In the Driver’s Seat with KARIM ABDEL AZIZ

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The Star of

The Blue Elephant Reignites the Silver Screen

Interviewed by Shorouk Abbas & Lydia Schoonderbeek

Written by Lydia Schoonderbeek

Charming and offbeat are two of our favorite qualities in a man. So we like this one. We are sitting in a restaurant on the outskirts of Cairo, and it’s a hot evening. Around us, are people enjoying their dinner, talking loudly, and some are laughing. Karim Abdel Aziz is neither noticed nor bothered, protected by a force-field of perfect grooming. Beneath that silken cool exterior, the passion and emotional intensity is undeniable, it is what has gotten him where he is today

 

Abdel Aziz is an actor cut from a different cloth, he could have seamlessly slipped into one cookie-cutter role after another in a series of formulaic movies, but he chose something different. Rather than taking the well-trodden path, the actor has not only pursued, but also actively developed films that challenge the audience to engage with characters and circumstances that may bring us beyond our comfort zones.

The Blue Elephant is Abdel Aziz’s latest offering which to date has been a mammoth blockbuster. When we had the opportunity to sit down with him recently, the actor spoke about the appeal of working on projects that are not the norm by most industry standards.

‘Love is, sacrifice’

CEM:  Did coming from a family with a strong background in cinema and directing have a big influence on your decision to study in the same field?

KA: I studied directing and drama, and my family have always been very supportive in whichever field I wanted to get into. Coming from a family with an artistic background has helped immensely with my career. I was never able to do the standard 9 to 5 job. I can’t do routine, I constantly like change and the ability to challenge myself.

What is the most challenging role you have had to date?

Dr. Yehia in The Blue Elephant is the most difficult role I have ever done, I have done a lot of challenging roles but this tops them all. The movie isn’t merely suspense – it’s a harmony of drama, horror suspense and romance.

How did you prepare for this role?

I sat with three different doctors and read a lot of books on self-help, psychiatry and body language. I also visited the Abbasia Hospital and the wing called 8 West where the patients are assessed to see whether they are mentally or psychology ill.

Is it difficult to maintain your own personality when you are deeply involved in filming?

Yes, sometimes you get consumed with the character and the baggage that comes with it, especially all the effort and energy I have put into Dr. Yehia. With this role I took a lot of risks, and although I am happy that my fans are used to seeing me in a certain type of role, I felt I needed to push the boundaries with a different genre. The movie took two years to make, we had to stop filming a lot of times because of the political upheaval that Egypt was experiencing so the role stayed with me for a while.

Which actor impresses you most?

I loved working with Khaled El Sawy, I’ve previously worked with him on three other movies. He chooses amazing roles, and his acting is outstanding!

 

How did you get your role in The Blue Elephant?

Ahmed Mourad sent me the script, which was still handwritten and unfinished, he wanted me to think about the role. I was very hesitant at first, as it’s unlike anything else I had ever done and the movie was a different genre to what Egyptians are accustomed to. After Fasel Wanaood, I wanted to change the types of roles audiences are used to seeing me in. Most of the characters I usually do have 5 to 10%, of my own character, this role had none.

Were you mentally exhausted after filming the movie?

Playing a psychologist I needed a lot of boosting and recharging for the role, which Marwan Hamed ensured I got. He was great at winding me up and keeping my energy levels up, he is an amazing director with an ability to keep you focused throughout. I felt bad for my wife, as she had to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of my role.

Have you read the book The Blue Elephant?

I have read the book several times, and the way it was written makes you visualize the story, it actually makes you feel like you’re watching the movie.

How do you feel about the film industry today?

I love the new trend of movies and the different genres that have recently been out in cinemas, it’s like we’re all experiencing a film awakening. There are now lots of independently funded movies, which is great as it’s no longer expected to have only largely funded blockbusters; the younger generation are a lot more bold with their choices.

How do you balance family life and work?

I love family life and spending time with my wife and two children means everything to me, so when time allows I make sure to spend quality time with them. When I have to work I am also very dedicated to every project I take on. This becomes another family that is being created with the directors, actors and writers. So balance isn’t always attainable, but I try.

Which director do you most admire?

Sandra Nashaat, Sherif Arafaa, Ahmed Galal and of course Marwan Hamid.

Who is your favorite international actor/actress?

Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks and Gary Oldman.

 

Which is the most memorable film you have ever seen?

The Shawshank Redemption is the most memorable movie to date.

What advice would you give someone who is starting out his or her acting career?

Treat people well, value your audiences, they are wise.

Quick fire round:

What is your favorite cuisine? French

Most recent film you watched? Godzilla and it was horrible!

Worst habit? Cigarettes and high irritability (asabeya)

Best quality? I’m light hearted

What makes you laugh? I laugh at unexpected things

Favorite item of clothing? Casual clothes preferably in darker colors

Favorite holiday location? Paris

Best advice you have received? My father is very disciplined, and one of the many things he has taught me is punctuality

Finish these sentences:

Success is……That The Blue Elephant is a box office hit

Love is……..Sacrifice

Happiness is…..Simplicity

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