Nour el Sherif

topic posted Sun, February 18, 2007 - 10:59 PM by  Sausan


by Nadine Emile

Nour El-Sherif knows that the pressure is on during Ramadan — thanks to hits like Lan Aeish Fi Gelbab Abi (I Won’t Live in My Father’s Shoes), El-Ragol El-Akhar (The Other Man) and the controversial El-Hag Metwally 2001 — his name has become associated with TV during the Holy month.

The Samanoudi Studios feel like a long way from the noisy, crowded streets of Cairo. This is where El-Sherif, whose resumé boasts 167 films, 17 plays and more than 20 TV series, is filming what most people will be watching this Ramadan. He is one of the few Arab actors whose work reaches the entire Arab world. And Ramadan is his time.

Eeish Ayamak (Live Your Life) sees El-Sherif’s character right in the middle of a mid-life crisis. “This period [mid life] is a critical period in the relationship of a man and a woman, and has effects on their kids,” El-Sherif says, describing the theme of the serial. He feels that, for many Egyptians, the problems that arise during this period go by unsolved, and if people do not know how to deal with them, it can destabilize any marriage. Written by Mustafa Moharram and directed by Mohamed El-Nokari, Eeish Ayamak features Abla Kamel as El-Sherif’s wife, along with Yasmine El-Gelani, Iman Ayoub and Wessam Hamdy as their children.

The 58-year-old actor is coming off a good run, having recently received a life-time achievement award from the Egyptian Writers and Critics Association at last month’s Alexandria International Film Festival. “Being recognized by the Alexandria Festival made me very happy because I have been involved in the festival since its beginning,” he says.

Praise from his peers is never in short supply, but El-Sherif himself credits working with the greats as being a huge part of his own education. His television debut was in director Mohammed Fadel’s 1967 serial El-Qahera We El-Nass (Cairo and The People). His big screen debut came the same year in the movie adaptation of Naguib Mahfouz’s Qasr El-Shouq (The Palace of Desire) where he worked alongside a plethora of stars. “This was a dream to work in front of Yehia Shahine, Nadia Lotfi, Abd El-Moneim Ibrahim and others,” he says, but adds that when he re-watched the film recently, he felt that he was over-acting. El-Sherif puts this early mistake down to his background in theater and the more flamboyant approach that medium requires in contrast to the less-is-more method that screen actors use.

But attention to detail has always been his mark. “Nour reads the whole script, not just his role; he studies it hard. He is an actor that adds to the character,” says Ahmed Saleh, El-Akhbar newspaper film critic and screenwriter of El-Shaytan Ya’ez (The Devil Preachs) and El-Hokm Akher El-Galsa (The Verdict will be Announced at the End of the Session), both starring El-Sherif. He explains how the actor goes to great lengths to find props and costumes to add depth to his character as well as working on gestures and specific body language. “Nour is a very intellectual actor,” Saleh continues, “He reads on a regular basis and he is keen to know the history of great actors, their movies and roles. He is also keen to perform different characters and not repeat himself.” Director of Photography Saïd Shimi, who worked with El-Sherif on Quitta Ala Nar (Cat on Fire) and Elhaqoona (Save Us), also believes El-Sherif’s strength lies in his immense versatility. “Nour is diversified in his representation of characters, he can superbly play the typical Egyptian man... he can also play as brilliantly the aristocrat and the psycho.”

So where did all this creative energy come fromMohamed Gaber – Nour was his grandfather’s nickname for him and Sherif came because of his sister’s love for that most famous of Egyptian actors – was born on April 28, 1946 and raised by his uncles after his father passed away when he was one year old. At school, he joined the acting group and participated in school plays and was all set to study acting at the Higher Institute for Arts.

However his uncles were against it as a career, allowing him to join the institute only if he studied fine arts. When El-Sherif applied to the acting department there, it didn’t stay a secret for very long. “My uncles tried to transfer me to the set designing section after they found out I was studying acting,” he says. “I said to the dean if I got transferred I wouldn’t return home or to the institute.” It was a battle that the passionate young actor won and it would lay the foundation for the actor he was to become.

One of El-Sherif’s favorite roles was Messelhi in 1979 Ma’a Sabq El-Essrar (Premeditated) directed by Ashraf Fahmy, a film which has been largely forgotten thanks to censorship on Egyptian television. The reason It talks about infidelity, a topic that is taboo in the Egyptian media. “Unfortunately because this film was so bold, on a social and not political basis, it was not shown on local TV channels,” El-Sherif says, adding, “This is one of the best parts I played; the year of its showing I won every award.”

