by Sherif Awad
Regardless of the positive and negative criticism that El-Gamaa 2 received, the serial attracted many viewers across the Arab world and Egypt given its strong script and top performances reminiscent of perfect casting. One of the actors who excelled in the serial was the Jordanian Yasser El-Masry who embodied the role of Egyptian president Nasser with great skills. An interview:
ET: Can you tell us about your background and your first interest in arts?
YM: I was born in Kuwait where I grew up in its schools. Then, I and my family returned to our home country Jordan in the year 1990. I was nineteen years-old. My childhood was like any other child: I grew up under the guidance of both a loving father and a mother who raised me and my six siblings on tolerance, patience and diligence. God bless them… My journey with folk arts and folklore started on stage when I was sixteenth years-old. Accidentally, I was a substitute for a major actor at the Second Festival for Youth Theater that was organized by the Jordanian Ministry of Culture. It was my first major theatrical appearance in 1993, a journey that lasted for more than twenty years until the year 2007 ... And so, between the two paths in folk art and theater I performed up to 40 roles in serious plays. In 1996, I ventured into TV with my serial debut entitled Ors El-Sakkr (The Wedding Falcon) directed by Ahmed Deaibes to whom I owe my introduction to the world of television. So far, we worked together in five more TV serials that I am proud of.
ET: How did your music studies influenced your practice as an actor?
YM: There is no doubt that both my study of music my specialization in folk arts were scientific bases for my future practice that helped me to gain experience until acting became the predominating art in my life.
ET: You worked with many important TV directors during the last twenty years. Which you consider the most important stops in your career?
YM: Honestly, if I talked about the many artistic experiences that I had with those directors who are starts in the world of television, many pages would not suffice to express the extent of benefit in shaping my artistic tools. No doubt, there were many stops that characterized my beginnings across Jordan and the Arabian Gulf including my starring as the title character of the 2007 serial Nemr bin Adwan whose positive reception is still echoing in the minds of audience. Produced by the Arab Telemedia Group Talal Awamleh in Jordan, the serial was the start of further collaboration with another historical serial: Malek Ibn El-Reib directed by Mohamed Lotfy.
ET: How do you qualify your co-starring role in the 2011 Egyptian film Kaf El-Kamar by Khaled Youssef?
This film came when I was looking for a new artistic adventure after many years in TV drama. I did not think that my gateway to Egypt would be with a first high-class like Khaled Youssef. Acting in the film was like added years of experience to my career given its production values and the great ensemble cast. In performing my character Dahi and El-Kott, I learned how to build the history of the character in flesh, blood and feelings.
This film had a special methodology with its premise about five Upper-Egyptian brothers who went separate ways. As written by Nasser Abdel Rahman and directed by Khaled Youssef, I think that my casting in the film has put me on the Egyptian art map which reflected the importance of cultural exchange between Arab countries. I must also pay tribute to the late and great star of the film Khaled Saleh who was also keen on my success being a great brother on and off screen. God bless his soul…
In 2014, I returned to Egypt with the Ramadan serial Dahsha starring Yehia El-Fakharany as a character loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. It was a great acting experience playing the character Abou El-Yazeid against the character of Rabha, played by the great Hanan Motawe.
ET: How did you get your casting call for the role of Egyptian president Nasser in last Ramadan’s El-Gamaa 2? Did you have worries about comparisons with previous actors who approached the same role on film or TV?
YM: It was the great scriptwriter Waheed Hamed who nominated me for the role of president Gamal Abdel Nasser… Of course, I have watched the previous actors who played Nasser including the late and great Ahmed Zaky who made a great impression full of honesty and sincerity. All these actors had a good impact on Arab audience as they have been very close to bringing back this great character.
As for me, I got the script of El-Gamaa 2 fifty days before the start of the shooting. Hence, my research focused on the previous performances without feeling worried, concerned or tensed. I studied the text that had great dramatic details based on history. To portray the character, we researched the physical details and various Nasser’s moments: his calm, serenity, anger and emotion in each scene, which intertwined with the whole text. I must acknowledge the efforts made by the director of the serial Sherif El-Bendary and our acting coaches Osama Barakat and Youssef Noman who helped me to perfect the accent and the tone of Nasser. After watching many videos, speeches, events and documentaries and reading many newspaper clippings, I think that I have succeeded in impersonating the spirit of Nasser to a large extent.
When shooting started, all the actors including myself have already learned their lines like we used to do on theater. I must also mention that makeup artist Mohamed Fahmy and director of photography Victor Credi made me get closer and closer to Nasser. El-Gamaa 2 had many difficult scenes written with heavy caliber even those scenes without dialogue. The most difficult, were El-Manshiyeh scenes when the attempt on Nasser’s life took place and the final Nasser scenes of the last episode.