From a humble beginning impersonating friends and family, and acting out small scenarios with his siblings, a passion and shining career ignited. Mohamed Farrag gained a decade worth of experience and knowledge from the stage, as many great actors have done, and was handpicked by superstar Ahmed Helmy and director Ahmed Galal from the wildly popular local theatre play Qahwa Sadda to star in his breakout role as Karim in Alf Mabrook. We sat down to chat with the charismatic actor about his beginnings, his role in the Ramadan series Aho Da Elly Saar, and his predictions for the World Cup.
CWM: Tell us about your beginnings in theatre, how did that influence your career?
MF: My career started on the stage, in college. I learned so much about the foundations of acting during that time, how to respect your work and people you work with, how to be dedicated to the role no matter how tired you are, how to conserve your energy and carry on against the obstacles, and how to properly study a character.
How does the stage differ from film and television work?
In all three mediums, I am an actor, but every medium has its techniques and the attitude you approach the work with. I can’t act a role the same way on stage as I do on camera, it will come off as too exaggerated. On stage, I have to act with my entire face and body and project my voice a certain way so it reaches the audience. On film, the acting is subtler. In all cases, I must enjoy my work so that satisfaction translates to the audience, because my job is to entertain the person watching my work. If they don’t enjoy my work, then the job isn’t a success.
How was the experience of working alongside the actor who discovered you, Ahmed Helmy?
This was the first role that gave me the opportunity to be seen as an actor, working in a movie with a superstar like Ahmed Helmy. I am eternally grateful to have been chosen by him and the director to star in this film. I was a young man just acting in independent theatre before that. I was so nervous the first day of filming, but I managed to cover that up really well. If I messed up, my chance would vanish.
Tell us a bit about how you prepared for your role as Aly in Aho Da Elly Saar.
This was a totally new challenge for me as an actor, because the show takes place over a long period of time and it required me to portray a musician in four different stages of his life – in his 20s, 30s, 50s, and 70s. My inspiration for Aly was Sayed Darwish. It’s a very artistic and sentimental series, and it required me to learn music! I learned how to play oud and sing a bit more professionally than I did before. I also had to learn how to portray an older man to pull off Aly in his old age. I never watch my work before the finished product is out, so I was concerned how well I was portraying the character, but I hope I succeeded well in making him believable at all the stages in his life.
What gave you the stamina and strength to overcome the challenges of breaking into Egyptian cinema?
As a person, I’m a risk taker. I like challenges, even if the easy way is right there. So this pressure was always there, even in the world of theatre. The theatre made me tough, and it does that to any actor, it creates a thick skin. So I’m lucky to have had that background to give me the drive and character to deal with the challenges of an actor.
What advice can you give young up-and-coming actors who want to break into the industry?
This can be a soul crushing industry; it’s one of toughest jobs. The industry in Egypt can stomp on potential and dreams, although it is in essence a noble and creative job. Anyone who loves it needs to really fight for it and have patience, intelligence, good judgment, and the ability to put up with a lot of disappointment. If you want to become an actor, you need to get out there and get involved in acting workshops, practice, get involved in the theatre at your university or college. There is so much potential out there, and all the acting greats like Daniel Day Lewis, started in theatre. Read, watch cinema, travel, get inspired and feed your passion.
How do you feel Egyptian cinema is progressing and developing now in comparison to Western cinema?
I feel like even though we have serious challenges in how Egyptian cinema and talent is managed and developed, things are getting better creatively. The roles and storylines are getting much better in this current decade. Our generation of scriptwriters, actors, directors have tons of potential and talent. Drama is being shaped differently, the stories are more complex, the cinematography is improving, the directors and actors are using different methodologies to translate emotions and ideas onto the screens. We are doing great work behind and in front of the camera.
Who would you love to work with?
Unfortunately, the actor I would have loved to work with the most is no longer with us. I would have loved to work with Ahmed Zaki, to be standing in front of him. I adore him. Or Khaled Saleh, or Mahmoud AbdelAziz. Currently, the greats like Adel Imam and Yehia el Fakharany. I’d love to work with Mona Zaki. With Yousra again, with Ahmed Helmy again. I’d love to work with many actors I worked with before.
Who are your mentors in this industry?
The late Hussein Mahmoud. He wasn’t well known, but he was my professor in college and he taught me so much about the craft. He took me as a lump of flesh and molded me into what I am now. Also the director Tamer Mohsen and Mr. Khaled Galal, the director of the acting workshop at the Cairo Opera House. Last but not least, like so many Egyptians, Mohamed Salah! I adore him and have been following him since the very beginning of his career. He’s an amazing person and inspires me so much.
What are your predictions for the World Cup?
I love football and played the sport for a long time, I started playing and training in a youth club in Sayeda Zeinab and made it all the way to Al Ahly Club. I’m planning on going to Russia to watch the World Cup, but I can’t stay the whole time due to work. But I’m so excited to cheer Mo Salah and the rest of the team right there in person.
How do you manage to stay fit while you’re working such long hours?
Working a job like this, you have to carve out time to recover and maintain your stress levels. I practice yoga, and I’ve studied it. I try to go to the gym, but it’s tough to make it there with my schedule. I try to be healthy by cycling also.
What other projects do you have coming up in the future?
I’m in pre-production on a film that will hopefully be coming out early 2019. It is a dramatic role directed by superstar Sherif Arafa and I’ll be starring alongside Amir Karara and other great actors. The story itself is a meaty and cool plotline.
Social media – love it, hate it?
I used to hate it, but now I see the good in it. It can be used for great causes.
Who is closest to you?
Not many people … the girl I love, my two sisters. I love female energy.
What are your hobbies?
Playstation! Watching movies, plays. I’d love to attend a play abroad. Cycling, yoga, and riding horses.
What’s your favorite travel destination?
I love to travel, any time and anywhere, but of course some locations are closer to my heart. I love the Far East and certain European locales. I love to be in nature – beach, camping, hiking. I love to disconnect.
Football and MMA.
Daniel Day Lewis and Tom Hardy.
Favorite childhood movie?
El Mashbooh with Adel Imam, and El Horoob with Ahmed Zaki.
Photography: Sarah Rafea – Luminism Studio
Stylist: Khaled Azzam
Assistant Stylist: Mona
Make Up: Zico
Clothes: Fashion TV