Ashraf Abdel Baqi is an Egyptian actor who has presented about 200 plays with young talents over eight years. He has won the hearts of his audience with his modest means, his serious work ethic, and his avoidance of sexual and vulgar jokes. In this interview, he talks about his latest play, his passion for theater, and his attitude towards success and failure.
You have presented many theatrical works, such as “Lokanda”, “Sabahiya Mubarakah”, and most recently, “Barhouma Triangle”. Some might see this as an adventurous choice. What do you think?
Life is an adventure, and I love taking risks. I don’t care about failure or success. The important thing is that I try to do my best.
What is your new play about?
The play is a comedy that revolves around the passengers of a ship who encounter a storm during a sea voyage. The storm changes their course, and they end up on a mysterious island that they try to explore and uncover its secrets. The play stars Hamdi Al-Mirghani, Bayoumi Fouad, and Mirna Jamil, and it is written by Ahmed Abdel Wahab and Karim Sami. I collaborated with them before in (Misr Theater) and the play (The Bank They Robbed It), which I presented at the (Jeddah Season) in Saudi Arabia. That play also featured Karim Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, Aws Aws, and Suleiman Eid, and it was a great success.
Does this work satisfy your desire to act? Does it compensate you financially?
Financially, I could earn more from other work, such as filming a series that I could finish in just two months. But when I work in theater, the financial gain is different from working in a series or a movie. I enjoy my work in theater a lot, and I love meeting the audience. It’s fun. I started with amateur groups.
Are you trying to fulfill yourself in theater after the failures that happened to you in cinema?
I work in theater because I love theater. I don’t associate it with failures. I love work. The scary thing for me is to sit at home without working. Maybe if I don’t have a job, I can decorate a friend’s house or something else. I don’t like being home without work, whatever the work. I work, but the result may not satisfy some people. But it’s impossible to satisfy everyone.
Why are your films very successful on television, but not in the cinema?
I do not know the exact reason for this, and I do not want to blame anyone for the lack of cinematic success of my films. If I told the truth, I would be offending others, and I do not like to do that. Everyone has his own interests and preferences. The producer or distributor has the right to choose the film that he thinks will make more money. Maybe he preferred another movie or another star over me and my film… and I respect that.
Doesn’t that make you angry?
No, the most important thing for me is self-satisfaction. It doesn’t matter how much I achieve, if I am not happy with myself, nothing else will make me happy. Some people have a lot of money and still complain, and some have very little, but they are content with what they have. I am grateful to God for giving me good friends who have been with me since childhood. No one can harm me and I always look at the bright side of things.
You are currently working to introduce new talents to the theatre, cinema, and television through the Misr Theater and the Rihani Theater… but some people have criticized you and said that what you present is not real theatre, what is your reply to them?
I believe that the youth are the future of Egypt in every field, not just in the arts. They are the true treasure of Egypt, and we, the older generation, have to share our experience and knowledge with them. We have to pass on the torch to them. When I was young, I had a chance to prove myself, and so did the generation before me. This is a chance for young people, too. Some of them will seize it and become famous stars by God’s will, and some of them will not… But those who criticize, what have they done for the theatre?
The Riyadh season is a great opportunity for Arab theatrical performances to compete and showcase their talents. How do you feel about being part of this event and representing Egypt?
There are many performances from different Arab countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria, and they all contribute to the revival of the Arab theatre. Egypt has the largest participation, and I am proud to be part of it. For me, it is important to present a performance that is honorable, dazzling, and entertaining, and that reflects the beauty of the theatrical language and art.
You have helped many young people to pursue their dreams, including the stars of “Egypt Theater” and “Saudi Theater.” How does that make you feel?
I feel very happy and joyful when I see talented people and help them to achieve their goals. I have given opportunities to many young people, not only as actors but also as directors. I was impressed by their first works and their potential.
Why do you always say that you are only an actor and you don’t care about the competition issues that bother most stars?
This is a principle that I follow and I will not change it because I have no control over the other things, such as competition and ranking of names, and I cannot decide how or when my work is presented, or how much advertising it gets. All I have is my work as an actor, and I think that success means being consistent and persistent.
You are a talented actor, but you have not yet shown works that reflect your artistic potential. Why is that?
I love art, and throughout my journey, I have been trying to use my talent positively, and I am happy with myself. I think that I have reached some of my goals so far, and with more effort, I will keep producing works that will satisfy my fans, who made me a star and a celebrity.
You have done more than 160 plays in 8 years. How will you protect this theatrical legacy from being lost like what happened with Ismail Yassin?
I hired a technology expert to record and save these works so that no one can delete this history, as happened with the late comedy star Ismail Yassin when television wiped out tapes of his plays to record football matches.
We are looking forward to the release of the new series “The Last Round”, which stars you and Ahmed El Sakka, and it is the first Arabic series to be shown on the Amazon Prime platform, what do you think of this work?
I recently completed my role in the series “The Last Round” with Ahmed El Sakka. It is the first Arab sports series and it is about the game (MMA), which involves several fighting games such as boxing, wrestling, and judo, which is a very violent game played by two players inside a cage. It has a large fan base, and I play the character of Sakka’s coach, who used to be a player in it and quit, then came back to compete again. The series is directed by Maryam Ahmadi, and the role is new, the story is good, and it requires training in the game. I hope that the audience will enjoy it.
You made a cameo appearance in your daughter Zeina’s first film as a director. Do you support your daughter in her career?
I would not have been so proud of her if I had not seen that she was a good director from her first short films. I was not the only one, as three producers were impressed by her film, and I was the fourth. Zeina studied directing, and she made her first feature film, based on her own idea. I loved the idea, and she picked new young actors to play the main roles. I was in only two scenes, with my friends Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk, and Suleiman Eid. I did not meddle in anything, as this was her project and her passion, and when I saw the final version, I was amazed by its high quality. The Cairo Film Festival selected it as one of the films in the official competition for the session that was postponed, and they complimented its level as it has a new cinematic style.