Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
“The Eight” is on MBC. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
  • The Egyptian actor on his stellar year starring in ‘Suits Arabia’ and ‘The Eight,’ his intense preparation process, and getting more involved on set

DUBAI: At this point, 2022 might as well be deemed the year of Asser Yassin. The Egyptian actor already dominated the global conversation in Ramadan as the lead in “Suits Arabia,” a remake of the beloved American legal series. Less than two months later, Yassin has followed it up with what is poised to be the series of the summer — MBC’s flagship crime thriller “The Eight,” which already has garnered rave reviews and big ratings.

“The ambition of ‘The Eight’ is something I’ve never experienced before,” Yassin tells Arab News. “The production budget is in line with a top show in Hollywood — the highest I’ve ever worked on. The crew was very international. But, most important for me, the character was someone I’d never played before, and he kept revealing himself as we went.”

Yassin plays Adam, a man who suddenly finds himself at odds with the gang he’s long belonged to, surviving his own execution only to set off on a path to revenge. The character, created by Saudi writer Turki Al-Shikh, turned out to be a greater challenge to figure out than Yassin had anticipated.




Mohammed Alaa (left) and Asser Yassin (center) in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

“For each film or series that I do, I write an extensive background history for the character just for myself, to figure him out. For this, I couldn’t find a reference to any other character, not only that I had done, but in any other film. He just felt different. It was really interesting to me,” Yassin continues.

Yassin himself is a lifelong cinephile, a man who abandoned his degree in engineering against his family’s wishes because his love for film was so great. During what little free time he had at university, he starred in short films with his friend, who happened to be the son of the legendary Egyptian realist Khairy Beshara, who during the Eighties and Nineties made some of Egypt’s most significant films, such as “El Towk Wa El Eswera” and “Yom Mor... Yom Helw.”

Beshara saw some of the two friends’ films and told his son that he wanted to work with Yassin. It was a moment that changed his life.

“He’s my second father, a man I still call constantly,” says Yassin of Beshara. “He changed the way I saw myself, how I saw film, and how I saw life itself.”




Lara Scandar and Asser Yassin in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

Yassin has modeled his own career after actors such as Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, and others, he says, pushing himself to the limit on nearly every project he takes — sometimes too far for his own physical and mental health. Adam, however, a desperate character with violence in his heart, did not make him think of any of the films he’s long admired. For Adam, he had to go to people he knew.

“First and foremost, I thought of my grandfather,” he says. “Adam doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s an idealistic guy who’s driven to revenge after the events of the first episode after his sister and fiancé die. My father and my grandfather come from rural Egypt. There, we understand revenge, and we understand family.

“My grandfather was a superb man, a military man, extremely well-read. But when I was four years old, he came to me and said, ‘Asser, there are only four people you go to jail for. Your father, your mother, your brother and your wife. You kill for these people,’” Yassin continues.

When he sat down to write his character’s background history, he also thought of the father of one of his best friends, a surgeon who, in his free time, hunted ducks on the land he owned in Beheira, near Alexandria in Egypt.




Asser Yassin and Mohammed Alaa on set. (Supplied)

“During the revolution, he was there hunting by himself. There were a group of people who decided that, since there was no security, they would go and take over the land. They went in with shotguns. To their surprise, he decided to fight back. Bullets started flying back and forth until he took to his car to run. They pursued him, still shooting, until his car flipped. They left, because they thought he’d died, but he survived,” says Yassin. “I imagined Adam sitting in the passenger seat of that car next to him.”

Yassin’s dedication on set was just as intense. With time, he’s learned to dedicate himself to the project overall, rather than just to his own performance.

“That’s something I’ve been doing on the last couple of projects,” he says. “I consider the whole show mine. I’m always there to give it my all, even if I’m not in the shot. It’s my project, it’s my baby. I literally spill blood for it, whether it’s in stunts, in anger or in stress. It was like that on ‘Suits’ as well. I’m there every moment with this intention in mind.”

