Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
7 - 13 September 2000
Issue No. 498
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues



Samar and Suhail

By Tarek Atia


Samar El-Salah, 22, says acting is "all about waiting." That fact was hammered home during her latest delve into the professional life: a lead role in first-time director Youssef El-Dib's Khameera.

"Half the time you're just waiting for the lights to be set up, for the camera to be positioned properly, for everything else to be adjusted, and then you say your line. They shoot it from several points of view, and then later it all just becomes a matter of cut and paste."

Khameera is a low-budget effort. It's an attempt by El-Dib, who mainly shoots ads, to get noticed by the cinema industry. Samar plays the lead character's love interest. She is happy with her role. "For a change the female character in an Arabic movie is a smart woman," she says, "who helps the lead character, a singer who covers Western hits with his band, discover what he wants out of life and how to better contribute to his society, mainly by finding a balance between East and West." She adds that for once, it's a mature cinematic relationship between two young people -- "it's not just about lust, or physical attraction."

She does admit, though, that one of the reasons she got the role was because she's photogenic. But El-Dib also liked her energy. "Do you feel the script?" the director asked her, after an audition and a call-back. Being somewhat between East and West herself, she did.

Samar studied English at the American University in Cairo. Although she acted in a string of AUC plays, she always thought she would pursue a career in academia. Instead, she got a job at an Internet company, and pursues her dream of becoming an actor part-time.

"Acting is about feelings," she says, and Samar certainly feels best when she acts. "You know in life you have these moments when you're completely caught up in what you're doing?"

In fact, she wouldn't mind working anywhere in the industry, even behind-the scenes where she could learn more about the cinematic craft.

Meanwhile, she has managed to land parts in graduation projects at the Cinema Institute, and with friends who are making short films. She has played a maid, and a foreigner in Cairo, among other roles.

Samar has never been paid to act, and since she's rather casual about her ambition, she doesn't see it happening anytime soon. "I just want to be part of a project that has meaning," she says, "that will move the viewers. We need more movies where people can relate to the characters."

What if she was offered the female lead in superstar Mohamed Heneidi's next blockbuster comedy?

She says if it was anything like the vapid comedies he's done so far, she would immediately refuse. "I enjoy acting," she insists. "It's not the money, it's not the fame."


Suhail El-Beltagy, 29, has wanted to act since junior high school. That was the first (and last, he adds, with a wicked laugh) time he stood on a stage.

To hear him describe the event, you would think the math teacher had turned his small town school in Dekernis, near Mansoura, into a country style Shakespearian play-in-the-round -- even though the play itself was more of a "cocktail" between the top comedies of the day, Adel Imam's Madrasat Al-Mushaghebin, etc.

But when it came time to go to university, family pressure forced Suhail into studying commerce.

He got through those days by "acting out" life, with the dream of an "acting life" in the background.

But then last year, a childhood friend who now works in show business, tuned him in to a man named Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, who would tell him whether he had a chance at becoming an actor. Abdel-Hadi gave Suhail the preliminary okay by allowing him to take his Actor's Studio course, often a prelude to a role in some flick. Today, Suhail is five months into a seven-month course. The best days are those where he gets to actually do screen tests in short sketches written by Abdel-Hadi. He has played a pimp, an innocent young man, and several other roles.

He could have gone elsewhere. After all, there are many paths for ambitious young actors to pursue. But those who go straight to TV, for instance, are a different breed. Suhail doesn't want that. The awe in his voice is obvious when he talks about actually acting in front of a movie camera -- which he has yet to do.

It's a question of contacts -- the more you have, the more you're in the know about who's working on what, and what's available. Suhail has done three casting tests in the six months he's officially been "wanting to be an actor."

One was for Mohamed Khan's Sadat. The role was the former president's son Gamal. Suhail did not get the part, and just getting to the casting test was a trial in itself. You have to deal with people who forget that they set up appointments with you.

But he's still looking for a role. A Cinema Institute final project, a short film, a low budget feature -- if it fits he'll take it.

"The actor has to approach a role completely independent of his own nature," he says. "From your own personality, you only take things that will help the role. The most important thing is to distance yourself. Only then will the audience believe."

It's not the money that drives him. His day job is in printing and advertising. After all, he's got a wife and a baby to support.

Suhail says the road to success depends on twists of fate. "But you also have to believe that you're an actor. Even if it means complete dedication to roles that may not even be speaking.

Mohamed Heneidi did it. Ashraf Abdel-Baqi did it. Suhail admires them, and he knows if it happens for him, it will definitely take time. Six to 10 years, at least. He's ready for the long haul.

Related stories:
The man who shot Sadat 24 - 30 August 2000
Clash of the titans 3 - 9 August 2000
A successful formula? 21 - 28 January 1999
An amiable bubble unburst 13 - 19 August 1998


   Top of page
Front Page