x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sinbad hopefuls reach for the Sky

Emiratis audition for lead part in new British TV series.

DUBAI // Dozens of Emiratis and expatriates are vying for the lead role in a 13-part television series about Sinbad the Sailor for the British channel, Sky1.

Their self-taped video auditions as the Basra-born seafarer form part of a worldwide casting call that ends this week. The producers are looking for actors who look "Middle Eastern/Arabic", are 21 years old and fit.

"There's a good chance" someone from the region will be picked because he has to look the part, said Gemma Sykes, a casting associate with Hubbard. "Ideally we want someone who looks like they're from Basra and has that sort of sensibility."

Adam Ridgway, head of Mediacubed, a Dubai-based firm that is collecting and screening submissions in the region on behalf of Hubbard, said most of the 90-odd videotapes so far have come from the UAE. About 15 of those came from Emiratis, he said.

"It's quite empowering how many people have talent and the passion for acting," he said.

Some, however, have more passion than talent. Mr Ridgway said his staff encouraged several of the auditioners to re-record their tapes and gave them pointers on how to improve their chances.

Ultimately, he plans to send just under half the submissions on to Hubbard casting, 15 of them with a personal recommendation.

One of the more polished tapes came from Ahmed al Hashimi, a 30-year-old Emirati bank manager who has modelled in fashion shows and advertisements.

To get into character, he borrowed an old silky shirt from his sister and teamed it with baggy pants and "Aladdin shoes". He had a barber trim his beard and cut his hair to shave off a few years.

With the help of his friend Haitham Hidmi, he rehearsed, filmed, edited and added music to his audition tape, labouring from about 10.30pm till 4.30am.

The role was perfect for him, he said, because he loves the sea and adventure - he swims, jet-skis, fishes, sails, wakeboards and practises martial arts, among other hobbies. He also used to sport Sinbad-style baggy pants in high school. "My friends, they always call me captain, Sinbad, Aladdin, making fun of me," he said, laughing.

As an Emirati, Mr al Hashimi said he needs to be sensitive to how his family view his public appearances. He has turned down previous roles at their request, he said.

On the other hand, he said he does not embarrass easily. "Even my friends will tell me, 'You do anything you want; and you are not afraid to do it in front of anybody'."

The stories of Sinbad, also known as Sindbad, have been retold many times, from the classic book Arabian Nights to a Hollywood animated film.