Actor, model and eccentric Saudi creative Abu Hamdan – you’ll probably know him better by Warchieff – is a man in demand at the minute. Two features on Netflix and four million Instagram followers are proof positive of that much. But whether showcasing the movie Arabian Alien at the Sundance Film Festival, or getting a role (without really trying) in the true events-inspired Saudi flick Wasati, Hamdan remains delightfully off-kilter. And if life under lockdown has taught him anything – other than that he really takes too long to work out what to eat – it’s that you should never really underestimate what you have. “Right now, I’m just adapting to what’s available,” he explains. “It’s funny, we used to believe that so many items we had were average or not really useful. The thing is, it turns out that we just never understood their real value...until now.”
Tell us about your lockdown routine.
I’m a person who blocks out things, so I’m just trying to ignore what’s going on outside right now and focus on myself. I’m trying to fill my days with
activities, playing some music. I’ve accepted that this won’t end soon, so it’s better to try to do something with my time. Watching movies that I haven’t seen yet and playing video games. These are the essentials. Video games and entertainment.
Do go on...
Well, sometimes I wake up at 11pm, sometimes 6am. My friend Chndy and I are living in the same house and we waste a lot of time just thinking about what to eat. Then I get on the computer, watch random videos, maybe try to learn something simple, too. Then I’ll play video games, before maybe working out. Sometimes we barbecue in the yard. I try to change it up, but it’s mostly the same.
Do you have a self-care regime to help with the lockdown right now?
I try to create a simple routine that can keep me busy away from the outside world. When I feel bothered or not too pleased with the situation, I try to watch something that attracts me and allows me to focus on it - like documentary or a film, or maybe a game I wanted to play but never had the time for. This allows me to focus on a different world, and it works.
What have you learned over the past few months?
I realised that humans are weak and stupid. Weak because we don’t know how to deal with this [Coronavirus] situation, and stupid because we’re the ones that caused the problem in the first place.
How are you staying in contact with friends, family, and the outside world?
I’m keeping in touch with my family through the phone, sometimes FaceTime. The only thing that’s giving me comfort at this time is that no one can ask, “Where have you been?” Some people don’t comprehend that you can work in this space and create something useful – be it tangible or not. So, this quarantine is allowing me to focus on doing things without distractions.
Do you feel that the lockdown has helped your creativity?
I would say that my creativity would increase even further if I went out and met new people. In recent years, I’ve travelled a lot and got introduced to so many people.It became a part of my normal life and now that’s what expands my ideation process. But, hey, at the same time, lockdown allows us to see things on the internet that we didn’t know existed and they might be resources ready to open doors that we never knew about, too.
Have you worked on any new projects under quarantine?
Chndy and I started a one called Jazzy Spa Sounds. We stream it on Twitch. There are silly things on there, but at the same time we play music.We’re learning how to mix using a DJ controller and we’ve already collaborated with [fashion label] Les Benjamins, who asked us to do a one-hour livestream DJ set on their Instagram account.
So, you kind of started a record label in quarantine?
Yes, exactly! We’re thinking of doing more online, especially during the lockdown period.
What’s the vision for Jazzy Spa Sounds, then?
I was working on a few things but put them on hold because we couldn’t meet the artists to record. There are things that have been affected [by the lockdown], but perhaps this gives us a chance to do something even better and enhance our skills.
You’ve gone from Snapchat memes to Netflix releases, how do you reflect on that journey? How did it shape you?
They all complete each other. In the beginning, I started making videos on Instagram, then I got to know others who make videos, and we started making videos together. Then Snapchat came along. It gave me a chance to act there. It’s a stairway: all these steps complete each other. There’s Instagram, Snapchat, cinema, and I feel like they’re all there in one neighbourhood. When we shot the film Wasati in 2016, I thought that it was a lovely experience that I learned from, but I also thought it would remain in the drawer and never be released to the world. There were a few screenings – one in LA – but still I thought that it would only premiere in certain places, and that no one would really see it. I could never expect that something I acted in four years ago would bounce back and be on Netflix. But when it did, it felt great.
Many of the projects you’ve worked on revolve around social taboos and extremism in the region. Specifically, Saudi Arabia. How do you connect with these topics?
I find that these topics are rarely discussed. One of the people that does it smartly is the director Meshal Al Jaser. He brilliantly tackles these sensitive topics and, through the work of somebody like him, we can be better placed to deal with these issues. He opens doors of discussion without pushing them in your face.
Your Khaleeji heritage is central to the content you create, and it showcases things that are almost hidden from the world. How do you plan to take it forward?
We have a lot of things here that haven’t been showcased outside of the region...the humour and the mannerisms that we possess individually in the Khaleej and Saudi. We have a lot of things that we can do in our own way, but at the same time to a global standard. It would bother me if someone not related to our environment took what we have and gave it to the world. There are skilled people here that are continually learning. We need to control our own story.
What do you think is the future for not only the Saudi entertainment scene but the Middle Eastern scene at large?
The entertainment industry is changing rapidly, but there are still people who haven’t grasped its full value, or accepted that it shouldn’t be restricted to a specific time and place. Take Netflix. This is entertainment we can all enjoy from home, regularly improving, regularly expanding. So much has stopped right now, but the entertainment industry continues to evolve. There will be more digital-first ideas, more collaborations. People from the Khlaeej need to understand that entertainment shouldn’t just be kept within our community. Why not collaborate with people around the world, too?
How has life been in Riyadh since the lockdown – and how do you think it will change once you’re free?
I think this whole situation has, ironically, made people closer to each other, especially with their families. I think the way we greet each other could be different when we get out – less kissing and hugs. I’ve always been the type of person that washes his hands 10 times a day – now it’s about 300! – but maybe people will be more concerned with cleanliness going forward?
Finally, what will be the first thing you do when you can go back outside?
While we don’t have too many public places in Riyadh, my favourite one is the park. I’ll take a picnic cloth, some food and just sit there until the sun sets.
Editor’s Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Subscribe to GQ Middle East on YouTube
Abu Hamdan Aka Warchieff (Creative & Actor, Riyadh)
Photography by Prod Antzoulis