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Talaat Zakaria: From Playing Mubarak’s Chef to Mursi’s Bodyguard - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Lebanese singer Marwa (C) celebrates with Egyptian actress Yasmin Abdel Aziz and actor Talaat Zakaria during the first day of shooting for their film "Haha wa Tufaha" in 2005 in Cairo, Egypt. (Amro Maraghi/AFP/Getty Images)

Lebanese singer Marwa (C) celebrates with Egyptian actress Yasmin Abdel Aziz and actor Talaat Zakaria during the first day of shooting for their film “Haha wa Tufaha” in 2005 in Cairo, Egypt. (Amro Maraghi/AFP/Getty Images)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egyptian actor Talaat Zakaria is no stranger to controversy. A beloved comedian before the January 25, 2011 revolution, Zakaria’s career stalled thanks to his unwavering support of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and criticism of the revolutionaries. More than three years later, Zakaria is making a comeback in Haris El-Rayes (The President’s Bodyguard), a movie that sends up the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Zakaria said: “I begin filming my scenes in Haris El-Rayes no less than one month after Eid. This film will deal with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, all its political and social disadvantages and failures. I play the role of the personal bodyguard of ousted president Mohamed Mursi, and the film will include many comedic scenes.”

This is not the first time Zakaria will play a character with ties to an Egyptian president. The comedian previously starred in Tabakh El-Rayes (The President’s Chef), which tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a Mubarakesque president and a street food vendor. Zakaria plays the role of Metwalli, an ordinary Egyptian who inexplicably finds himself with the ear of the out-of-touch president.

“This film was great for [my career]. It was a good omen and milestone in my career, thanks to the huge success it enjoyed. It also led to me meeting with former president Mubarak himself. When I met him at the presidential palace after he watched the film, he called me ‘chef’ and continues to call me that until now,” Zakaria said.

Egypt has undergone huge social and political changes since the 2011 revolution. The ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood and election of former defense minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as president means that Zakaria’s support for Mubarak is viewed less as an impediment to his future career than it was in the days following the revolution. The Egyptian comedian even visited the former president in prison earlier this year, and many Egyptians respect Zakaria’s unwavering support of Mubarak in light of the political opportunism that has dominated the Egyptian scene in recent years.

Zakaria’s promising film career was put on hold by the revolution against Mubarak and its aftermath. His last film, El-Feel Fel Mandeel (The Elephant in the Handkerchief) was released in 2011, just after the revolution, and was judged a box office failure after Egypt’s youth largely boycotted the movie over the actor’s pro-Mubarak stance.

“This film was subject to a great injustice because it came out right after the events of the Egyptian revolution. My own political view towards the revolution and the revolutionaries at the time—I strongly opposed them—affected the film’s turnout,” Zakaria said.

He added: “Some critics were keen to slaughter the film based on my political views, but when the film was later shown on television, it was a hit.”

As for whether he intends to broaden his horizons beyond the realm of comedy, Zakaria told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I don’t think the fans will accept me in another role; I have always played comedic roles throughout my career. This means a lot to me and I don’t want to lose it. If I’m offered a dramatic role, I will think long and hard before accepting.”