Born in Palo Alto, CA Egyptian-American actor Amin El Gamal is a young inspiration to many. Amin, who most recently appeared on HBO's 'The Newsroom,' sits down and gets personal with Splash Magazines.
The following has been edited for continuity and print purposes.
Sargent: How’d you get involved in acting? And when was it that you knew you wanted to pursue a career in acting?
Amin: I’ve been acting for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I never felt like I fit in and I was bullied a lot, so I would create crazy fantasy worlds as a refuge. Those worlds eventually become ambitious plays that I put on in my garage--with cardboard sets and bed sheets for curtains. Acting started off as a way to express myself and now I see it as a tangible way to change the world through stories. I like to think of acting as an act of activism. I became serious about acting professionally in college. My parents were really worried about it, and for good reason. They're immigrants who came here from Egypt for a better life, so when they saw me taking a tougher path, they couldn't help but not approve. That said, in the last few years they've been very supportive.
Sargent: That’s amazing that you stayed strong and kept pursuing something you’re passionate about.
Amin: Thanks. I was always a theatre kid through high school. I did countless shows in my undergrad at Stanford University, and then I went into a professional training program at USC. This is my first year not being a student--so I've been in for all sort of life surprises! The training at USC was extraordinary--so I felt as prepared as one can feel going into such a wild profession.
Sargent: Very prepared to say the least! You’ve been out of school, for about a year and you have managed to land a role on the HBO hit television show, ‘The Newsroom’.
Amin: Yes, I've been really lucky and I've also worked really hard!
Sargent: Being in Los Angeles, I’d imagine being an aspiring actor would be terrifying. Why do you think so many people give up on their dream at becoming an actor and what made you not give up and stick it out.
Amin: It's never occurred to me to give up. I have always had a deep desire to tell stories that haven't been told, to open minds and hearts, and to help move society forward. Issues of representation are also extremely important to me. How we portray certain types of people on TV can impact millions of lives. There has always been somewhat of a dormant activist with me and it definitely wakes up in my work. 'The Newsroom' was actually a great example of that.
Sargent:I read that originally you were given a name that originated in Swahili. How did you feel about this?
Amin: Yes, the original name for my character was of Sawhili origin instead of Arabic--which would have been really inaccurate for an Egyptian. I was terrified to say anything to Aaron Sorkin, but I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut because it bothered me so much! I mentioned it to the costume designer during my fitting and together we drated an email to Sorkin. He responded right away and was very open to changing the name. Eventually we collaborated and came up with the name that we used in the show. I was so moved by Sorkin's commitment to integrity and story-telling. Personally, I felt a responsibility to get it right because Arab characters are so rarely portrayed in a positive or even human way in Hollywood. I wanted to make sure my character did justice to brave people who risked their lives during the Arab Spring and helped, in a small way, to re-humanize Arab people in the eyes of the world.
Sargent: That’s great! Obviously integrity and not losing sight of your views are important to you.
Amin: Totally. Diversity and accuracy on television can really change peoples' perception of others. It was really important to me to have a name that accurately reflected who I am and where I came from. The first time my face is revealed is a big moment on the episode and I was thinking about all the little Arab-American kids watching television who might find a role model in that heroic moment. It may be idealistic, but i sincerely hope that some day my episode reaches a young, awkward brown kid with identity issues and a similarly weird sounding name, and let's them know it's ok to be who they are.
Sargent: I see that you have a theater background, do you prefer tv and film or theater?
Amin: Theater is my religion and has helped me grow as a person and an artist. It's also an incredible builder of community. Acting-wise, it requires the most stamina and skill, and ultimately I find it the most thrilling and direct way to connect to an audience. At the moment though, I'm finding the writing on television far more compelling than much of the professional theatre world and the world of studio films. Also, TV is the leader in diversity right now. So, I'm heading more in that direction.
Sargent: What are a few names that you would like to work with in the future?
Amin: I'm really loving Michelle Williams' work right now. She has this sort of anti-acting sort of thing going on. It's very real and seamless. Mandy Patinkin is another actor I admire--he's had several very differenct careers: singing his heart out on Broadway, building hilarious characters in films, and doing the procedural thing on TV. I'm a fan. Miranda July also makes my heart sing.
Sargent: Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone that is wanting to pursue a career in acting?
Amin: Just keep going, there are so many ups and downs. You have to hook up to a bigger cause to keep your focus outward. Don’t be to critical and always support your fellow actors. You should also do some volunteer work and just put yourself out there. I find that a lot of people are to scared to do that, just know that it will literally lead you to the next best thing. Stay true to yourself and never forget what you are in it for-you.
Great advice from a young inspiration! Take it from me, Amin El Gamal is quickly on the radar and a force to be reckoned with. I can’t wait to see him in other productions soon!
For more information on Amin and to stay up to date with his progress, please visit: http://www.aminelgamal.com/