On “The Eight,” that sometimes meant stepping in during moments of crisis. In one key stunt, a car packed with explosives was supposed to flip, after which Yassin’s character was supposed to escape in a helicopter. Yassin knew, as it the vehicle was one of the older Range Rovers with a low center of gravity, that it would be nearly impossible to pull off without proper preparation. “That went back to my engineering degree again,” he says.




Asser Yassin on set with Lara Scandar. (Supplied)

As the sun went down, Yassin sat with the stunt coordinator. The explosives in the car went off, but the vehicle didn’t flip. As the filmmakers scrambled to figure out what to do with a shot that was already blown, Yassin took matters into his own hands.

“I threw everything I had aside, ran into the scene, got onto the helicopter, and left,” he says. “We had to get it done.”

Ultimately though, while Yassin has grown to have the kind of outsized presence on set that is reserved for only the top leading actors, his goal is not to take charge, but to create a space conducive to creativity, from top to bottom.

“I hate negativity, because in the end we’re creating. If I have tension with a colleague, I have to smooth it over somehow, or give it time until it fades away,” he says. “I have to have a strong relationship on set with everyone, from the actors to the director to the cinematographer to the gaffer. We all have to be on the same frequency. We’re all equal, at the end of the day. You can’t do well when you’re the only one doing well.”

While Yassin’s dance card is full at the moment — he’ll be a lead character in the “Sons of Rizk” sequels and has two other films in the works — he is hoping that “The Eight” will come back for multiple seasons, especially due to the response it’s already gotten thus far, both in Saudi Arabia and across the region.

“I think it’s an amazing project. It’s so rich,” he says. “There’s so much left to reveal in this character, and I hope we’re able to let this story unfold in season two.”


REVIEW: ‘Five Days at Memorial’ replicates the horrors of Hurricane Katrina

REVIEW: ‘Five Days at Memorial’ replicates the horrors of Hurricane Katrina
Updated 39 sec ago

REVIEW: ‘Five Days at Memorial’ replicates the horrors of Hurricane Katrina

REVIEW: ‘Five Days at Memorial’ replicates the horrors of Hurricane Katrina

CHENNAI: Apple+ TV’s limited series “Five Days at Memorial” sets out to capture a natural calamity in its stark reality. Adapted from Sheri Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital,” a retelling of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in late 2005, the TV version is a brutal but compelling watch. It is brought out most poignantly in a scene where we see an elderly patient watching the raging storm from a window at the Memorial Medical Centre.

Created by John Ridley, writer of “12 Years a Slave,” and “Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse, the series brings drama without overly exaggerating, along with a near-perfect recreation of the hospital that becomes a character in itself. Real footage is seamlessly woven into scenes, with the first five chapters devoted to the first five days of the catastrophic event that left 45 patients dead.

Dr Anna Pou is portrayed by the excellent Vera Farmiga, who puts in a powerful performance standing watching the hurricane batter the bridge between two segments of the facility. Then there is the nerve-wracking dilemma as a daughter (Raven Dauda) is forced to abandon her critically ill mother, nurse Diane Robichaux (Julie Ann Emery). A deep sense of heartrending misery and utter helplessness pervades just about every frame.

As “Five Days at Memorial” begins, we see local residents trooping inside the facility to join patients and staff — standard procedure, as the building had withstood many storms in its 80 years. But in this case, the hurricane smashed glass panes and wrenched chunks of iron, leaving little respite. The hurricane passes, but levees then collapse, flooding the city. With the problems mounting, the hospital’s incident commander, Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones), discovers that the building’s bulky manual says nothing about evacuation protocols in case of floods. With elevators out of operation, doctors and others carry patients to the rooftop helipad.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The last few episodes focus on the investigation into the controversial decision to euthanize terminally-ill patients, and explore the meaning of care and compassion. But what stands out is the failure of the administration, the Federal Management Agency, and all those who had the power to intervene to avoid the disaster.


