An established businessman with thriving construction companies, Mohamed Ali started in the industry of cinema with a serious push from his friends. Urged to partake in acting workshops due to his strength of character and charisma, he quickly landed bit parts as strong men in TV series and films. Most recently he secured a role as police officer Serag in the hit Ramadan series Tayea’. We sat down with the actor in his plush poolside garden to learn more about his roots, beginnings, and what the future holds.
CWM: Tell us more about how you got your start in the movie industry.
MA: I had a lot of apprehension about getting involved in acting, even before my first acting workshop I kept second-guessing whether I should go. I ended up enrolling under a false identity and creating a double life for myself, just so I could get honest feedback from my colleagues and the acting coach! It ended up becoming too challenging to keep the two lives separate; so I dropped out halfway through the course but my acting coach still submitted my name for auditions in a TV series. I went to audition with my friend from the course and ended up landing a part in the movie Al Qashash as an officer named Galal. Next came Al Me’addeya.
What was your experience like filming the role of El Raed Serag in Tayea’?
When they first approached me for the role and told me about the storyline and who was involved in the project, I immediately jumped onboard and signed. I didn’t even have to see the episodes they wanted to show me. The story involves causes I’m very passionate about, like preserving Egyptian heritage and protecting our antiquities, so I already felt close to the character of Serag – I felt like it was actually me on those pages saying those lines!
How did you prepare for the role?
When I say I felt close to him as a character, I mean it! I really didn’t even have to prepare in any way. Serag’s main concern and goal in life is to protect this nation’s antiquities and seek justice for those who trade illegally in Egyptian antiquities, even to the point that a part of the Ministry of Interior is against him and monitor him. In truth, for the past two years, I have also been completely preoccupied with the topic of Egyptian antiquities and protecting them from theft. I am a proud Egyptian and this is our legacy, we were number 1 in the world. I even have a painting in my home of myself dressed in Pharaonic warrior clothing.
Is the filming schedule on a Ramadan series tough on actors given the short time you have to prepare and get the series on air?
Honestly, it’s much tougher on the people working behind the camera. As an actor, it’s way less hectic compared to their work load. For actors, it’s just a lot of waiting around and possible boredom, but what is that in comparison?
You have been in a lot of action roles, a lot of police officers, do you feel more comfortable in these roles or is there something else you would like to try?
Yes, I get offered a lot of roles as police officers! (laughs) I would just like to take on any role with a backstory and some history to explore rather than just a strong man hitting people a lot. Someone with a family, experience, a life story. I would take a role as a bawab if there were a story to tell there.
Taking on those action roles requires you to stay in shape, too. What is your secret, how do you manage that with your busy schedule?
It runs in the family! My father was a world champion body builder and I grew up training along with my four brothers, so my mother was literally in the kitchen full-time feeding us dozens of eggs and roasted chickens. Fitness is a part of my life.
Who did you grow up admiring in terms of actors?
All the big action stars. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body builder and became an action star. Stallone got his big break in Rocky. These guys have had long careers over decades. What is not to admire? I’d love to do a big budget blockbuster like Con Air or Troy one day, it would be a dream.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Producing my own film! I wanted to make a movie where it was group effort with all the actors enjoying equal billing and importance in the story. I wanted to create a good action movie with heart. I felt like the parts I had played before didn’t have enough of a back-story and depth, so I wanted a chance to play a fully fleshed out character. I searched through scripts for about a year – many of the stories were too depressing, to the point that I even tried to write my own script to get to right! A friend of mine then told me about the script for El Bar El Tany and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a real human story, and it is so relatable. These people really do put their lives on the line, spend thousands and risk everything because they don’t have papers to travel. I lobbied Ali Idris to make the film with me and ultimately convinced him to give me the part of Saeed although they would have preferred to give the role to an actor with more experience than me!
What was filming a movie on this epic scale like?
This film was pitched to several production houses who passed on it, and there’s probably a big reason why. Filming at sea is extremely challenging and drowning a boat has actually never been done before in Egyptian cinema, so this was a major obstacle – both in organizing it and financially. We ended up having to squeeze the boat drowning scenes down as long as possible to save money, but it was still a huge undertaking. I don’t think I will ever produce another film! (laughs)
But the film ended up making it into the film festival circuit.
Yes, but I received a lot of backlash for personally financing the film unfortunately. There were also questions about me being on the poster alone, which was a bit silly, I was trying to strengthen the film’s standing.
Something you must do every day?
Lions and foxes.
Most used App?
Best holiday location?
Internationally, Amsterdam or Barcelona. Domestic, Marina.
Closest person to you?
Casual or formal?