Dressed in an immaculate white suit and black shirt, Khalid Abol Naga flashes an easy smile as we settle down for the interview.
It's easy to see why he is not only one of the hottest young actors in Egyptian cinema, but also a heartthrob for his female fans.
Is this your first time to the Middle East International Film Festival?
Yes. I had been invited before, but I couldn't attend because I was shooting a film. But I visit the UAE a lot, especially Dubai and Doha, because I have friends that I visit whenever I can.
This year, I'm a juror at the Beirut International Film Festival — I couldn't miss that. But the rest of the jurors were nice enough to condense the procedures so I could come to the premiere of Heliopolis. But I'm flying back before, hopefully, I return here. Afterwards, I'm going to various international film festivals.
I love watching movies with audiences because I always get interesting feedback. Because everyone has a different perspective, it's great to hear what they have to say because it's invaluable since they are always honest about their praise or criticism. Like with Heliopolis, I was amazed by just how much support we received for it.
What do you think about the independent movie scene now that you have acted in one?
I think it's great. People right now are not used to the idea of watching independent films, because commercial production houses are reluctant to fund and release such movies.
They think that it's too risky so that may lead to some kind of tension. But if an enlightened director understands how important such films are for the movie industry, it would make it much easier to bring it to the mainstream.
What do you look for in a character?
The character has to have real human emotions. Any artist in the film industry constantly searches for that, for the ability to portray a character as honestly as possible.
Heliopolis has received mixed reviews... what is your opinion about that?
Well, it isn't a film for everyone. Personally, I like fast-paced movies and this is a very mellow movie. It feels like we are watching a documentary... and at the same time, we feel as though we know the characters very well, even though they don't speak a lot.
What do you think about the talent available here in the region, as compared to Hollywood or Bollywood?
Well, the only country that has a film industry, if you can call it that, in the region is Egypt. But even then, there aren't a lot of theatres to showcase movies. But Egyptian film industry, Hollywood, Bollywood... each is different from the other because each country has its own culture and system.
That's what's great about festivals such as this; it helps to enrich each industry by allowing them to come into contact with each other.
Another important aspect of MEIFF is that it introduced the various competition categories, something that had been missing in the region.
We need competitions to help create enthusiasm, and the people who love cinema would become more active because they are motivated.
In an alternate universe, what profession do you think you would be working in?
Good question... I'd probably be a performer, on stage or something.
Ok.. I'd probably be a fighter. I'd probably be fighting for people who don't have a voice, maybe like an activist. I already try to do that through my films, by addressing real life issues through the characters I play.