Ramy Youssef is more than thrilled to be back in the writer’s room for season three of his Golden Globe-winning series ‘Ramy’. “We left season two on a real cliffhanger and we’re really excited to pick up somewhere that I think is gonna be really cool for all of our characters,” said Youssef in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.
The comedy drama series, season one of which can now be streamed on StarzPlay, takes a hard and honest look at a first-generation American Muslim-Arab and his adventures in love, life and family.
“There are definitely certain complications and certain struggles and certain things with the character that feel real to me but I’ve been really lucky because I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to be a creative for a really long time,” says Youssef, 30, about his character. “Since I was pretty young, I was making things and I feel very fulfilled in that track. And so I wanted to imagine a character who didn’t have that kind of fulfilment and what if I didn’t have that and I know that there would be a lot that would be really confusing for me. And so this character gets to live in that space.”
The comedian, actor and creator talks about spirituality during a pandemic, why he wanted to create his show and whether we’ll see Egyptian footballer Mohammad Salah in season three and more. Edited excerpts follow:
A whole year has passed since we’ve moved into this new reality of sorts. What has life been like for you since lockdown began and what have you been up to?
The beginning of lockdown was really interesting because it was this process and this experience of things that were very important to me happening in a very different way. We had the editing for the second season of ‘Ramy’ became all virtual which was a totally different experience than the one that I’ve been used to be, where we’re all in a room together where I get to do it in person with an editor… where I get to interface with multiple editors throughout the day in person. A lot of that process was taken away, which was a whole new adjustment.
And then it was also on a spiritual side during Ramadan. In a lockdown, without the spiritual community in the way that I’ve been used to — going into a mosque together and getting to be at prayers... And it looks like, even though vaccination is getting better, that there will probably be another remote Ramadan.
You just find new ways and you realise that you’re always going to get done what you want to get done but it definitely happens differently. I really appreciate when I do get to go for a walk with someone now. [Laughs.] It feels like a really special event. And so that’s been a good exercise in patience and gratitude and all that lies in between.
So take us back to the beginning a bit, why did you want to make a show like ‘Ramy’?
I really wanted to see something that felt close to the life that I that I was struggling with. And I think the depictions that I had seen of faith on screen felt really polarising. They were either faith in the context of really horrible things that were violent or abusive or oppressive, or it was faith in a very protected or magical sense where it felt fake or it felt like cartoon angels in heaven.
I really wanted to make a story that showed a family that was struggling with the fight between their higher self and their lower self and a character who was really struggling with who he wants to be and who he actually is and really kind of finding that divide. And, really, for me, getting to do that in the context of an Arab Muslim family was really important, and to be able to focus on that and really focus on what our actual problems are, you know, we’re always shown in the context of terrorism, but we have much more relatable, human intricate problems, and in our reality, you know there are things that, that we are going through, as people that everyone is going through and getting to do that in a super specific way was a really important thing for t
The show has sometimes been described as semi-autobiographical. Is it really? How much of you is in your character, and conversely, at what points do you and your character completely diverge?
There are definitely points where we diverge. Almost at every place, I like to think of my character as, you know, we all have a version of ourselves that we’re afraid of becoming. And so when I was making the fictional Ramy, I kind of had the option between, I can make a character that I wish I was like or I could make the choices that I wish I didn’t go down that specific path and it felt kind of more interesting to explore the lower self.
Because I felt like the character could offer more, and the character could delve into things and go into things, and ask questions from a place that could potentially make people feel less lonely and feel more seen and offer kind of more points for connection. So the idea of a character who is imperfect in the way that we all are in our lives, and a character who has a complicated interior relationship with himself and putting that on display. That was really exciting to me.
So one of the things I’ve come across when reading about the show is that Ramy can be so dislikable as a character. Were you ever afraid or did you ever second guess your decision to put him in these types of situations?
Yeah, I mean, there’s always that level of nervousness and a level of like, you know I really care about the community that’s being depicted in the show. I really care about Arabs and Muslims and I care about my own family and real life. And so there’s always a level of nervousness of the things that we’re going to do… But you know I feel like if it’s nervousness for me, it’s probably because it feels real and if it feels real, then that means that it’s worth doing. I don’t think comedy has responsibility outside of doing justice to the things that make you nervous.
In season two, Mahershala Ali’s character is of great importance to Ramy. What was it like working with the actor?
Just an amazing, amazing person. And as amazing of a person he is, [he is] as amazing as an actor too. And getting to be with someone of his stature and experience, who also is so curious and so genuinely a giver and so expansive and so open, it really was a dream. It was really like I learnt so much and I was really blown away by how much he showed up to really be part of the show. He was really someone who was interested in just making the show better and fully investing in it and I really feel like he did that and I think his character is a character that I’ve always wanted to see on TV.
Where are you at with season three of ‘Ramy’?
We’re in the writers room right now. And it’s, it’s been a really fun experience, getting to do it. We took some time off as we were kind of launching the second season and, and we’re a couple of episodes in and we’re looking to shoot this summer and come out at some point in the next year.
I also read somewhere that you wanted to get Mohammad Salah on the show for season three. What’s happening on that front?
A lot of truth to it, but there’s no development yet. But we would love to leave an open invitation to any season or episode of ‘Ramy’ or anything that I worked on [in the future].
We see Ramy hit rock bottom at the end of season two. How would you describe his state going into season three?
I’m trying to think of what I want to say. You know, I think we’re going to see Ramy kind of unpack a lot of why he’s done what he’s done and I think that in many ways for the whole family really, I think a lot of things that were unsaid are going to start to kind of come out. And so I think that’s gonna be kind of like a theme for all of our characters. We really spend a lot of time in the series focusing on everyone in our lives and we’ve seen them kind of move separately. And I think we’re really going to see it all come to a head and kind of come off. Everything is going to be put out on the kitchen table, metaphorically.
Don’t miss it!
Season one of ‘Ramy’ is now streaming on StarzPlay.