you discover the acting machine inside you. You need to be ‘in the moment’, even when working long hours in a difficult environment, on a hot set, for take after take. At the end of the day it is the best footage that you will be judged on. Nobody who sees it will realize how difficult it was, what you had to go through.
Abdel Razek is a hugely popular star, and very professional. By working so closely with her I actually managed to steal a few tips from her in acting techniques. You learn about lighting, about how to position yourself in front of the camera, a lot of technical points.”
On Acting vs. scriptwriting
“My heart was originally in writing, but then again, writing and acting are very similar. The actor plays a role; the writer, if he is a genuine writer, must create characters who have their own voice. To do this he must have lived and inhabited every character.
A lot of my hunger for acting has been fulfilled enormously through the writing process, and also as I am a loner by nature, it suited me more to write than to be on set with crowds of people and having to deal with many things. I would rather work on my own.”
On acting as a career
“When I first started acting I was amazed by the amount of time actors have to wait aimlessly for up to 16 hours until they are required to actually be on set for half an hour. The waiting was killing me.
In order to be an actor you have to love acting, and do nothing in life but acting. All the effort, all the work, and long hours. I wasn’t ready for that. It was only recently that I wanted to discover how far I could go as an actor, how I could develop my tools, my focus, span and become a more genuine actor.”
On fashion and venturing into business
“As a fashion designer I first worked for my mother, one of the all time great designers of women’s traditionally inspired costumes and galabeyas. I worked with her for 17 years, and I went on to utilize that experience and create my Fugoura line. But, because of the difficult times of the revolution and my having no head for business, I lost enough money in a 3-year span to drop the whole thing.”
On living to the full and self-actualization
“Balancing a life of acting, scriptwriting, dog-breeding and my other passions is not as difficult as you would think. A long time ago I overcame the cliché of thinking you have to be the best at whatever you do. It is more important to fully appreciate what you are doing and be true to yourself. Each element should affect your life, develop you and help you evolve to the next stage of who you are becoming. That is easy of course if you are single like me, and not carrying family responsibilities. I am concerned more with living and am not burdened by a need for real estate or material possessions. That does not make me happy, or feel complete. I am able to exercise my freedom and live my experience, the pleasure I get outweighs that.
Having more than a comfortable life, a good life with a roof over my head doesn’t interest me. I have friends who are extremely wealthy, even billionaires, and they are miserable. Money cannot guarantee happiness, and I believe that fulfillment must come from within. Your image of yourself must come from what is inside you, not what you see through other people’s eyes. I want to be able to look in the mirror every night and be happy with who I see. Any acts of courage are for myself, I am my own audience.”
- How do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
- What you hate about yourself?
- What you hate about people?
- The best virtue?
- What do you hate the most?
- Favorite colour?
- Another job?
- Best food?
- If you could go back in time?
I would do parcour
- Skill you wished you had?
- Era you wished you lived in?
- A deficiency you wouldn’t change?
Flight of thought
- A deficiency you defeated?
Pressure of speech
- What is your biggest goal?
- What moves you?
- What impresses you?
- What do you fear?
- Your biggest passion?
All sorts of small life discoveries
Extreme heights, or very closed and low-ceilinged places
- You admire?
A blessing eventually ending in a spell
Is the hub holding your soul
Is life’s number 1 gift
- Your love?
Somewhere out there
Mohamed Nagy and Mohamed ElMansy Andeel
- Countries to visit?
The rest of the world