US artist Grimanesa Amorós to present light installation in Riyadh 

US artist Grimanesa Amorós to present light installation in Riyadh 
Updated 16 August 2022

US artist Grimanesa Amorós to present light installation in Riyadh 

US artist Grimanesa Amorós to present light installation in Riyadh 

DUBAI: US artist Grimanesa Amorós, famous as the Light Sculptor, is bringing her work to Riyadh. 

The Peruvian-born visual artist will present her latest monumental art installation titled “Scientia” in the Diplomatic Quarter Cultural Palace at the Noor Riyadh festival from Nov. 3 to 19.

The installation is titled ‘Scientia.’ (Supplied)

The installation addresses fundamental questions about the impact of a rapidly shifting environment on the mental, psychological and emotional well-being of individuals living in fast-paced, modern societies.

Her light sculpture was previously showcased at the Azkuna Zentroa Center of Society and Contemporary Culture in Bilbao, Spain.

Amorós, famous for her large-scale light sculpture installations, explores human emotions and connections to the social environment using an elemental understanding of the world involving nature’s basic elements: fire, water, earth and light.

The artist has exhibited her work in multiple locations around the world including Mexico, Beijing and New York City.


Finance for new Saudi filmmakers announced by Red Sea Fund

Finance for new Saudi filmmakers announced by Red Sea Fund
Updated 16 August 2022

Finance for new Saudi filmmakers announced by Red Sea Fund

Finance for new Saudi filmmakers announced by Red Sea Fund
  • Winning ‘Lithium’ movie tackles bipolar disorder
  • Over $100,000 set aside for 23 individual MENA projects

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s support for the film industry continues with the Red Sea Fund’s announcement of its second-cycle winners, which will mean financial resources to bring their projects to fruition.

The fund, administered by the Red Sea Film Foundation, has allocated about $100,000 for 23 individual projects that will cover production, distribution and screening.

The aim is to provide a more diverse set of movies to global audiences and better serve both Saudi and Arab filmmakers.

“It means a great deal to us that the Red Sea Fund believes in this story enough to fund it. It’s both an honor and a responsibility,” Saudi filmmaker Talha B. told Arab News. He will be co-directing the winning project “Lithium” along with fellow creative Amro B.

The feature film tackles the subject of bipolar disorder and the silent suffering of individuals with mental health issues in the Arab region.

“It is a great responsibility to present this subject in a positive yet honest way, and we intend to do it the justice it deserves … It tackles a subject that we rarely admit we have in our society. We hope that more bold stories like this are told candidly because, like physical health, mental health too matters,” Talha said.

The film is currently in development and is set to premiere at the 2023/2024 Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah.

The rest of the 23 selections include shorts, documentaries, animated films and documentaries, with five submitted from Africa, 11 from the Arab region, and seven by Saudi directors.

The aim is to support young and ambitious filmmakers to carve a niche for themselves in the industry.

“It’s very fresh and exciting witnessing the great things Red Sea films are achieving and presenting to the filmmakers in Saudi Arabia and the world. The funded films speak a lot about the amount of understanding for both the creative process and the craftsmanship behind the walls of their visionary team and their out-of-the-box thinking,” Anas BaTahaf, the filmmaker and upcoming producer of the selected film “Hayat Yousef,” told Arab News.

BaTahaf is teaming up with long-time collaborator Sarah Taibah who will be joining as a screenwriter on the upcoming project that features meaningful character arcs, quirkiness, blended-genres, and “high voltage” absurdity, all packed within a contemporary dark romcom.

“Taibah’s knowledge and thorough understanding of romance — from her various art projects on studying love as a feeling and theme during a wide range of art residencies around the world — is another quality that grants her my full trust when it comes to telling this story,” BaTahaf said.

The aim to tell unconventional stories is the reason for the selection of “Red Eye,” set to be directed by filmmaker Mohammad Jastaniah.

