Tall and handsome best describes one of Egypt’s rising heartthrobs on the silver screen. Youssef El Sherif is currently playing himself into the hearts of critics and audiences in his latest release “El Alami”. We met the heartthrob at his trailer on the set of the Ramadan series “Layalina” during the final days of shooting.
As a mechanical engineer turned actor Youssef played his way from various movies to TV series until the late Youssef Chahine casted him for the leading role in his last award winning motion picture “Heya Fawda” (The Chaos) which was the turning point in El Sherif’s career. “Working with Chahine is a great responsibility and school. I tried to grasp as much as I could from this experience trying to learn about cinema. We spoke a lot about the role and the plot and the acting”, he explains, “my life changed after “Heya Fawda” it made me more conscious about decisions I have to take and that after this mile stone for me I cannot present any less. I was very adventurous before that and experimental in my choices which changed now. Even “El Alami” took a lot of time in preparations to turn out like that”.
In “El Alami” he plays Malek “Luca” an Egyptian soccer talent that defied all the odds and made it big in Valencia until a major accident destroys it all. Being a fighter he manages to get back on his feet and bring victory to Egypt by getting them into World Cup. On the question if there are parallels of Malek to a real footballer El Sherif commented that “this movie is not about football it is about life. Unfortunately, we deal with football as a game and not as a profession like law or accounting. So the film is about a talented man who worked in a profession he excels in and tried to return the favor to his homeland by getting Egypt into thee World Cup”.
How did you get into acting?
I have a passion for acting since I was a child. I used to act scenes from old movies in front of the mirror standing on my bed. I did Adel Emam’s “Al Mashbouh” (laughs). I didn’t have enough courage after high school to step into acting I thought everyone wanted to act so why would I become any lucky. Apart from that I had a high GPA and it was either medicine or engineering so I studied mechanical engineering at Ein Shams. I was modeling at that time and Dr. Sherif Sabry introduced me to professional acting in my first movie alongside Ruby in “7 Wara’at Kutshena” (7 Cards). After that came “Fattah Einek” with Mostafa Shaaban, “Akher El Dunia” and a guest role in “Halim” and some TV series which created a good rapport with the audiences.
You were a professional footballer in your younger years. Why did you quit football?
Actually, Ahly left me not the other way around. I remember the day I heard that I will not be in the coming season I thought that the world would stop turning and I cried so hard on Kasr El Nil bridge that day (laughs). My mother told me that destiny goes in mysterious ways and that’s a lesson everyone must learn. If they asked me now to be an actor or a football player I’d definitely choose to be an actor.
How was Valencia?
Wow (big smile). The deal was with Valencia was very smooth and well organized; they allowed the shooting but without the interference of the director in the match. I forgot all about the cameras and the film and I just went to play real football and as a matter of fact I actually got one in! It was a great feeling I mean I played with David Villa and players we only see on Playstation.
People who work with Chahine are allowed to dream about becoming anything, so what about being an international actor?
For me being an international actor is different, like Malek being “the international” for him doesn’t mean going to Valencia but driving his country to be international. In my own point of view “Heya Fadwa” drove us to the international level being an Egyptian film in competing in an international festival. Being an international doesn’t mean to travel abroad and take the role of an Arab terrorist.
Would you like to work abroad?
Not really as it would be rather difficult for me in terms of my personal beliefs and values. I couldn’t act in a film that conveys messages that I disagree with. I am one of these guys who foster “clean cinema”, I know this might be a provocative term to many who will read this. I don’t mind sacrificing a nude or sexual scene regardless if this adds to the value of the plot.
Do you have a taboo role then?
The red line for me is doing something that is against my religious beliefs. That doesn’t mean that I am satisfied with everything I have done before but let’s be frank people change and mature.
What is your dream role?
I want everything (laughs). We need more historical films like “Salah El Din” for example, or war movies, I mean we have so many conflicts in our history and present that are great subjects for films but we don’t make use of it. I mean we all loved Braveheart but if you come to think of it we have much better stories that are yet untold!
Who are your favorite film partners?
I loved everybody I worked with. I had a great time with Nelly Karim and Salah Abdallah as well.
What do you think of the current state of cinema in Egypt?
I won’t compare to older times let’s talk about today. As I said people abroad are making great movies out of lesser plots, excellent production quality and marketing. These people know exactly what they do and do it well regardless of the hidden agenda that might be buried in one or two key messages of the film. Here, we take a good idea but lack in the proper presentation; we just throw it bluntly at the audiences.
What do you think about censorship?
I have a big problem with it. Although I respect Mr. Abo Shady very much I feel that there is inconsistence in what passes the censorship and what not in cinema. Of course public taste in general changes which reflects in music clips that would be obscene 5 years ago are harmless compared to what we see today for example. I never thought I would see a gay scene on TV while having breakfast so public taste and acceptance changes ongoing. I would love to see another kind of censorship namely for Egyptian films that travel abroad. There must be a way to assure a positive representation of Egypt in these films.
In general people with direct opinions and attitudes often face more difficulties than others. So how is this affecting you in show business?
I must say I wasn’t like that. I have changed somehow; I mean luckily we change to the better. That doesn’t mean I was a devil before but I won’t make a film who millions agree upon and one person don’t, I learned to care about that person as well. Everything is relative, I mean there is a general reference line that helps you find a solution when at dispute.
Who is Youssef the private person? Did your life change after the fame?
I am a very simple person. Nothing has changed for me and my friends are still the same. I think of all that is happening to me as a gift of God (“rezk”). My wife is such as gift or future children for example. Once a person starts the ego trip it is the first step to downfall. I live with the realization that this will fade one day and I want to be able to accept that.
Who is your role model?
This is such a cliché. I mean do you just want me to name one for the interview’s sake or should I give a real answer? I believe that for someone to be given the pedestal of being a role model I would need to know everything about that person’s life. So honestly my only role model is Prophet Mohamed (pbuH), I try to imitate him by reading how he treated his wife, communicated with others or solved conflicts.
What are your hobbies?
Sports, all kinds of sports. Since I was a kid I used to spend the whole day at the club playing all kinds of sports such as squash and football, for example.
Name 3 strength of yours
“That’s not left for me to say”, he says with a modest smile on his lips.
Name 3 weaknesses of yours
I am restless and worry too much resulting in lack of sleep and often I am hesitant on certain issues.
What would you take on a deserted island?
Can I take a person? If yes then I would take my wife. If it is one thing I can take then I would take the Holy Quran.
What do women want?
Safety, support and tenderness I would say. They want to be with a real man. (laughs)