“I’m not surprised,” says British-Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry on the recent news that hit BBC drama “SAS Rogue Heroes” has been picked up for a second season. “Steve [Steven Knight, the show’s writer and executive producer] is incredible and so is Tom Shankland [the show’s director]. He [Shankland] brought a really refreshing take on the story, he’s brought it to a modern audience, so I’m not surprised.”
El-Masry, who plays the fictional Dr. Gamal, is echoed by co-star Alfie Allen, who plays real-life army officer John “Jock” Lewes. “I can’t wait for season two and I think it will be an incredible experience for those involved. It’s incredibly deserved. Steven Knight is a fantastic writer and long may the ‘SAS Rogue Heroes’ train continue!” says Allen, who played Theon Greyjoy in “Game of Thrones.”
The show, based on the book of the same name by Ben Macintyre, charts the birth of the Special Air Service (SAS), a British elite fighting unit, and stars Allen, El-Masry, Connor Swindells (“Sex Education”) and Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”). The first episode of the six-part series, which was shot in Morocco, had its Middle East and North Africa premiere at the Red Sea Film Festival, where it played as part of the Red Sea: Series strand.
“It’s nice to see Saudi Arabia taking a step forward and hopefully becoming one of the leading festivals in this region. It was only recently that cinemas were open to the public, so it’s nice to see them going with a boom,” says El-Masry. “I’m used to the culture, being from an Egyptian background and having attended the El Gouna and Cairo film festivals a few times, so I’m excited. I am also excited to see how people receive a show that is very British and seeing the reactions from that perspective here.”
El-Masry, who has recently appeared in Netflix’s “The Crown” and is set to star in Jessica Hausner’s upcoming project “Club Zero,” has his face stamped across the blue-lit corridors of the VOX Cinemas at the Red Sea Mall, where his latest Arabic-language film “#Gawwezni” is playing. “I never had major plans to work so intensely in the Middle East, but when we brought ‘Limbo’ to the region, it reminded me of how warm everybody is and how much they want to work and progress in the industry. A lot of people are coming over because they want to invest in the culture and there are co-productions happening as well. The bridge is getting closer; it’s already happening.”
Allen fondly recounts the months spent shooting the show in the North African desert. “To be part of a culture which is expanding is an honor. Shooting in Morocco was incredible; I enjoyed it immensely.” The only barrier keeping the actor from working in the region, he says, is the language. “I’ve met people here from different film festivals around the world and being able to ingratiate myself in this community in terms of going to film festivals and working in foreign languages is something I’d love to learn as an actor. I just need to learn to speak different languages,” he says with a laugh.
The “Jojo Rabbit” actor mentions the warm welcome he’s had in Jeddah, where “Game of Thrones” still has a lasting impact. It is hard to miss the legacy of the hit HBO show in the Saudi city, from hearing the opening credit song as a ringtone to many of the festival audience goers to the regular nods to the show in the industry panels at the Red Sea Souk.
“It’s been so cool. I couldn’t have felt more welcome,” he says. “I’d also like to reiterate how much Connor [Swindells, who plays David Stirling in the show] led the team. He led by example, his work ethic was something to behold, especially in an environment that was totally alien to all of us, in the heat, in the middle of the desert. It was beautiful. None of us had really experienced that, so to be led by a man, who was in the exact same position as us but was just keeping a cool head was quite something. I hope I get to work with him again.”