INTERVIEW: Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry talks about his international career

Hala El-Mawi, Sunday 23 Jul 2023

Following his success in Naqqash Khalid’s film In Camera (2023) which premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry talked to Al-Ahram Hebdo about his career in international cinema.

Amir El-Masry
Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry

Born in Cairo in 1990 and raised in London, El-Masry's career kicked off with roles in Egyptian films, earning him Best Young Actor at the Egyptian Oscars in 2009.

Graduating from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in 2013, he appeared in Jon Stewart's debut feature Rosewater and various acclaimed TV series before his breakthrough role in The Night Manager (2016), followed by Lost in London (2017), The State (2017) and Age Before Beauty (2018). In 2019 he landed a role in the Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker, and a year later in Ben Sharrock’s Limbo.

El-Masry was cast in the fifth season of Netflix’s historical drama The Crown. He portrayed the young Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Other notable credits include the lead in the first American-Saudi feature The Arabian Warrior.

In 2023 El-Masry appeared in two films - Club Zero by Jessica Hausner and In Camera by Khalid Naqqash - establishing his strong presence in international cinema and television. 

Al-Ahram Hebdo (AH): How did you meet director Naqqash Khalid and eventually get the role in In Camera?

Amir El-Masry (AM): I acted in Ben Sharrock's film Limbo. I met Naqqash Khalid through a common friend, Elana Olivia. He liked the role of the refugee Omar that I played in Limbo. He then told me about Conrad, a character in In Camera, a man who is very flamboyant with a strong presence. He compared the character to that of boxer Mohamed Ali.

It did not take me long to become very enthusiastic about Naqqash’s film, especially the non-traditional storytelling. Naqqash is a very well-organized man. So he sent me references, designs, photos, a whole bible actually. We started chatting and watching films by Jean-Paul Belmondo. He asked me to adapt my character to the latter, a confident and cheeky personality. 

AH: In the British film Club Zero, you worked with director Jessica Hausner. What criteria do you follow when deciding to work with a specific director?

AM: It is a combination of several elements. First, I discuss with the manager the scripts we receive. We focus on topics that can resonate with viewers for years to come. However, I am still not at the stage of having total control over my career or being overly selective. I am open to all proposals.

AH: What role would you never agree to play?

AM: A role that does not seem sincere or truthful to me. What is good about In Camera is that Nabhan Rizwan (lead actor playing the role of Aden) and I were given an opportunity to present the socio-political atmosphere surrounding the current generation in the Middle East, and how it is perceived in a broader spectrum. 

To answer your question, anything that perpetuates or encourages an erroneous narrative about this generation is problematic for me. You see, when you watch a movie, you subconsciously believe what the story tells you. My character, Conrad, tries to adopt the ways of someone who does not look like him.

AH: You have worked in the United States, Great Britain, and Egypt. Can you tell us about your experience in Egypt?

AM: The latest work was in a romantic comedy Gawwezni (Marry Me, 2022) [directed by Essam Nassar and co-starring Bayoumi Fouad and Mayam El-Sayed] where I play the main role. The film was well-received in Saudi Arabia and Europe. 

Egypt has all the technical means to make films. Production companies can do both large-scale and small-scale projects. I would like independent films to have a larger platform and reach in Egypt. The industry is focused on revenue, and what appeals to the public. This is the easy solution. We end up making films that do not require a lot of thought.

AH: What are your aspirations for the future?

AM: I would love to work with Daoud Abdel-Sayed, Yousri Nasrallah, Mohamed Diab, Mohamad Shaker Khodeir… 

In Egypt, you have to be a star first. The profile counts first, then the talent. This is the complete opposite of what is happening in Great Britain or Europe. 

Naqqash did not look for box office stars, but people with talent. Besides, in Club Zero I played the role of a ballet dance coach, an area that was completely obscure to me, but I trained at the Royal Ballet for two months to prepare for the film. I would like to continue working with independent filmmakers in Britain.

AH: But things are changing and we can see actors unknown to the general public on the screens, do you not think so?

AM: Absolutely. With streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, and others, we see non-star actors playing in lead roles.

AH: You act in different English accents. Can you also take roles that require different Egyptian accents?

AM: With time and practice it is doable. In Limbo, I spoke in a Syrian dialect. Of course, it did not come naturally, and I had to practice. I just finished an Irish series where I had to master their dialect. I like to explore new accents.

AH: Who is your favourite actor or one that you consider a role model?

AM: The reason why I embarked into an acting career is Omar Sharif: his black and white films in Egypt then Doctor Zhivago, Funny Girl, Laurence of Arabia, etc. 

Actually, there is an extraordinary story behind it. One day, my father, who travelled to Paris, called me for my 18th birthday and told me that someone would like to talk to me. I was shocked when I heard Omar Sharif on the phone. I could not find words. He said to me "you have to come see me one day in Paris." 

So one day, I took the train to Paris and my father drove me to Deauville. We arrived at the hotel and my father spoke on the phone to Omar Sharif. He came down immediately and seeing him in person, my heart almost stopped beating. We talked for about two hours and then he said to me: “In order to succeed in life, you have to be lucky, but you also have to create your own luck. Why do you not go to the premiere of my film Hassan and Morcos (2008) in Egypt instead of me?" 

At the premiere, I was welcomed like a king because I represented Omar Sharif. My seat was next to the screenwriter Youssef Maati. We talked and I told him that I wanted to work in Egypt and that was when he offered me the role of the young nonchalant student in a film titled Ramadan Mabrouk Abul-Alamein Hamouda (2008) starring Mohamed Henedi. This is how my career kicked off.


*This article was originally published in Al-Ahram Hebdo (French), 21 July 2023.
Translation to English: Ati Metwaly
Additional editing: Ahram Online

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