We caught up with Egyptian-British rising star Amir El Masry during the 42nd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), where his most recent film, Limbo, has received three significant awards. Our chat with El Masry talks about Limbo, a future Netflix production, and his favorite Egyptian food.
By Aliaa Elsherbini
How does it feel to have your movie Limbo participate in the 42nd edition of the CIFF?
Super exciting, we entered Cannes, TIFF, and London Film Festival and we won awards at Saint Sebastian as well, but there is no greater feeling than participating with a movie that you’ve worked so hard on to your home country festival.
Limbo is a Western production that conveys the struggle of refugees from our region, how important was it for you to take part in this film?
Initially, I was reluctant to take on a role that addresses the refugee crisis. Because more often than not, you see films about this issue where the savior is a white character who rescues people from their war-torn life.
But with this script, Ben Sharrock really puts Omar, the character that I play, into the forefront of the story, he takes his own decisions and I have never read a script about the refugee crisis where I have laughed and cried at the same time.
He really makes it relatable, even to a Western audience. It’s important to bridge that gap between the West and the East because this is a global problem not just a Middle Eastern problem, it’s everybody’s responsibility.
Speaking of relatability, do you think that asylum seekers and refugees would relate to this movie?
What’s great about the film is that there is a constant reminder that Omar would rather be back home and it’s really important because more often than not you get a sense from other films that they (refugees) are taking up space.
But in this film, we are constantly reminded how rich in culture Syria is. And that is something that I love, having that in place, especially to a Western audience, it shows how much we’ve got our own thing going on.
The movie tackles the theme of “identity” and you were born in Egypt but raised in London, UK. Did you ever struggle with your identity?
Definitely. I sometimes felt that I was too Egyptian to be British and too British to be Egyptian, but in my core and in my heart I feel very Egyptian. My parents couldn’t be more Egyptian, and I have come to embrace having those two kinds of cultures combining together. I get to pick the best out of both.
You have been focusing lately on Western and international films, but you made your debut in Egypt years ago with Ramadan Mabrouk Abo El Alamein Hamouda and El Talata Yashtaghalounaha. Are you planning on doing more projects in the Middle East?
I would absolutely love to come back and do something in Egypt. In fact I was offered a Ramadan 30-episode series, but I had to pull out due to a scheduling conflict with a couple of projects I am doing next year. I was gutted but I am considering stuff and I am always looking at coming back.
What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
I have an upcoming Netflix series called The One, where I play a character called Benjamin and it’s my first lead in a TV series and it’s in the UK. I feel that there is progress there, in the sense of being stereotyped but regardless of playing someone British, Egyptian or Arab, it’s all about the character and the story and whether they are in the crux of the story, the main focal point or if they move the story forward in some way, that’s what’s important to me.
I also have a new independent film and hopefully, I will try and bring that here in Cairo. And maybe a play, we’ll see as theatre is in a very tight rope at the moment because of the pandemic. But hopefully, it can survive and make a comeback because I love the stage and theatre.
First of all congratulations, and second of all how does it feel to win a BAFTA Breakthrough Award?
To win a BAFTA breakthrough and to be one of the five actors that were chosen as the actors of the future is a huge privilege and honor. It’s a very tough industry to crack and it’s been very hard abroad. Even though they see me as a Londoner, I still don’t look like your typical Brit so I had to put double the effort in the room when I was in casting and sitting around blonde and blue-eyed actors.
I have to pay thanks to all the casting directors and directors who put a lot of faith in me and Ben Sharrock, the director/writer of Limbo, and the producers BFI and MUBI who put my name forward as one of the actors of the future in BAFTA. It’s a recognition and it puts you on a worldwide platform, and I am super proud.
Your favorite Egyptian dish?
Molokheya and duck.
Song that you have on repeat at the moment?
Ekhwaty! That one, what’s it called?
Sea or mountain?
Theatre or cinema?
Don’t do this to me. Cinema though.
Winter or summer?
I am a Leo, so of course I am going to say summer.
Dreams or reality?
Makes dreams a reality.
Watch the video interview
Photography: Raghda Elsayed
Stylist: Maria Fathy
Makeup: Yomna Katary
Location: Grand Nile Tower
PR: Marwa elsawy