How 'Prison Break' Villain Amin El Gamal Hopes to Break Stereotypes As A Gay Arab Actor
As “Prison Break’s” newest villain, Amin El Gamal is taking on more than just the role of Cyclops. The actor and humanitarian discussed his gig on the Fox series which is incredibly different than anything El Gamal has ever done.
Loosely based on Homer’s “Odyssey,” the new season of “Prison Break” takes stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell to Yemen, where they first encounter El Gamal’s character. As an essential role to the plot, El Gamal said his character does some pretty unspeakable things that truly tested his ability as an actor.
TooFab spoke to El Gamal about his “Prison Break” role, advocacy work, as well as some of the strides he hopes to make through his projects.
“I did a lot of preparation for the role. I did my best as an actor to find out how a human being could get to the point of doing that stuff,” El Gamal told TooFab. “So I did a lot of work on the inside, trying to figure out what would bring someone to do some of the horrible things he does.”
El Gamal, who describes himself as “very friendly, non-threatening, built like a baby giraffe,” claimed he had to dig deep to bring the villainous behavior to this role, which tested his ability as an actor.
“The best part is being able to put yourself in situations you’d never be in, to test the limits of which you are and to experience different worlds.”
“I think for an actor, you also need to bring yourself to the role. The challenge ends up being like, ‘These are my actions, these are words I should say, so what is my in.’ How can I bring myself to this, and bring the dimension that I have as a real human to a character that’s two dimensional on the page? That was a huge challenge.”
El Gamal recalled dark moments from his own life to really help delve into character.
“I was overweight as a kid and bullied a lot. I didn’t remember doing this until I found a notebook from Morocco where I wrote down literally everything I felt insecure about. Every moment I remembered of feeling ‘less than’ and I think that was a sort of a dark place I kept while we were shooting. That sort of gave me fuel. Someone who never felt like he was manly enough, so he just keeps trying to prove his manhood in a way that’s very destructive.”
As an Arab-American gay Muslim, El Gamal said that though he isn’t one to tell other actors what to do, he chooses to speak out on social issues in hopes that people can openly accept not only him, but others like him.
“I’m outspoken because I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. I want to be at least a positive presence that can say, ‘Look at me! I exist, I’m fine. You are going to be fine.”
El Gamal has also made an effort to use his platform to speak out about organizations that matter to him. He is a volunteer with Black Lives Matter, runs a support group for LGBT Muslims and people of Muslim backgrounds and is beginning to work with the IRC (International Rescue Committee).
“I just see acting inseparable from myself. As someone who has had rights been denied to me, or been discriminated against, and the other side of the acting coin for me is showing up and speaking about who I am and educating people to be better humans and to be more compassionate to each other. I don’t see a difference between acting and activism.”
“I think the stories that we tell really shape culture, shape policy and shape how we treat each other. If I’m going to be given a platform to talk and to promote my projects, there’s no point to me if I’m not going to talk about things that I care about that other people may not be talking about. I think we do have a duty when we tell stories to try and move whatever influence we have to help the greater good.”
When asked whether the lack of diversity in Hollywood is due to miscasting or deficit of roles, El Gamal said it’s a bit of both.
“I think we need to — at least in the Arab American community — we need to encourage our young kids to go into the arts if they’re so inclined instead of being like, ‘That’s not a real thing! You should study something real like science or engineering,'” he said. “If we don’t encourage them to go in that direction, then that will never change. We won’t have those people in the media and in the arts that are representing and changing the narrative.”
Though his character in “Prison Break” who has terrorist ties may be slightly cliché, El Gamal said he’s glad they chose him over someone who can’t exactly depict the role as well as he may be able to.
“I had second thoughts on doing the role for sure. But I thought, I’m not having a lot of opportunities that are this big, and it’s good that they’re hiring someone who has a Muslim background and who is actually ethnically right. It’ll be my challenge to see if the material I’m given, can I make this person a human and that would be a big deal.”
“I think if I can try to show this perceived enemy who’s also a human being, who’s also having the perceived struggles of everyone else that could be a powerful statement. If my skill as an actor can make someone begin to understand another person, then I think that’s a step to greater peace.”
As far as his work as an actor goes, El Gamal said he hopes that his future can simply be a breath of fresh air in Hollywood.
“I want to play a character that when you think of an Arab, you think of a human being. At the end of the day I want to feel that I’ve advanced the narrative about Arabs and Muslim Americans in a productive way.”