Legendary actor Omar Sharif on his roles and Hollywood — now and then
“Hollywood does not require me anymore. I seldom accept films now, and when I do, they are either European or Egyptian. The present mode of cinema in Hollywood is not my cup of tea,” says the legendary actor Omar Sharif in a telephonic conversation from Cairo.
His latest film, The Traveller, directed by Ahmed Maher, won critical acclaim in Europe and released in Cairo this month.
Says Sharif, “In The Traveller, I play a complex character who comes to know about various facets of life whilst on a journey.”
The most promising discovery of the legendary Sir David Lean, along with Peter O' Toole, is not very happy about the present set-up of Hollywood, where he was once literally worshipped.
“Contemporary Hollywood is thoroughly commercial and ruthlessly professional. The stress is more on form and technique than content though there are brilliant directors such as Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg.”
Sharif is one actor who never believed in stylisation. And, he was Gregory Peck's personal choice for Mackenna's Gold. The actor assesses himself: “I believe in submitting to my director totally, and then give that additional touch after studying my character. For instance, the holding of my chest prior to the death scene in Dr. Zhivago.”
The Oscar did not come his way in spite of winning a Golden Globe for his majestic performance as Dr. Zhivago. Sharif has no regrets. “I did feel disheartened, but Lean said the tumultuous audience reception to my performance meant more than five Oscars. My joy knew no bounds when Ingrid Bergman said I brought alive on screen the character penned by Boris Pasternak.”
And, Sharif still wonders why Dilip Kumar did not accept the character of Ali in Lawrence of Arabia, which Sharif eventually played. “I really feel Yusuf (Kumar) would have done a fabulous job as Ali. He was a highly-gifted actor.”
The conversation veers towards his playing the role of Ghengis Khan in his first-ever historical. He confesses, “I don't look like Ghengis Khan. Do I? I don't have Mongolian features at all. The credit for making me appear like Ghengis Khan, my most challenging character after Dr. Zhivago, must go to director Henry Levin.”
An unequal world
If there's one thing the actor rues, it is that he could not give his best to Hollywood, as he “was a victim of dirty politics because I am Arab. What equality does Hollywood speak about? If equality existed there, Sidney Poitier would have been given more due. Being of white origin is the greatest asset for Hollywood.”