It’s hard to run a press junket with Shadi Alfons and Marwan Abdullah Saleh paired together.
The two actors, who star in the upcoming Emirati body swap comedy ‘Rashid & Rajab’, get along swimmingly. Too swimmingly. Ask them a question and they’re off — cracking jokes, riffing on each other’s responses and running each other off on wild tangents, as if competing to see who can make the other laugh most and hardest.
To the benefit of anyone who is going to watch their movie in cinemas this Eid holiday: they are equally hilarious.
The actors play an Emirati executive (Saleh) and an Egyptian deliveryman (Alfons), who wake up after a road accident to find out they’ve switched souls. They committed fully to their roles — even swapping their Emirati and Egyptian dialects.
“I grew up on Egyptian films, TV series, teachers and friends. I thought the Egyptian dialect was easy until I met [Shadi Alfons]. He broke me,” joked Saleh, who is from the UAE.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Alfons grew up in Kuwait and is familiar with Gulf dialects, but didn’t expect the Emirati dialect to be so different.
“It took a lot of work, arguing, fighting and hammering each other’s heads to nail the dialects. It didn’t come easy,” he said.
The pair survived switching lives onscreen in the end, but the idea of a real-life swap left Alfons in hysterics.
“You, come live in Egypt?” he asked Saleh. “And drive in traffic? And spend 22 hours a day filming on only one meal? He’d be miserable. It would be unfair, because I would live his life and I’d be happy.”
“But Egypt is where the stars are made,” said Saleh. “So, I’ll deal with the traffic and the single meal.”
“And we’ll make him a star,” Alfons agreed.
A LITTLE HELP FROM FRIENDS
“No questions, hands down, making movies [is harder]. With animation, we have steps and phases that we work on, and we are in a nice air-conditioned environment. But with movies, it’s like a crazy troupe of nomads. It’s like a circus — a mad circus. You hate it for the first five days, but then you miss it so much when you wrap.”
Director Mohammad Saeed Harib is already a household name thanks to his groundbreaking 3D animation ‘Freej’, though ‘Rashid & Rajab’ marks his first live-action feature.
He filmed the slapstick comedy over the course of 36 days. Through scenes in Global Village and a luxury Dubai villa, he was able to localise a long-standing legacy of body swap films — from 2003’s ‘Freaky Friday’ (Lindsay Lohan, Jamie Lee Curtis) to 2009’s ‘17 Again’ (Zac Efron, Matthew Perry).
But what was more difficult, making this film or making ‘Freej’?
“No questions, hands down, making movies [is harder],” Harib told Gulf News tabloid!. “With animation, we have steps and phases that we work on, and we are in a nice air-conditioned environment. But with movies, it’s like a crazy troupe of nomads. It’s like a circus — a mad circus. You hate it for the first five days, but then you miss it so much when you wrap.”
Thanks to a little help from his friends, the director didn’t feel like this was his first time making a feature film. Emirati filmmakers Ali Mustafa (‘From A to B’, ‘City of Life’) and Majid Al Ansari (‘Zinzana’), and Lebanese director-producer Rami Yasin stepped in as his co-producers and advisors.
“I’m not yet a film director to that standard, but I feel [as if] I have presented my third feature film thanks to having three amazing directors behind me who acted as producers. They made me look good,” said Harib.
In turn, Mustafa called Harib ‘a complete natural’.
“This guy is a blessing to this country,” said Mustafa. “His creativity is phenomenal, his ideas, his drive, his energy … [He] would show up on set all the time with such positive energy that you just loved being there, you loved working for him, you loved trying to take his vision and helping him make it happen.”
Did you know?
‘Rashid & Rajab’ is Marwan Abdullah Saleh’s first feature film role — and acting wasn’t his first-choice career. He grew up around uncles who were involved in local football. His father, Abdullah Saleh, was a beloved actor, but Salah dreamt of being a professional footballer himself, until he was injured in 1997.
“That forced me to turn to my secondary hobby, which is film. Ever since then, I’ve been acting,” said Saleh.
tabloid! asks: Who would you swap with?
We asked the cast and crew of ‘Rashid & Rajab’: if you had to switch bodies with anyone in the world for one day, who would you choose and why?
Mohammad Saeed Harib: A barista. “One day I will be in a very small, tiny coffee shop, serving coffee, talking to people as they go and just living that kind of life. And if I fight with someone, I will just buy the coffee shop.”
Marwan Abdullah Saleh: Will Smith. “He doesn’t sit still for a single day. He sings, acts and dances. And he just did Genie — my dream role.”
Shadi Alfons: Megan Fox. “I want to see how she lives, what she does with her day!”
Sheema: Princess Diana. “I always admired the way that she looks like a lady, not just like a princess. I loved the charity side to her, the humility.”
Rami Yasin: Ali Mustafa. “Because I’m always wondering how his mind works.”
Ali Mustafa: No one. “[laughs] I’m already struggling being myself.”
What is ‘Rashid Al Rajab’?
‘Rashid & Rajab’ is a body-swap comedy that follows a wealthy Emirati executive, Rashid (Marwan Abdullah Saleh), and a carefree Egyptian delivery man, Rajab (Shadi Alfons [‘SNL Bil Arabi’, ‘Al Bernamig’], who switch bodies after a freak accident. The unlikely pair gain a new perspective on each other’s lives as they try to find a way to switch back.
Who is in it?
The film’s supporting actors include Emirati television presenter Sheema and Egyptian actress Doaa Ragab, who play ‘Rashid & Rajab’s’ onscreen wives, as well as the Jordanian-raised South Korean actor Wonho Chung, the Lebanese actor Fady Ebrahim and the Emirati actress Haifa Al Ali.
Don’t miss it!
‘Rashid & Rajab’ is out in the UAE on June 4.