Interview with Yasser El-Masry: Portraying President Nasser in El-Gamaa 2
By Sherif M. Awad
Background and Interest in Arts
Regardless of the positive and negative criticism that El-Gamaa 2 received, the series 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 series was the Jordanian Yasser El-Masry, who embodied the role of Egyptian President Nasser with great skill. In 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, my family and I returned to our home country, Jordan, in 1990 when I was nineteen years old. My childhood was like any other child’s: I grew up under the guidance of both a loving father and a mother who raised me and my six siblings with tolerance, patience, and diligence. My journey with folk arts and folklore started on stage when I was sixteen years old. Accidentally, I was a substitute for a major actor at the Second Festival for Youth Theater 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 2007. During this time, 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 have worked together on five more TV series that I am proud of.
Influence of Music Studies
ET: How did your music studies influence your practice as an actor?
YM: There is no doubt that both my study of music and my specialization in folk arts were scientific bases for my future practice, which helped me gain experience until acting became the predominant art in my life.
Important Stops in Career
ET: You worked with many important TV directors during the last twenty years. Which do you consider the most important stops in your career?
YM: Honestly, if I talked about the many artistic experiences I had with those directors who are stars in the world of television, many pages would not suffice to express the extent of benefit in shaping my artistic tools. There were many stops that characterized my beginnings across Jordan and the Arabian Gulf, including my starring role as the
title character in the 2007 series Nemr bin Adwan, which received a positive reception still echoing in the minds of the audience. Produced by the Arab Telemedia Group Talal Awamleh in Jordan, the series was the start of further collaboration with another historical series: Malek Ibn El-Reib directed by Mohamed Lotfy.
Role in the Film Kaf El-Kamar
ET: How do you qualify your co-starring role in the 2011 Egyptian film Kaf El-Kamar by Khaled Youssef?
YM: 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 such a high-class production like Khaled Youssef’s. Acting in the film 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 put me on the Egyptian art map, reflecting 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 series 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.
Portraying President Nasser in El-Gamaa 2
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 the Arab audience as they have been very close to bringing back this great character.
As for me, I received 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 tense. I studied the text, which had great dramatic details based on history. To portray the character, we researched the physical details and various moments of Nasser: his calmness, serenity, anger, and emotions in each scene, which intertwined with the whole text. I must acknowledge the efforts made by the director of the series, Sherif El-Bendary, and our acting coaches, Osama Barakat and Youssef Noman, who helped me perfect the accent and the tone of Nasser. After watching many videos, speeches, events, and documentaries, and
reading many newspaper clippings, I believe that I have succeeded in embodying the spirit of Nasser to a large extent.
When shooting started, all the actors, including myself, had already learned their lines as we used to do in theater. I must also mention that makeup artist Mohamed Fahmy and director of photography Victor Credi helped me get closer and closer to Nasser. El-Gamaa 2 had many difficult scenes written with a heavy caliber, even those without dialogue. The most challenging scenes were the El-Manshiyeh scenes when the attempt on Nasser’s life took place and the final Nasser scenes of the last episode.