'I want to be the face of Egypt': Why Asser Yassin is on a mission to become the next Omar Sharif
The star opens up about his long-awaited transition into comedy and his plans to work on films with important stories to tell
As the world waits out the coronavirus outbreak by spending more time indoors than ever before, finding a binge-worthy TV show that will make you laugh feels as essential as the face mask and gloves you put on before stepping outside.
For millions of people in Egypt and across the Arab world, that much-needed dose of comedic comfort came in the form of Be 100 Wesh (Multifaceted), this Ramadan’s biggest TV hit, starring Asser Yassin and Nelly Karim.
Joined by a stellar ensemble cast and directed by the masterful Kamla Abou Zekry, in this witty 30-episode comedy Yassin and Karim play the role of two con artists who come together to pull off a series of elaborate heists with an unconventional group of characters.
The show enjoyed tremendous success and its theme song, Millionaire, performed by El Madfaagya alongside Yassin and Karim, has taken social media by storm. It spawned countless TikToks, hit more than 15 million views on YouTube and, at the time of writing, is at No 6 on Apple Music’s Top 100 chart in Egypt.
“It’s the most successful thing I’ve done so far, in terms of level of exposure, and public reception,” Yassin tells The National. “We had certain catchphrases and many different characters that got the audience hooked, very similar to Friends in a way.
“I don’t think an effect like that ever happened in the Middle East before. Not even the most successful show in comedy or in action has experienced this kind of success in Egypt for a very long time.”
The show is so popular that it has been given the green light for a second season. Yassin says the full cast is in, but it is still early in terms of signing contracts and talking storyline or details.
The actor, 39, had been longing to venture into comedy for the past decade, having found himself taking on more complex, dramatic and “dark” roles instead. And, while it has taken him a while, he is happy to have finally gotten the kind of part he had been craving – one that is less about punch lines and more about clever dialogue, physical comedy, an actual plot and on-set chemistry all rolled into one.
"I feel like Be 100 Wesh helped comedy get back on track in Egypt," says Yassin.
The show came at a perfect time as he had just finished shooting Fi Kol Osboo’ Youm Gomaa (Every Week has a Friday) in which he plays an autistic character, opposite Menna Shalabi. Yassin says stepping out of an intense experience like that straight into Be 100 Wesh was similar to “therapy” and it perfectly showcased his versatility.
“I feel that we don’t have a lot of farsightedness here on the production side, where people don’t always see your full potential,” he says. “All the roles I’ve done are very complex and layered.
“So you see that certain kinds of roles will always come to you in that ‘complex’ realm. After Turab El Mas, all the roles I’m getting offered are psychological roles, which I hate. I do not want to delve into it again – I did that role because I wanted to work with [director] Marwan Hamed and I don’t want to go into that dark zone again. I wanted to switch.”
Be 100 Wesh offered that opportunity.
[Be 100 Wesh] is the most successful thing I’ve done so far, in terms of level of exposure, and public reception
Fi Kol Osboo’ Youm Gomaa was Yassin’s first involvement in a 10-episode series that was exclusively streamed online, behind a paywall. A Shahid Original production, the show aired one instalment every Friday from the start of March – a welcome deviation from the typical Egyptian 30-episode model tailored for Ramadan.
For Yassin, this is the production format the Arab world will soon be headed towards, as the pandemic steers the industry away from cinemas and towards digital platforms. It’s an opportunity he also welcomes.
“It is an advantage for me because there are movies I would like to make. I can see they will not be commercial, but it’s something important to be done.
"To be able to put it on a platform where it’s not tied to a movie ticket, where they don’t tell you, ‘Oh your last movie did not make 10 million, it only made five million’,” he says. “These kind of movies when they go straight to online platforms, it opens up a different world.”
A digital platform also means content would be created throughout the year, moving away from the rush of Ramadan productions.
“Actors go to Ramadan content because people get paid higher and definitely have maximum exposure, but outside Ramadan you still get good exposure and you can get paid well if you’re going to be working with a good platform,” he says.
While Yassin had dreams of becoming an international actor and looked at Hollywood as the ultimate goal, those dreams have shifted as he has worked more in Egypt. He starred in Rassayel El Bahr at the age of 28, which was helmed by director Daoud Abdel Sayed and was Egypt’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2011.
“At the time, there was a bit of confusion; ‘What do I do next? Where do I go?’” he says.
“So I thought, ‘You know what, let’s go back to the goal of being an international actor, I want to act in Hollywood’. But then I was bombarded with the fact that it’s not as easy as before, it’s much harder. They have very strong syndicates, they have very strong talents there and to them, it will not add anything distribution or profit-wise if they bring a star from Egypt that they do not know of there.
“I refuse to leave here and go play a role of a terrorist and further associate people from the Middle East with a label like that, as an Arab.”
Now, he is happy to be Egypt’s star and prefers to take Egyptian productions to an international audience.
“I want to be the face of Egypt, just like Omar Sharif was the face of Egypt in Egyptian and international cinema," he says. "When you talk about an Egyptian actor, you remember Asser Yassin. That is my ultimate dream."
Updated: June 24, 2020 08:32 PM