Egyptian actor and film-maker Amr Waked, equally at home in Cairo and Hollywood, says the time is ripe for a host of other Arab stars to make it big abroad. Waked, an established celebrity in Egypt, has also appeared in a string of global hits alongside George Clooney in Syriana, Kristin Scott Thomas in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Scarlett Johansson in this summer’s sci-fi extravaganza Lucy.
His latest venture brings him back to Cairo where he plays a gangster taking on an organ trafficking ring in El Ott, or The Cat. The movie, which he also produced, premiered at the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival this week. The film is his second collaboration with director Ibrahim al-Batout. The first was Winter of Discontent which dealt with Egypt’s 2011 uprising. Waked was heavily involved in the street protests that eventually toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and also took part in the 2013 protests that led to Islamic president Mohamed Mursi being overthrown. The actor spoke about his latest role and why more Arab talent is finding international success.
Your latest movie El Ott explores some grim realities like organ trafficking, kidnapping and organized crime. Do you feel the situation in Egypt now is as sombre as the movie?
The problems in Egypt date far back, not just since the revolution, three years ago, but have been prevalent for 60 years and for years of colonisation before that. When you have all these years, and a lot of the population learning from their parents to accept that they can’t get more rights, it will take more than two, or three years to convince them that they can ask for more and get more. It will however happen eventually.
How does making foreign movies differ from making them back at home?
It is not different at all, especially when I am working on meaningful films like El Ott with Batout. Nationalities are not important. Cinema is one religion and I think everyone belongs to one religion and one family. I don’t see it any other way.
Filming is like praying, you go in the morning, dress up, get ready for the role, then you imagine things in your head to be that role and then you come back out. It’s always the same in every production, no matter where you are in the world.
Why do you think we are seeing a lot of Arab actors in international films?
Well, the world is getting smaller. I didn’t have to go to Hollywood to act there like in Omar Sharif’s time, for example. I’m living in Cairo, go do my role and come back. I don’t have to move there to do it. Also, the world is concerned with us now, and looking for stories about Arabs so that is part of it. The young Arabs in the business are also very talented and they can see how they can easily be at par with the world.
What is your goal, more success abroad, or at home?
My ultimate ambition is to make an Arab movie that is seen everywhere and makes hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s the producer in me speaking.