If you watched acclaimed drama The Night Manager, you’ll know Amir El-Masry. (If you didn’t, can we suggest you find some way to catch it up?) The Egyptian actor played kitchen worker Youssef in the spy series. You may have also seen him in ISIS drama The State, in the Jon Stewart-directed Rosewater or in Woody Harrelson’s Lost In London.
You won’t have seen him on the stage. Not professionally, anyway. That’s because El-Masry makes his theatrical debut in Goats at the Royal Court Theatre this month.
Liwaa Yazji’s play is the story of a Syrian community where soldiers are celebrated and the people are fed propaganda. Oh, and when a soldier is killed, their family is given a goat as compensation.
Amir El-Masry tells us more:
How would you describe Goats?
For me, Goats is about the effect fake news has on a community. You either cope and be fed information under a certain leadership or, at your own risk, try and penetrate through those sources of power and seek out the truth for yourself.
Why did you want to appear in it?
I found Liwaa Yazji’s writing incredibly exciting, touching on a Middle Eastern community that voices a viewpoint I have never seen on stage, whilst not necessarily supporting it. I also feel that it has a lot themes that a London audience will be familiar with and appreciate.
How would you describe your character?
I play Adnan, a reluctant soldier born into a family of soldiers who sets off to avenge his brother’s death. His experiences on the frontline really mess him up and confuse him. He doesn’t know which side to believe. Struggling to make sense of anything, he runs away back home, leaving him with nothing to lose as he will either be executed for being a deserter or killed in battle.
How do you feel about performing at the Royal Court Theatre?
I’ve been watching plays at the Royal Court since I was a kid. If you told me in January this year that I’d be doing theatre, let alone that I’d be making my professional debut at the Royal Court, I would have shaken my head and said, “Good one!” I’ve seen some of the most memorable plays and actors grace that stage, so it’s a very humbling, surreal experience. I feel incredibly lucky.
How do you feel about making your professional stage debut?
It’s hard to say how I will feel until we open. I don’t really know what to expect, but the idea that an audience will be sharing this story with us for the first time is exciting, nerve-racking and keeping me on my toes. Hamish Pirie [the show’s director] and the Royal Court have created such a chilled family environment. It’s helped me a lot getting started in theatre.
The show uses a small herd of goats. How are you finding working with them?
Animal Actors have done a great job supervising us, making it a comfortable experience for the goats. Because we’re not forcing them to be at certain points on stage and they all have distinct personalities, no performance will be the same whenever the goats are on. Also, the word on the street is they’ve got a bigger green room than the actors!
What was your first experience of theatre?
I performed in Federico García Lorca’s Yerma in a school play. I played Juan. It was only three performances, but that feeling when the audience fell silent and were with you was electric.
Why is live performance so special?
I did a live film [Lost In London] earlier in the year, directed by Woody Harrelson. Whilst we couldn’t see the audience, all your senses are heightened because you know you only have one take and that sense of danger comes out of nowhere. I love working on film and TV, but you normally have the opportunity of doing another take if it doesn’t go the way you want. With live performance you have to adapt then and there. It’s an exhilarating experience, as you are also feeding off the audience’s energy.
Apart from the Royal Court Theatre, what’s your favourite London theatre?
Besides the Royal Court, I love the Bush Theatre. I love intimate spaces where you are up close with the action. Like the Royal Court, they are also very supportive of new writing.
What one piece of advice would you give aspiring performers?
I’d say to act wherever you can. Literally anywhere – in your room, in the shower, in the street (you might get the odd stare). Print off monologues you’ve seen from films or plays and perform them in front of your mates or to a mirror. It’s really important to train that muscle and you’ll grow more confident when you come to audition. There are theatre initiatives out there like Lyric Young Company and National Youth Theatre that help aspiring actors start out.
What’s your top tip for a trip to the theatre?
Always come with an open mind!