CAIRO - 2 September 2021: The charismatic young actor opens up about his goal to break stereotypes of Arab actors abroad and change mindsets at home.
Adam Elsharkawy, aka Big Zee, was the heartthrob of the Ramadan 2021 drama marathon in every sense of the word. With his smooth and natural performance in the hit TV series Lebet Newton, Elsharkawy found his way into our hearts. This month we sit down with the up-and-coming actor to chat about his highly successful role, his plans for the future.
How did you land the role of Big Zee?
The casting director of Lebet Newton series watched one of my movies in the US, she knows one of my friends and that is how I found out about the audition. During the audition my Arabic language was very weak, so at the beginning I wasn’t cast as Big Zee but as Luka, the American guy who steals the medicine from Big Zee’s apartment. When I got to Egypt though, Mona Zaki and the series director Tamer Mohsen asked me about trying again as Big Zee. They both helped me a lot during the audition, and I am very grateful to them for trusting me and seeing the potential in me despite my weak Arabic .
The series tackled a pretty controversial relationship between Hana, Moneis and Hazem. As Adam how do you assess this complicated relationship? Who was right and who was wrong?
Hana is the product of her environment, culturally she was taught to be a somewhat dependent woman; Hazem understands this and because of his insecurities he wants to keep her around in any way possible, so he was always telling her you can’t do this by yourself, you need me to live. Moneis was manipulative in another way: he knew she needed her son Ibrahim and he wanted her so he used Ibrahim as a tool to get what he wanted. As I see it both Moneis and Hazem are wrong, but if I had to choose between them I woud choose Moneis because he took care of Ibrahim and he truly loved Hana. On the other hand Hana doesn’t know how to take care of herself, as I said she is the product of her environment so we can’t blame her; the community and society she was born in drove her to be that dependent.
Behind the scenes with Mona Zaki and Mohamed Farag, which were the most memorable moments?
There were a lot of situations, both Mona and Farag are funny and lighthearted people. I remember more situations with Mona because most of my scenes were with her. I can’t tell you how great her energy is, she is a superstar so she’s supposed to be a diva, but on the contrary she is so sweet and humble, she loves to laugh and I love to laugh so we were laughing all day. Of course Farag is really funny in real life, he is not like Moneis at all. I think me and Farag are very similar, he was always moving on set like me, so there was a good chemistry between both of us.
Despite having a lot of successful roles abroad, you were keen to work in Egyptian drama, why?
I think everything is going international, in the upcoming period you will find that Egyptian series will be screened worldwide. A few years back I never thought at all that I would be acting in Egypt, but in the US I used to reject the culture a bit because the racism there is huge and difficult. But when I came here to Egypt I discovered that I am so Egyptian. I feel like I fit in here and it was really a good feeling.
As an Egyptian and Muslim actor, what are the obstacles that you faced while working in the American movie industry, especially in terms of racism?
They see that Arab or Egyptian actors can portray only very limited roles like that of a terrorist. That’s so frustrating, so much so that I’ve stopped going to auditions. I just want to perform roles outside of this stereotype, but at the end I understand that I have to play the game a little bit. If you look at Rami Malek’s career, for example, you will find that at the beginning he performed some of these stereotype roles then he stopped, and I’d say that after he quit these roles his career took off. I couldn’t follow his footsteps though because I am psychologically and completely against stereotypes because they are not right, Arabs and Egyptians are not terrorists. This is a very bad image that I would like to erase from the US cinema industry.
How do you plan to do that?
I can’t do anything yet because my name is not big enough, but I think it is changing naturally. Audiences are tired and fed up of seeing Arabs portrayed on screen one way only. It’s changing a bit, it is not completely gone, but this all what we can ask for now.I see things are moving in the right direction.
Do you think that movies and series like Lebet Newton that tackle important social issues can contribute toward changing mindsets? What would you say Lebet Newton has changed in the society?
Absolutely yes, cinema and drama have a vital entertainment role but on the other hand they can change mindsets and even laws. From my perspective Lebet Newton has changed a lot, I hope that every woman would see Hana and see her transition, and say with confidence, yes I can be like her, I don’t need to rely on others to succeed, I am powerful by myself, I can do anything by myself, I can travel alone to the US or anywhere else. Hana’s story was a very inspiring one, the story of a woman who was helpless, till she became strong and owned her life. At the end there was no Hazem, no Moneis and she managed to do it alone, so I think the series sends an extremely powerful message to every woman.
In elementary school you got a certificate of excellence signed by US President George W. Bush, and continued to excel until you graduated in 2012 from Savanna High School in the Anaheim, California. Do you feel your academic excellence has helped you in your acting career?
I think so, because my parents are like this so I think I got it from them naturally. I learn and understand things quickly, but I think to be a good actor you have to act, you have to have other skills. I am good at math: that might not make me a good actor but of course it has its place, and it is very important for an actor to be cultured and well educated because how can you understand what you are doing if you don’t understand the culture? You don’t need to know science or math in order to act but if you can’t relate to the character you are performing on another level, you will not be able to play certain roles, so it is very important to be cultured to understand the world and to understand people.
What is your dream role?
It is not a specific role, actually I like comedies a lot, I do a lot of dramatic work, I am always the bad boy who is riding the motorcycle (he laughs). I love action films too, I want to perform an action role, I love stunts and anything athletic.
Who inspires you?
Omar Sharif for sure because he is the only one beside Bruce Lee who was doing the things really internationally. Bruce Lee was shooting in China and the US, Omar Sharif was shooting in Egypt and the US: if you look at the stories of these two stars, they both had very inspiring journeys. It is hard to look at someone like Omar Sharif and not be inspired, especially as a young Egyptian, he is the only Egyptian who is well known out there, everyone knows Omar Sharif and this is a beautiful thing. He is one of a kind, the talent and ability of this man is just amazing. And he was so charming on interviews, I took away a lot of things from this.
Going back to your work between Egypt and the US, would you say you decided to follow in Omar Sharif’s footsteps and succeed in the Egyptian industry first?
I would like to focus in parallel in the Egyptian and American industries at the same time, they are two different industries, it is true that acting is acting, but acting in Egypt is different that acting in US.
What is the difference?
It is just the way people express emotions here. In Egypt the way people express their emotions is a little bit bigger, in the US people are a little bit closed off, it is just about how do you express and feel. I love the way Egyptians express, when I came to Egypt I noticed that I express like them because I am Egyptian, this is my nature. In the US I am a little bit weird, but here I fit in.
In terms of techniques in the Egyptian industry versus the American industry, what do we lack here?
Acting is acting, here in Egypt they study the Sanford Meisner technique and look at Stella Adler. In the US I also studied three Meisner courses and studied the Adler technique as well, the same acting techniques that probe Who are you? Who’s in front of you? Where are you? What happened before the scene? You have to live the life of the character and be the same person. To me if the person in front of me is not natural, if I don’t believe every word that comes out of his mouth, then he’s not doing his job as an actor.
What are your upcoming projects?
There are some projects that I am for in US currently, all what I can say for now it is a movie and a show. In the movie I will play a role that’s similar to Big Zee but in the show I will play a completely new role that is really challenging for me and I am very excited to do it. We will probably start shooting in July.