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Having already appeared in a crop of major films, including Syriana and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Egyptian film and TV star Amr Waked this year appeared as the policeman alongside Scarlett Johansson’s cerebral over-achiever Lucy, which is still raking in the millions across the world and becoming Luc Besson’s biggest film to-date.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Waked on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where his latest film, the Egyptian crime drama El Ott, directed by Ibrahim El Batout, got its world premiere.
Lucy has just passed $400 million and has beaten Guardians of the Galaxy in China. Did you have any idea the film would be this successful?
It’s incredible, and not at all expected. It’s phenomenal, the number of entries all over the world. It was a really nice experience to work with all these people, and I’ve been a great follower of Luc Besson. But what’s even nicer is the success that’s been happening. It’s really funny because I was shooting in Malaysia recently and after Lucy was released I signed my first couple of Chinese autographs for Chinese fans. My first Chinese fans! I felt so important.
Do you think Lucy has put Luc Besson back on the map?
I think he is back on the map, for sure. This guy is a director to follow and to learn from. And I’ve been very happy with the experience with him. I think he’s managed to direct me in a way that no one has before. And in a way that serves me eventually. It serves his film, but in a way it shows you another side of your capacity as an actor. They haven’t mentioned anything about a second Lucy, but if it is the case, then I’d definitely sign. I wouldn’t say no.
Read more Luc Besson Says ‘Lucy’ Sequel Unlikely
You’ve recently been shooting Netflix’s big-budget series Marco Polo. How did the production look?
I think Netflix has made a very, very powerful production. The value is immense, and the actors are so powerful, all of them, and each from a different part of the world. The amount of nationalities and languages spoken set was crazy – 26 nationalities and 30 languages, I think. I was very stimulated by the massiveness. The first thing that shocked me was the production value. I filmed in Kazakhstan and Malaysia. In Kazakshtan, it was in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains. We had to travel four hours from the airport to the hotel, and then two and a half hours to the location. It was very tough to film it.
Have they sexed up the story a little, Game of Thrones-style?
There are quite a few sex scenes in there. But not for my character, the Mongolian prime minister. No flesh for me! There are also a lot of fight sequences, with martial arts on a par with many Hollywood or Chinese films featuring martial arts. And wars scenes. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of sex and politics. And there’s nudity, for everyone. Except my character! But unlike Game of Thrones, it is rooted in reality rather than fiction. These things really happened like that. Yeah, there’s a little bit of fiction in the story, but there’s no fantasy, magic or dragons.
Did Marco Polo look likely to lead to further seasons?
For sure. From the beginning of the reading, you understand that this can’t stop here. They’ve stopped very early in the story – there’s a whole lot of sequences that will follow the actions that happened in season one. I think they can do three of four seasons. Marco Polo is such a rich story. There are so many wars with Mongolia and China.
We hear you’ve been linked with a couple of other projects. Anything you can talk about?
I don’t know how much I can say about them. One is a very small role and one is a very, very big role, and we don’t know which one will land. I don’t mind doing both. They’re both Hollywood and very big films. We haven’t signed yet, but there are oral agreements.
You already made a name for yourself in Syriana, but has Lucy helped keep your agent’s phone buzzing?
Yes, for sure. It’s the biggest film I’ve been in. I’ve never been in a film that crossed the $400 million barrier before. I might have a big head, but the truth is the truth: this is the most successful film I’ve been in. So Lucy did push somewhere I didn’t go before. That’s why I’m taking fan pictures with Chinese fans for the first time.
You’ve been politically outspoken during the two recent revolutions in Egypt. How do you see the current situation, with former military chief Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi as president and with activists being locked up daily?
It doesn’t look good. I’m not optimistic, but I’m not pessimistic at the same time. Today, look at what the Egyptian people did. They went out to tell [former president] Hosni Mubarak to leave. Hosni Mubarak left. After that a couple of prime ministers were appointed, and the people removed them. Then [Mubarak’s successor] Mohamed Morsi came, and the people removed him again. So from my point of view, the revolution is doing very well. It just needs time to absorb and see for itself if someone else needs to be removed or not.
There seems to be a sense of exhaustion among those who sparked the last revolution and now find themselves under military rule, would you agree?
There’s been so much hostility the past three years, so much imbalance and chaos. So people are scared of having another revolution, or making another step towards an unknown future. But I don’t think the pessimists understand revolutions. A revolution comes to destroy a system, full stop. It doesn’t come to build a system. It comes to destroy, to wait till another system is build and destroy it again if it is the wrong system. This is the job of a revolution. You cannot ask of a machine that destroys thing to build things. Can you bring the dynamite that brings buildings down and use it to build buildings up? It’s not possible.
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