Moving to Hollywood at the age of 19 years, Egyptian-American Ahmed Ahmed has crafted his career in the entertainment industry, featuring in several international films and TV shows, and establishing himself in the stand-up comedy scene.
Ahmed Ahmed was born in Helwan, Egypt on 27 June 1970. His Parents migrated to the US when he was one-month old, and he grew up in Riverside, California. He moved to Hollywood to pursue a career as an actor and stand-up comedian. He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for one year and studied with various acting coaches such as Cliff Osmond, Ivana Chubbuck, and Sandy Marshall.
He has been a regular performer at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles since 2000. He starred in various Hollywood films including Iron Man, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and Revival.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Ahmed to learn about his experience in Hollywood and the challenges he faced as an Actor from Arabic origin.
How do you assess your experience as a jurist in Omneeyat Loves Talent?
Omneeyat Loves Talent reached out to me about being a judge and I was very flattered and honored. It’s a cool and innovative concept they’ve come up with for an outreach interview in the MENA region and any artists from that part of the world for that matter seeking upcoming talent. They are still taking submissions so we haven’t qualified everyone yet but I look forward to seeing who makes it through the first couple of rounds.
How did you start your acting career?
I moved to Hollywood when I was 19 years old, and started taking acting classes. I worked several jobs on the side as a waiter, women’s shoe salesman, personal trainer, etc.
I attended the Academy of dramatic arts for one year after that and then dove straight into the auditioning scene. I made a pretty good living playing terrorists and cab drivers for about seven years then got burned out on that and started my stand-up comedy career soon after.
Did you face any problems in Hollywood as an actor from Arabic origin?
Yes, Hollywood seems to stereotype ethnic races especially if you’re from Arab culture. I had a choice of changing my name when I first started and I decided not to so I think that probably hurt me as an actor but helped me as a Comedian ironically enough.
When was your first acting experience? How did you feel then?
I had a couple of small parts with limited dialogue early in my career on a soap opera and a couple other small shows. My first big acting gig was in the film “Executive Decision” where I played a terrorist and I worked with Kurt Russell, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, and other big stars, so it was an eye-opening experience for me.
Who are your role models in the industry from Hollywood and Egypt?
I grew up watching movies and TV shows and was inspired by several dramatic and comedic actors. I would say Robert De Niro is up there along with Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood. Sadly I didn’t have a lot of Egyptian role models because I wasn’t watching Arabic films growing up. I guess my biggest role model from Egypt would be my dad because he could make anybody laugh in command so he was very funny.
Is there any acting role you won’t accept? Does your Arabic culture affect your choice for roles?
I made a great living playing terrorists for a while as I mentioned earlier… I stopped doing that because I felt like I was playing into the stereotype. But then I realized I’m just an actor playing a part so if I don’t take the role someone else will do it. I’ve tried to develop my own projects but Hollywood is a tough cookie to crack with that kind of thing. Not to mention not getting a lot of support from that Arab community seeing your vision through to the way you want it told.
What was the most difficult role you played?
I did a small budget/short film for the New York film Academy where I played different characters and that was very challenging. It’s called “The Scapegoat”. Here’s a link to the film: https://youtu.be/gl_IQ87V0c4 . The producer and Director were very talented young Saudi filmmakers Talha and Maan B.
How and when exactly did you realize you had the passion for acting?
I realized at a very young age that I had a passion for the entertainment industry. When I was 5 years old my parents took me to a screening/premiere of a film back then was called “Muhammad the messenger of God“ directed by the late Mostafa Akkad. (God rest his soul) The theater was packed with 400 people and we got there late so they made us sit in the very front row and it was an eye-opening experience for me because the movie was filmed and directed with such epic storytelling. Soon after that I was addicted to movies.
Which one of your roles did you like the most?
I was a series regular on a TBS show for three seasons called “Sullivan and Son” created by Steve Byrne and produced by Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley. I played a tow truck driver in his 40s who was a hopeless romantic coincidentally named “Ahmed”. They wrote the part for me and it was a lot of fun to be a part of the show.
What is your strength as an actor? Which types of acting do you like the most?
Oddly enough I prefer dramatic roles. I feel like I can pull off comedy roles too but I’d rather save that for the stage.
Have you considered participating in any Egyptian film?
My Arabic is not so good, so trying to act in an Egyptian movie in Arabic would be a struggle for me.
In your opinion, what does the Arabic film industry need to keep up with Hollywood?
I feel like the Arabic film industry is changing a little bit for the better. I think for a while they were kind of telling the same stories and it became redundant. I love stuff that’s based in reality with real stories and characters.
In your opinion, what are the advantages that the Egyptian film industry possesses considering our unique Arab and Egyptian culture?
The Egyptian film industry trail blazed movies for the whole Arab region I believe. I think Egypt was and still is ahead of its time when it comes to making movies and has always been considered the Hollywood of the Middle East. Perhaps if they did a couple movies in English every year that could broaden the global audience.