British-Egyptian actor Amir Al Masry had already pushed Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan to the back of his mind by the time he got a call confirming he had landed the role of Ebrahim. But as soon as he heard the team behind it — Michael Bay, John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce — he responded with an immediate yes.
“They aimed to tackle the war on terror in a deeper, more humane way,” said Al Masry.
The geopolitical series, which premiered on Amazon Prime on August 31, follows CIA analyst (Jack Ryan) after he’s plucked from his everyday desk job to go head-to-head with militia leader Mousa bin Sulaiman (Ali Sulaiman).
Ebrahim (Al Masry) is a young tech genius, who becomes Sulaiman’s right hand man. The two develop an older-younger brother dynamic as Sulaiman discovers Ebrahim is the only person he can trust.
After landing on location, Al Masry sat down with showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland to make clear he wanted to portray a human character.
“Nobody thinks they are the ‘bad guy’. Everyone is the hero in their narrative. It was important to me to make sure we see a journey happen from start to finish. I don’t have a problem with playing seemingly immoral characters as long as we, the viewer, can understand their plight,” said Al Masry.
A REAL SURPRISE
Al Masry had worked with Palestinian actor Sulaiman previously on the British TV series The State (2017), but it was the first he had acted across Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place). He said the affable actor “really is what you see”.
“A true gentleman and very down to earth. When we first met, he already knew about me and my work on The Night Manager, which shows that he made a lot of effort to get to know the people he will be working with,” said Al Masry.
The cast spent time with each other between shoots, exploring Canada, Morocco and France. The real surprise for Al Masry was Wendell Pierce, who portrays CIA officer James Greer.
“[He’s a] consummate professional [and] legend to watch on set and learn from and then absolutely crazy, in a good way, off set. Very funny guy, unless you’re the butt of his jokes,” added Al Masry.
HOLLYWOOD STATE OF MIND
Al Masry got his first break in Egyptian cinema with Ramadan Mabrouk Abul-Alamein Hamouda ten years ago, before beginning to go up for roles in American and British productions.
He saw a need for accurate casting in Hollywood, and for casting directors to stop casting non-Arabs as Arabs.
“Not only for authenticity, but we have a plethora of talented Arab actors in the US, Europe and Middle East that could do that part… We possess a certain energy that is very hard to emulate if you don’t come from that culture,” said Al Masry.
“It is important to give credit to all the amazing casting directors who make it a point to be as authentic as possible when casting a role. Things have definitely changed in the last few years, but we still have some way to go.”
Back in the Jack Ryan universe, Al Masry switched out his natural British accent for mostly Arabic dialogue. He donned the occasional American accent whenever his character was sent on missions, to blend in with his surroundings.
But Al Masry has more recently gone up for British and American characters, rather than solely Arab roles.
“It still feels sometimes like you are the ‘wild card’. People still have a predisposition for what ethnicity a character should be,” said Al Masry.
He featured in the BBC One series Age Before Beauty as Dante, a character whose race and ethnicity “doesn’t come into question once in the whole series.”
“In my experience starting out, I auditioned for more projects in the [United] States that didn’t have anything to do with race or religion than in the UK to begin with. However, I have to say that there have been some amazing projects over the last few years that have come out of the UK, where race and religion don’t come into play in the narrative.”
Al Masry, who last year played a Saudi college student following his passion of playing association football in America, has several projects coming up. He begins shooting with director Niels Arden Oplev (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) in a few weeks in Sweden, before tackling the refugee crisis with filmmaker Ben Sharrock.
“There is also another project which I am excited about, but unfortunately not allowed to reveal just yet, but if you come back to me early next year I promise I will tell you all. All I can say at the moment is it’s something I have never done before,” said Al Masry.
Don’t miss it!
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.