In many ways, it’s been a life-altering 12 months for Amr Youssef. Sons of Rizk 2 – the Tarek Al Eryan-directed action thriller – became one of the biggest box-office successes in the history of Egyptian cinema. Now, the duo are imminently reuniting for El Tahweeda, or the Lullaby, a genre-bending blockbuster that Youssef says will be a kind of mash-up of thiller, drama and romance. Amidst all that, the Egyptian actor saw his daughter, Hayat, celebrate her first birthday. For Youssef and his wife, the fellow actor Kinda Alloush, the tumult of Coronavirus has been an unexpected opportunity to exhale and reflect. With his big-budget historical Ramadan series – based on the story of the commander Khalid ibn al-Walid – put on hold, the coming weeks present a moment to reconnect after a years-long grind, and a chance to think about what comes next.
Firstly: how are you and your wife coping through this time in Cairo?
Very well, actually. We are keeping our social distance by staying at home – that gave me the chance to spend more time playing with my daughter, Hayat. It also gave me the opportunity to ease my mind and to prepare for my upcoming projects through online meetings and conference calls. We did this photoshoot by using a mobile phone – so it’s safe to say I’m not bored at all.
How have you and Kinda navigated the crisis together? How have you spent your time?
We are looking at the crisis from the positive side. It’s intriguing that everyone has the chance to unplug; people have the time to slow down and take it easy. It’s happening everywhere in the world, not only in Egypt. I think we all needed to cool down a bit and find our own peace of mind. In fact, I think the entire world should begin a two-week shut down every year, where all factories close to give the environment and Mother Nature the chance to take a break. It has been quite beneficial as the ozone’s damaged layer is now healing. That’s priceless.
Do you have any special routines for taking care of your mental health?
Generally I meditate by writing and organising my thoughts. I think about some stuff that I never had the time to think about before. I do meditation in the sense of sitting outside in the garden, looking up at the sky, doing nothing, you know? The nothingness brings ideas and clears your mind. Also, what’s happening is that the world is quiet. You don’t hear cars, you don’t hear motorcycles or people shouting. The place is calm. The world is calm. It helps you to meditate. It’s laying back and thinking, laying back and trying to think of many aspects of life – not only my work.
You have a one-year-old daughter, Hayat. How has becoming a father been for you?
It’s very interesting. It’s like you are watching a little cute tiny creature as it grows and acquires new skills. I’m enjoying every moment spent with her at home.
Were you and your wife ever fearful through this experience?
To be honest, she feared what’s happening more than I did. I thought that I had the responsibility in the house to bring positive energy, and bring peace of mind. Sometimes, I was worried, but I didn’t show it. But to be honest, while I was trying to reflect the positive energy on her, it reflected back on me. We’re having a peaceful time. I know it’s not right to say this, but we are enjoying it. I’m enjoying staying with my little girl – she’s a year-and-a-half old – and spending so much time with her. It’s a privilege I wouldn’t have had if I was working right now.
El Tahweeda is coming soon – what can viewers expect?
This new film is a completely different theme from what we’ve seen lately. By the way, there’s a chance that title could change – it’s not confirmed yet. But I’m working on it from home so that we have the chance to start shooting immediately once the situation gets better and the quarantine times come to an end. Which, hopefully, will be soon.
Has this crisis opened your eyes to anything new? Changed your mind or your priorities at all?
This crisis has opened my eyes to the fact that life is not only about working hard all the time, as family should always come first as a priority. I’m taking this quarantine as a chance to enjoy my time at home, especially with Hayat. I used to think about work, all the time: what’s my next step? What’s my next movie about? What should my next project look like? Now, I have so many things to think about besides my work. I’m giving work only 50 percent of my time. The other 50 percent, I’m giving to my family – I’m giving to myself.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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Photography by Prod Antzoulis