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Behind the Scenes with Kareem Ghaleb

All across the world, stars are waiting to be discovered. Years from now, we will perhaps watch our local grocer, professor, or even friend showcase their talents on the big screen. Kareem Ghaleb, a New York based actor, is taking great strides towards that fate, one film at a time. One of his most impactful and touching films over the past couple years, “Baladi (My Country)”, is certainly giving him a strong start to a filmography that will only gain more and more momentum.

I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with the 25-year-old actor, to procure more insight into what it’s like to audition and film movies. Kareem, who plays the newly immigrated Egyptian by the name of Gamal in “Baladi (My Country)”, shares how the film “put into perspective the struggles my parents had to go through when they first moved here [United States], especially with the American accent”.

Kareem, who moved to the United States from Egypt when he was only six months old, never really struggled to integrate and adapt in a brand new country to quite the degree as his parents had. This is unlike his character, Gamal, whose experience in the film is more similar to Kareem’s actual parents than to Kareem’s himself. Growing up, he learned English as one of his primary languages, so mastering an accent wasn’t something he had to do. Until now.

He shared that, “The [Egyptian] accent was a big thing for me because I wanted to come across as an authentic immigrant that doesn’t really know English that well”.

Jenna Bosco, the director of “Baladi (My Country)”, based the story off her actual father, who even cameoed in the film. “I was nervous when I realized he [the real Gamal] was on set,” confesses Kareem, “I remember asking him, ‘how am I doing?’, he was super, super sweet when he said, ‘yeah, you’re doing great!” Kareem shakes his head fondly at the memory. “I said, ‘yeah, but how am I actually doing?’”

Performing in front of the man whom your character is literally based off of is a lot of pressure, but Kareem noted that to adequately prepare, it was “a collaboration with Jenna and having my parents give me their perspective of when they first immigrated to the U.S.”. This research is what aided Kareem into truly achieving a high level of authenticity.

It’s no puzzle to understand that Kareem’s portrayal of Gamal and the immigrant experience as a whole is a critical one to distribute to all types of audiences. In the film, Gamal befriends a Jewish woman who is looking for someone to rent out a room for.

Kareem expressed that “unfortunately, there is a stereotype in the Middle East of Muslims versus Jews, depending on how intense views are, so it’s [“Baladi (My Country)”] showing how two different cultures, sometimes even opposing cultures, can come together and be family”.

You can watch “Baladi (My Country)”, starring Kareem Ghaleb, here:

Although this touching role was one of great significance, Kareem told me that, when seeking auditions, “there’s nothing specific I’m looking for, I am always willing to play almost any character or type of role…the more different things you do, the better for you and your craft”.

Wise words for all actors to take into consideration, that’s for sure!

Like many actors, Kareem is a star waiting to be discovered. Except, that’s not true at all. He shared, “A few weeks ago I spoke to a writer from LA, who is currently writing a CBS series. I kind of asked him, ‘from your perspective, working in Hollywood, how can I, as an actor, really kickstart my career? Is there anything I should be doing differently?”

Kareem leans in, and I know he’s about to drop some life-changing advice as he says, “He [CBS writer] really encourages actors to write their own material instead of waiting for an audition or for someone to give them a job”.

Well, there you have it. Actors, start writing!

If that didn’t convince you, Kareem used some unarguably successful examples. “I watched an interview with Jack Nicolson and he said something like, ‘I wouldn’t have a 20-30 something year career if I wasn’t a writer’. Look at Matt Damon, he wrote ‘Good Will Hunting’ and won an Oscar”.

As it turns out, Kareem is using this exact advice by revealing that he and a friend have been writing a feature film “for the past year”. He shares, “We’re creatives as actors, so writing helps work the creative parts of our brain even more”.

So, what’s next for Kareem? Not only is he going to be the voice of a main character in a video game soon, his aforementioned screenwriting debut will begin filming “in the next five years”, he jokes. Considering scripts typically go through hundreds of drafts before it’s solidified, that’s probably not an overstatement. Don’t worry, Kareem Damon, the Oscars will still be a thing then.

So, ultimately, Kareem isn’t actually like many actors. He isn’t a star waiting to be discovered. With a small smile, Kareem simply asks a question to not only all actors, but all creatives:

“Why won’t you be the star of your own story instead of waiting to be the star?”

Written and Interviewed by Celeste Wolf

Photography by Jesselyn Crawford

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