Twenty five years after that movie, a new El-Sherif project has also been stirring it up. The stage play, Ya Ghoula Einnek Hamra (Ghoul, You Have Red Eyes) focuses on the current American foreign policy and its arrogance in dealing with third world countries. “Ya Ghoula Einnek Hamra is a new experience,” claims El-Sherif who believes that theater is “the podium of freedom of expression” which should aim to help the community and open its eyes to problems.

El-Sherif credits the theater with much of his success; it was there that he discovered his passion for acting and it was through theater that he was discovered by the great directors who introduced him to the film industry.

And the film and television industry came calling, with some of its biggest names wanting the actor for their projects. El-Sherif worked with Youssef Chahine on Hadoota Masreya (An Egyptian Tale) in 1982 and 15 years later in El- Massir (Destiny). “I owe Chahine two things,” he says, “first, I learn when I work with him, as an actor and as a director. The second thing: his movies are shown in Europe and brought me the attention of the foreign critics. He is a mentor in the real meaning of the word.” El-Sherif is certainly recognised in the entertainment world, his name appearing some twenty years ago in the International Encyclopaedia of Cinema alongside other great actors from around the world.

Another director dear to El-Sherif is Samir Seif. Together they worked on 10 films including Daerat El-Entequam (Revenge Circle), and Akher El-Regal El-Mohtarameen (The Last Gentleman) which El-Sherif also produced. “Samir is one of the most important directors in my life, because he introduced me in Daerat Al Entequam in the role of El-Fettewa (Bully) which was a different part from what I used to play in this period.” This ability to jump around from one role to the other has helped stop El-Sherif from being pigeonholed. Acting in any genre from action to romance to comedy is not that easy to pull off. But El-Sherif seems to do it with ease. According to film critic and screenwriter Dr. Rafik El-Sabban, El-Sherif’s secret is that “The roles look like they are spontaneous, yet they are carefully studied.”

The late, great director Atef El-Tayeb made nine films with the star including Sawaq El-Otobiss (The Bus Driver) generally acknowledged as one of the best films of the eighties, and Leila Sakhena (A Hot Night). “I used to find myself in Atef El-Tayeb’s films because there is a great similarity between us. Our social and political beliefs are almost the same. We reached a level that with one look I could understand what he wants from me and he could understand what I want from him.”

And just as El-Sherif had directors to look up to in his youth, he has now made the effort to work with up-and-coming directors, producing nine films under his production company NP Film — named after Nour and wife, Poussy. The couple are famous for acting alongside each other in films like Habibi Da’eman (My Love Forever), El-Hokm Akher El-Galsa and Al-Asheqan (The Lovers). “One of the most important things in my cinema career is the founding of NP Film. I was very much aware of the importance in standing with the young generations of directors,” he says. The young directors at that time were Samir Seif, Mohamed Khan and Mohamed El-Naggar. The company also introduced different artists not just in the domain of directing but also in screen writing, acting and other areas.

Part of this ever-expanding creative path has already begun, with El-Sherif finding himself behind the camera in 2001 for his directorial debut Al-Asheqan (The Lovers). “Directing is a great pleasure and a great responsibility,” says the actor, who also paid his dues in theater, directing Operet Kefah Teiba (The Struggle of Thebes) and Mohakamet Al-Kahen (Trial of a Priest). He will return to the director’s chair soon, as he is planning to direct and act in three upcoming movies: El-Taeer El-Mosafer (The Traveling Bird) starring Ahmed Ezz and Yasmine Abd El-Aziz in a story about college graduates who are forced to travel abroad because of the lack of opportunities in Egypt; Oum Ya Masri (Get Up Egyptian), about Egyptian prisoners of the 1967 war for which El-Sherif is trying to secure big stars to appear as guests, with big names such as Hussein Fahmy, Mahmoud Yassin, Ezzat El-Alayli, Mervat Amin and Poussy being mentioned. His third project is a movie about a love affair between two senior citizens, both going through hardships because of the difficult economic conditions.

As pleased as he is with his career and recent award — which sits nicely alongside many others, including a recognition by the New Delhi Cinema Festival in 1983 for his role in Sawaq E l Otobiss (The Bus Driver) – he adds wryly that being honored for your entire creative life may be bad luck. “In Egypt we are used to receiving recognition after a long time as if it is a farewell party to creativity.”

Nour-El Sherif has no intention of saying farewell any time soon.
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