AUCian is Egypt's 'best upcoming star'

Sunday, September 26th, 2010
Kareem Kassem

Kassem and Amina Khalil in a scene from The Illusion

As a fidgety child obsessed with fighter planes, Kareem Kassem never dreamt of becoming an actor. But this past weekend, the trilingual 23-year-old AUC alumnus won the “Best Upcoming Star” award at the Alexandria Film Festival.  

“It was nice winning an award only after a third film. I was honored to be voted by The Egyptian Association of Writers and Critics as the best young actor,” said Kassem.

With a Facebook fan base that exceeds 18,000 members, Kassem did not always have it easy when it came to his career. Playing controversial roles, especially in his latest film Bel Alwan Al Tabee’eya (Natural Colors), taught him to deal with criticism and conflict.

Participating in school theater productions since the age of seven, Kassem always considered acting a hobby, not a career. Instead, he wanted to be a football player, but broke his arm on the first day of practice.

Kassem then turned to getting into university. Theatre was not his initial major, but after being a declared engineering student for three semesters, Kassem took the risk of transferring to the domain of thespians instead.

“I took the decision during a math class,” said Kassem, after realizing X and Y variables were not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He then travelled to France for the summer to attend two acting classes in Cours Florent, a prestigious acting school in Paris.

“My father warned me that when you go ask for an Egyptian’s girl‘s hand in marriage, her family will not accept you,” said Kassem, describing his parents’ initial skepticism of his career choice.

Kassem auditioned for plays during his first semester at AUC. His high school acting experience - he did not know he was learning the techniques of Stanislavski, the father of modern theatre acting - worked in his favor. He had the talent and skill, but not much luck.

His first play, For You, Who Is Asking About Life, was banned for exploring the themes of atheism and homosexuality.

His first real role in the play Al Mahrousa (The Protected One) in 2005 involved a couple of lines.

After attending an acting workshop, Kassem got his big break when he auditioned for Awqat Faragh (Free time) a controversial movie aboutEgypt’s drug culture. He landed the role, and it remains the performance for which he is most remembered.

Amr Abed , Kassem’s friend and colleague, has co-starred with him in Awqat Faragh and El Magic, and is now co-starring with him in a new project.

“Kareem’s thirst for learning is encouraging during any shooting,” said Abed.

Despite his exposure to Egyptian cinema in his early college years, Kassem still had something to learn from the AUC theater, discipline. Infamous for his forgetfulness, Kassem went through an experience that would forever change his attitude.

“A lot of the discipline I learnt today, I owe to Frank Bradley,” said Kassem, recalling an incident in which he was 30 minutes late to a rehearsal with professor Bradley for The Illusion, a play he got cast in after the success of Awqat Faragh, and also his first theater department production.

“I ripped his head off; he was one step away from me kicking him out of the play,” said Bradley with a big smile on his face. “Kareem is talented, and was in no way a diva during rehearsals, he changed after that talk, and our relationship became very close to a father and son like relationship.”

Bel Alwan El Tabe’eya, Kassem’s most recent film, was severely criticized for its portrayal of Egyptian art students as eccentric and wild. A hate group was created on Facebook, and the press started publicly attacking the movie.

“I was terrified,” said Kassem, “in a second you can lose all your fans.”

Kassem was most recently seen in the successful Ramadan series Al Jama’a (The Brotherhood) and is currently working on a new film titled EUC, a comedy about Egyptian university students, set to be released later this year.