Coffee & Conversation with
By Lydia Schoonderbeek
Once a sex symbol for entire generations, Hesham Selim has entered his Robert Redford years: mature, subtle, and confident in his own skin. We met at a local coffee shop, he walked in, sat directly facing me and said, “You have my full attention, you can ask me anything you like,” his voice affably tinged with Egyptianess.
Selim’s good looks catapulted him into fame with his portrayal of suave and dashing types such as Adel El Badry, the overpoweringly good-looking Casanova of Layali El Helmia! But it’s also a look that seems to speak of an old-fashioned film star rather than an actor. Which is he? Hesham Selim chuckles lightly.
CEM: You started your career as an actor when you were still a child. Did you ever consider a change of course?
H.S: When I was 13 years old, I did consider a change of career but the producer Ramses Naguib wanted me to take part in a series. My father came to ask me what I would like to do. I thought about it and suggested that I make a few series but also continue with my education, which I did. Later they then approached my parents to ask if I would like to shoot a movie Tazwir Fi Awrak Rasmeya. At the time my parents were in London and I had been at home for a year not really up to much. So I said I might as well do this, I have nothing else to do. And that’s how it all began.
My dream was to pass the school year. I was always the youngest in my class year therefore it was a constant struggle.
What has been your most challenging role to date?
I don’t have a particular role that I can apply that to. I am always up for a challenge, as I love what I do. I enjoy the role, I do a role that is convincing, I don’t challenge it.
You had a bit of a hiatus from film, but stayed on screen with the weekly program Hiwar Al Qahira, how was that experience?
This is as difficult as film because you’re given a script to read from and everything is very controlled. I am a free spirit; I need to be given more room for expression.
Tell us about your role in Ahl Eskendereya; did you relate to it on a personal level?
Ahl Eskandereya is a serious series about existing issues in Alexandria, and more or less in Cairo. The series covers everyday problems and issues like harassment, religious manipulation, and autism. There are a lot of things in Ahl Eskandereya that reflect my life. I am a media personality, divorced, and I face similar issues like everyone else in Cairo.
What genre do you feel most drawn to at the moment?
There is no particular role that I could say would get my attention more than the other. For example I’ve only started working after taking 3 years off, if I like the script and role then I will go ahead and do it.
I went to The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in London to understand the feeling of frustrations that an actor should have. They taught me to enhance the feeling that your face lights up, to express your life. They taught me how to amplify certain movements, for example when you’re under a cold shower and you feel the shivers creeping up your back, that feeling, to create it, to enhance every moment. I later learnt to enhance my expression of feelings on my own, but I learnt the foundations from them. I stayed there for a few months, and I couldn’t handle it, their emotions are bottled up and they express it in such a way that is alien to me.
Who has been the most supportive throughout your career?
My father was always there and always supporting me. He would always tell me, “If this makes you happy do it, do whatever you want but do it well.”
What rules do you live by?
To be in control of your life, and I offer this advice to my daughters.
When you finish shooting, how do you relax?
I might travel abroad for a couple of weeks, but then I return to Egypt and go by the sea to relax with friends. It’s the ideal holiday for me.
Quick fire round:
When I was around 5 or 6 years old, I used to dream that I could hear someone knocking on the kitchen door. I would be curious, and get up and wander down our long corridor, and I would open the door and there would be a bear. I would then run back to my bedroom, hide under my bed covers. I was terrified as I could hear the bear coming down the corridor and going into each bedroom looking for me. He would eventually come into my bedroom and lift the covers and I would wake up. I don’t have this dream anymore, but I still remember it clearly.
I don’t really have one, and I have never been a food person so there is nothing in particular that really excites me. I used to love fishing, but my health doesn’t allow me to enjoy it as much these days.
What makes you laugh?
What’s happening in my country. On a serious note, I have to be optimistic there is a lot of work and a lot to follow up on. We’re better off, we have hope!
Dream lunch date?
If I can it would be with my father if he were still alive. I love having lunch with my friends such as Karim Garrana, people who make me happy. He’s young at heart and lots of fun. He would flirt with you if he were sitting here with us right now!
The Bahamas, which I am yet to visit. The USA, California to be more specific, you feel so free when you’re in the States.
Brains or beauty?
Optimist or pessimist?
I am usually a pessimist, its either I do it or don’t do it at all. I don’t like taking a step, without having a foot on the ground.
Who would give you the best piece of advice?
My parents, obviously it’s always the most genuine advice as it’s in your best interest. I was taught from a very young age to respect yourself and others, sometimes it’s difficult but it has to be done.
Last movie you’ve watched?
Finally, The Godfather.
Building you would like to live in?
I am fine where I am. Once I have peace of mind I don’t mind where I live.
Last book you’ve read?
I don’t read a lot. I have read the Koran many times as it clarifies a lot of things in life and cheers me up.
Finish these sentences
Work and commitment, also luck.