Written by: Farah Hassan
On Hard Work, Dedication and Persistence
If recent films are any indication, Amr Youssef, the internationally recognized and celebrated actor of roughly twenty years, is entering a whole new phase of his already remarkable career, as a man with many tricks up his sleeve. Youssef has a timeless aspect about him; he has altered little in the past years and is more at ease with himself than he has ever been. He owes the new aspects of his artistry to deliberate acting choices rather than changing states of being.
Choosing to abandon a more conservative and orthodox career of international law in favor of pursuing his true passion of acting after committing what could only be referred to as a radical life decision, Youssef catapulted to stardom in the film alongside Nour El Sherif at the age of 27 in the television series ‘Al-Daly’. He is widely regarded in the industry as one of the most brilliant and determined actors of his generation. He joins He Magazine for the second time to share his insights on the profession, his extensive acting experience, and the hurdles he has faced.
As a young adult, you studied international law and then moved on to the media industry, becoming a TV host and then onto your acting career. Were you ever worried about the path you chose?
Definitely, it was a choice that was not taken lightly, and what made me even more worried was that the industry as a whole is considered to be very risky. You can one day find yourself with back-to-back gigs, and the next audition for many roles and have no offers in return. Winning the public’s approval plays another imminent fact when it comes to relating it to how successful and how often you are cast roles, and presenting content that the public wants to see is all the more challenging.
I wanted to become an actor when I was still a university student in 1998, and when I made my first acting debut was in 2007, which is 9 years later, 9 years of hard work and dedication to which I can only describe it as a journey filled with risks and challenges along the way.
What have you learnt in life as a public figure, a celebrity, and a renowned actor of your time?
I believe that a person should learn every day. The one thing that really resonates with me is that over the years, I had to learn to be patient. I wish when I was younger, I knew how to carry and handle myself the way I do today – feeling that kind of ease with myself. Patience has never really been my virtue because when you’re younger, you’re much more intense, and everything feels like it’s the only single most important thing; wanting everything and anything right now, not willing to wait. With time, you learn to be patient and content. Life is a rollercoaster, and you just need to enjoy the ride.
“Beyond anything, I have been very lucky, and I will be forever grateful for the career path I chose to pursue.”
The notoriously tough profession has proved now more than ever that not many have that IT factor, with so many actors in the game and so few jobs and opportunities. Youssef fervently explains that what makes him stand out in such an expansive industry is his passion and drive. He is prepared to endure the ritual of rejection, anguish, and being tough from the tolls of the industry's emotional rollercoaster.
Youssef dreamily recalls his early days after landing his first role as an actor. He knew he wanted to do it for the rest of his life, and every project he took on from that moment made him fall in love with the profession even more. Now, after almost two decades in the industry, having lived experiences, the act of performance makes it even richer and multi-layered, as Youssef reveals. With years and years of bringing characters to life through his own personal hurdles as a professional and improving his instruments as an actor, he still loves what he does.
Do you think that an actor can reach a point of maturity, or do you believe that even with old age the job offers a learning curve where you constantly evolve and grow further?
An actor should never peak at a certain point and not evolve afterwards," Youssef replies. During his early years of acting alongside Nour El-Sherif, he would always say that he was constantly looking for a new opportunity. This was coming from someone who was already an established actor with over 150 roles in movies and TV shows. So, Youssef believes that any actor, no matter their age, should never believe that they've reached a level of maturity. Any good actor always tries to better themselves with acting workshops, reading more about the field, and learning from other people in the industry.
What types of acting roles do you see yourself taking, and what are the ones you would turn down and why? Have you ever turned down a role but came to regret it when aired?
I never look for the comfort zone. My main aim is diversity. He wants to be able to play as many different roles as he can and be able to do them efficiently and to the best of his abilities. Throughout his whole acting career, he has managed to diversify the types of roles he plays, and he believes it is any actor's challenge to be seen in many roles and not be cornered into playing the same role repeatedly. As for turning down roles, Youssef states that he has turned down more roles than he has accepted. What he envisaged for his career was the quality, not the quantity. It never mattered to him how many movies he made, so long as the movie or the part he played fit and mattered to him. The idea and excitement of being in these situations and places – they are more than just memories; they inform your life. So he doesn't regret anything.
“I refuse to be one thing; I always aim to explore different roles and genres.”
Do you believe that each role taken should portray a certain message? Even if the message could be considered as taboo or socially unacceptable?
Acting is a sort of art, and art is a very broad and subjective topic. Some movies can only have a comedic element to them, while others may add the element of a societal message, such as the movie I starred in, ‘Kedbet Kol Yowm’, which had both comedy and a hidden message on marital relationships and couples. Another movie, ‘Taht El Wesaya’, by the lovely and talented Mona Zaki, was a drama-centered movie that sent a deep-rooted message to society, which quite admirably, the parliament is taking action towards.
This sort of art has the ability to portray everything and make you feel everything, so long as it is presented in the right manner and not misconstrued.
One of your latest works, Kateeba 101, was a physically demanding role. How did you prepare for the role leading up to the shooting?
I am someone who always stays fit and exercises on a daily basis, but in preparation for this specific role, what I did was alter my exercise routine around two months prior to shooting. I started adding more weights, needing to get bulkier, because in the series, you find me always carrying heavy equipment added onto the uniform strapped onto me, weighing a total of more than 30 kilos. Physically, I needed to prepare for such weights for long periods of time and increase my endurance.
What techniques do you use to make your character development more believable?
Something that I always do when given a new role to play is to study the character’s entire life from the beginning, from the moment they were born, in order to fully comprehend the character’s thoughts and actions and be able to portray it to the public. It is always different from one role to another. It takes a great deal of creative malleability and technical understanding to pivot when things don't go according to plan, as they often don't. And then there's all the character work that is my responsibility to do before I show up and on the day.
“Acting is a sort of art, I apply all my tools, experience and knowledge into my work like a mad artist, nothing can ever deter me.”
The sharp minded and witty actor explains that with responsibilities weighing on his shoulders when it comes to how strong and influential the roles, he takes on has driven him to work even harder and prepare even more. Following the great feedback, he receives from influential works of his like Welad Rizk, Mowaten X, Hebta and Ad Tanazoly encourages him to work harder and dabble more into the wide spectrum of the acting palette.
In his words, Amr Youssef discloses that there is nothing better than getting so immersed in a scene you get lost in its imaginary world, ceasing all thoughts of anything else while playing a scene; forgetting oneself while acting only then can you approach a role adequately and become a true performer of the arts.
In your opinion, what is more important for an actor: talent or extensive training?
Both, never one alone, as neither one will ever outweigh the other.
How do you respond to negative performance reviews?
I will always accept and respect constructive criticism and learn from it in order to do better for roles to come. When it comes to what is being said on social media platforms, I do not personally heed much attention to them, you would never be able to please everyone, and it would just toy with your emotions and mental health.
What was the piece of advice you wish you got but learnt as you grew older?
That hearing things from others and learning from what they went through isn’t really the same as going through it and experiencing it yourself and to not always buy into what society tells you. You can’t avoid the inevitable and that going through the experience isn’t necessarily a bad thing but a life lesson that will shape you differently.
Written by: Farah Hassan
Vision by: Longeblack
Art Director: Noureldin Selim
DOP: Omar / Blackeels
Photography: Abdelrahman El Dash
Studio: Gearbox studios
Styling: Yasmina Eyad
Suits: Mr. Tuxedos
Wardrobe: D Store
Jewelry: Azza Fahmy
Watches: Felopateer Faltaous