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How Omar Sharif landed Lawrence of Arabia role instead of Rushdy Abaza

Published: Updated:

Many yarns are still being spun for the Don Juan of Egyptian cinema, Rushdy Abaza, who would be celebrating his 96th birthday this week but none more intriguing than this.

According to Egyptian makeup artist, Mohammed Ashoub, Abaza was British director David Lean’s first choice to star in the academy award winning epic historical drama Lawrence of Arabia.

Ashoub said that the role slipped away from Abaza and landed with the late Omar Al Sharif and launching his career in to international stardom due to a simple miscommunication.

In his tale Ashoub claimed that when David lean arrived in Cairo in pursuit of an actor to take up the role of Sherif Ali he was recommended Rushdy Abaza who had the physical features and spoke five languages.

When Lean requested a meeting with Abaza, according to Ashoub, the message was muddled. Abaza was told that David Lean requested him for an onstage test and was offended. The response to Lean from the actor, Ashoub said, was to go to the cinema and see for himself.

The British dirtector went to Diana cinema in Cairo and watched Rushdy Abaza’s film ‘fi baytuna rajol’ (A man in our home) but was impressed by another actor in the film, Omar Al Sharif. Soon after that Lean met Al Sharif and signed him to the film.

Ashoub said that when the film received critical acclaim and became an international hit Abaza was shocked and disappointed which led to a very frosty relationship with al-Sharif.

This article is also available in Arabic.