Ramsi Lehner is one of those actors who seem to have sprung out of nowhere. And since his debut role in Bel Alwan El Tabi’eya, we immediately recognized his talent. Throughout his fairly fresh career, Lehner has been proving his acting prowess. Whether he is working on films like Harag wa Marag or series like Lahazat Harega and Sabaa’ Wasaya, Ramsi has maintained admirable artistic integrity. We just had to pick his brain!
Your name isn’t very Egyptian. What’s up with that?
My dad is German. He was born in the States, so it’s really my grandfather who’s German. When I first started acting I wanted to change my name, but I was working with Osama Fawzy and he said “No! Keep the name! People need to get used to this sort of thing”.
Much of your work is either independent or has an alternative feel to it like Sabaa’ Wasaya at least. Do you hand pick your roles for that?
It’s not to the point where I’m swimming in stacks of 20 scripts coming in a day and I’m really picky about things. Still, it’s obviously a conscious decision to work on certain things. I find some things more appealing than others and based on that, I make my decisions. The thing about Sabaa’ Wasaya that I thought was really nice is that Khaled Marei and Amin Rady ended up creating a genre on their own and they were able to maintain a cultural identity. So I really respect that and I’m really happy that I got to work on that project.
You’ve worked in Egyptian and International cinema. What’s the difference?
I worked on one international project, Day of the Falcon. The movie was a financial flop and wasn’t very popular. There are a lot of differences, which isn’t to say that it’s always better. There are situations that were more comfortable, or just as good, in Egypt. Still, I was an extra with a few lines. And what I made in it that year was more than anything I’d ever made combined prior to that. They’re targeting a wider audience, so the budgets are bigger… it was just on an epic magnitude. There was also a lot of precision.
Would you consider a career outside of Egypt?
Of course I would. I don’t think I would abandon working in Egypt. I would really enjoy being able to play on both sides. So who knows!
You do theatre, as well. We were very optimistic about a different theatre direction when Ahwa Sada came out, but still the most popular theatre shows are comedies. Why is that?
I agree and disagree. There are a few young directors who are relatively prominent in the theatre scene like Laila Suleiman, Nada Thabet and Ahmed El Attar. I also agree that the number of directors producing alternative, independent theatre is limited.
Will people pay more attention to theatre now that there are more prominent directors out there?
It’s hard to say. I got into theatre in 1997 when I was I AUC and it’s been the same question up and till now “what about theatre?” If people are still asking, it’s obviously not to the point where it can sustain itself and feed theatre-goers’ appetite. Is it improving? Yes! Fast enough? No.
What about casting in Egypt, isn’t it that the director picks the actors instead of holding auditions unlike the way film industry should be?
Yes, but keep in mind that’s how it’s done internationally, too. All over the world there’s a percentage of the cast that is desired or wanted by the director.
Does it make it difficult for young actors to make it?
Yes and no. I got my first part in Osama Fawzy’s film and it was a large supporting role. When they say there’s a great amount of luck involved, there really is. You get lucky, it’s how you sustain yourself afterwards.
I don’t read comments, because they hurt. And if you’re going to read them, then be prepared to get hurt.
Sometimes the public doesn’t focus on the right things, especially in alternative productions, and argue about things that don’t matter instead. Does it make the comment section on YouTube get frustrating?
I never read comments. It was a decision I made after filming the first movie Bel Alwan El Tabieya and it was heavily under attack. At most if there’s a series I might go on the Facebook page every now and then to see what people like. Still, I don’t read comments, because they hurt. And if you’re going to read them, then be prepared to get hurt.
You do theatre, TV, cinema and music. Is it hard to focus on all these things?
Yes, especially with the music and acting career. It’s still possible. It’s difficult to balance because you were constantly fed the idea that you have to choose. The trick is to get back to the music. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve touched anything music related, but it’s coming.
Tell us about your music.
I used to play the bass when I was 14. Then I discovered the electronic music scene, house music and rave parties. So I wanted to become a DJ. And I didn’t know where to get started or how to get the tracks, so I started making my own music. I had a project called sundial with Mariam Ali, we did remixes and covers of 70s, 80s and 90s tracks. I outgrew that. I’m trying to find my own sound without being influenced, but isn’t everybody?
Do you see that things are changing for alternative art? Are you optimistic?
Very optimistic! There’s a bunch of alternative directors out there who are producing films. Granted, they might not last that long in cinemas as the big blockbusters. Still the fact that distributors and cinemas and producers are opening their doors to this sort of cinema means they foresee a future.
Would you like to focus more on theatre?
I definitely get my thrill out of theatre. I’m passionate about it and I enjoy it, so if I could do more theatre, I would.
You do these acting workshops. How does that fit with the rest of what you do?
I like to teach. When I graduated I taught drama in a high school for about a year and then decided to move on. Teaching in a school wasn’t for me. However, the workshops are nice because it’s a closer age group and there aren’t the formalities that you would have in a school.
You became an actor by accident. What would you like to do next?
I’d like to get back to making music. I don’t feel like I’ve found the sound that I’m looking for yet. Apart from music I’d like to run my own something! It’s actually in the works now with a friend of mine. We’re writing our own film and we’re going to try to produce it ourselves. If that works out maybe there’s a production company in the works. Something on the entrepreneur side, but still related to what I know.
Are you working on anything specific right now?
I’m working on a 60 episode series, Karim El Adl is directing it. There’s good energy on the set. Nesreen Amin and a bunch of other actors are in it. It’s a fairly young cast and it is fun.
Who are directors that you would like to work with in the future?
I’d like to work with Osama Fawzy and Khaled Marei again. Also, Dawoud Abdel Sayed, Yousri Nasrallah and Ahmad Abdalla. There’s a director who has only done a short or two who I would really like to work with and he’s preparing something, Omar Shamma.