Legendary actor Omar Sharif took a few years off from films, returning to the screen only after becoming totally captivated by the character of Monsieur Ibrahim. In this interview, Sharif discusses his passion for this movie and for life:
Your character could be described as a mentor in Monsieur Ibrahim. What advice do you have for younger generations?
Im very wary about giving advice. I think its very dangerous to give advice to people, except if you know them very well. I gave advice to my son because I know him extremely well, but I wouldnt dare give advice to other people because its dangerous. You may give the wrong advice, you may influence somebody, and you might be wrong.
This character in the film, these things that he says which sound like advice and wise things, they are very common for Orientals. Its all the tradition. For generations, people tell their children and their grandchildren [advice such as he does], which sound extremely wise and are extremely wise. But my character, he says them naturally. Its something that hes always lived with.
What appealed to you about this role?
There is some mystery, to me, about this character. I discussed it with the director and the writer. They didnt accept me theory not a theory, but just a thought I had about this character. I noticed that this man only exists when the boy comes into the grocery. We dont see him outside. I noticed also that a man who has a grocery on a street like that, he should know his customers. He never speaks to any of the other customers. They come in, they buy their stuff, they pay, and they go out. Hes been there for 50 years. It seems strange to me that he doesnt speak to them. He doesnt say, Hows your mother? Hows your daughter?
Was he a sort of angel sent to save this boy and to make him happy, to make him smile? Hes a very somber, lonely boy. The writer said to me, I didnt write that at all. I said, Okay. Im not playing that but its in the back of my mind. Im just wondering how does he read his mind? The first encounter they had, the boy thinks, Well, hes only an Arab. I can steal the groceries. As hes going out he says, Im not an Arab. I come from the Golden Crescent. He read his mind. Hes a strange sort of man, isnt he? Its not just the advice and the wisdom that he has.
In the movie there are assumptions we make because of labels. In this case, its their religion. Abraham is a Muslim and Momo is Jewish, yet nothing is really made of that.
This is one of the factors that also made me very much want to make this film, apart from the fact that I loved it. If the boy hadnt been Jewish and the man hadnt been Muslim, it wouldnt have made any difference to the film. I dont think its relevant, really. What makes it extremely relevant is the situation in the Middle East. If now the Palestinians and the Israelis were at peace, it would have no relevance this relationship between a Muslim man and the Jewish boy. The reason it has relevance is because I, as a popular Arab personality the Arab people like me and respect me thought it was time for me to make an ever so tiny statement about what I thought about this whole thing. I know it wont change the world. It wont stop violence, it wont stop hatred. I wanted to say that it is possible to love each other and to live with each other.
My philosophy is that when I go out of my room, Im prepared to love everybody I meet, unless theyre bad. If theyre bad, Im prepared not to love them and to dislike them independently of the fact if theyre Jewish or theyre Black or White or Christian or Muslim. Its like when we did Funny Girl during the Six Day War. A lot of the Arab press naturally said, This man is a traitor. Hes kissing Barbra Streisand whos giving dollars in favor of Israel. There was a lot of press asking, What do you think of this press saying that you kissed Barbra Streisand? I said, Nor in my professional nor in my private life do I ask a girl her nationality or her religion before I kiss her. That has nothing to do with it.
Strangely enough, I brought up my son this [way] and by the most extraordinary accident, my son married three times. He married first a Jewish girl, second a Catholic girl, and now hes married to a Muslim. I have a Jewish grandson and a Muslim grandson who are brothers as well as my two grandchildren. My son did not do it on purpose but I had so much taught him this, that it doesnt matter who you kiss, if you think theyre nice.
PAGE 2: Taking Time Off and Passions