“After so many trials, errors, and rejections it’s nice to see once again that persistence pays off, let alone being supported by the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation — a place I call home. It feels special,” Jastaniah told Arab News.

The film is an “allegory” for the artist’s experience in Saudi, he said. “Red Eye” follows the story of a man navigating the stigma of being a rock star, fighting his own demons, and dealing with his relationship with his father.

“It speaks for those who stand out in the crowd, and there are so many of us out there, especially in these exciting times of change happening in the Kingdom. Pinch me because it feels like a dream,” Jastaniah said.

“I am very excited for our film and all the other films that won (backing) … Local filmmakers deserve all the praise and support,” said BaTahaf.

He said he was looking forward to his friends seeing the “great” films that were made.


Hollywood star Angelina Jolie speaks up for women in Afghanistan

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie speaks up for women in Afghanistan
Updated 16 August 2022

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie speaks up for women in Afghanistan

Hollywood star Angelina Jolie speaks up for women in Afghanistan

DUBAI: Hollywood star and humanitarian Angelina Jolie this week honored women in Afghanistan, “one year after the fall of the government.”

The 47-year-old actress shared on Instagram an op-ed she wrote for TIME and said: “It cannot end here.”

In the article, the Oscar winner said: “The daughters of Afghanistan are extraordinary for their strength, resilience, and resourcefulness.”

The actress said that one year ago, Afghan women worked in all fields — being doctors, teachers, police officers and politicians.

“To my Afghan friends, I have faith in you and your resilience and your strength,” wrote Jolie. “I dream of visiting with my daughters, making friends, traveling around your beautiful country, and seeing you free to determine your own future … I know it’s possible. This does not end here.”


Industry experts help shape XP Music Futures program for 2022

Industry experts help shape XP Music Futures program for 2022
Updated 15 August 2022

Industry experts help shape XP Music Futures program for 2022

Industry experts help shape XP Music Futures program for 2022
  • DJs, rappers, producers sign up to new advisory board
  • Innovation and diversity are key pillars of this year’s event, organizers say

RIYADH: XP Music Futures has created an advisory board of industry insiders to ensure maximum diversity and innovation when it stages its second festival in November.

Among those appointed to the so-called board of advocates and advisors are American rapper Kim Renard Nazel — better known as Arabian Prince — music producer and record label founder Saud Alturki, immersive audio specialist Marcela Rada, digital media expert Natasha Stambuli, and the regional head of A&R and marketing at Sony Music Middle East Karima Damir.

Mohammed Bajbaa, who founded Saudi clothing brand Proud Angeles and fashion consultancy Proud X, Saudi rapper Jara and DJ Space Boi, will also be on the board.

XP director Nada Alhelabi said: “83 percent of last year’s attendees loved XP because of its programming. Partnering with a diverse set of professionals means guests see representation they can identify with and relate to.

“Our trusted board of advocates and advisors serve as one way for us to stay connected to communities … and deliver another great edition of valuable cultural and music exchange, tangible progress and inspire unlimited innovation.”

With its Day and Nite program and focus on innovation through disruptive, forward-thinking methods, XP is the forerunner within the MENA region for the music and creative industries.

It will not only discover and discuss how new technology is the driver of change in the music ecosystem – exploring the fast-moving Web3, the new iteration on blockchain technology and Metaverse – but also bring technology for guests to experience in immersive installations.

Its other core pillars of talent, scene and impact will work to implement ways to flourish careers in the music industry, nurture the scene through workshops and panels, and initiate dialogue around music, mental health and well-being, and their role in creating a socially conscious industry.

“The ultimate objective of XP is to accelerate the development and transformation of the music landscape across the Middle East,” Alhelabi said. “We are grateful to be driving, crafting and optimizing wonders into our world.”

The festival runs from Nov. 28-30. Music professionals and enthusiasts can register at https://mdlbeast.com/events/xp-2022.