NORDIC NEW WAVE: Meet rising star Tarek Zayat from Danish crime thriller ‘Shorta’

With the Danish movie Shorta (Arabic for police), finally getting a release in the UK on Sept 3, we interviewed the impressive young breakout star Tarek Zayat. We first saw the movie at Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year, (you can read more about the synopsis of the film in this post), and were impressed by Tarek’s fantastic performance as Amos.

Tarek is ambitious and inspirational; not only did he get this debut acting role almost completely by chance with no experience, but he was also studying law at the time, so he had to work hard and juggle a demanding schedule, “I learned quickly that if you have your priorities under control, you can do everything at once.”

Find out about Tarek’s multi-tasking skills, experience filming the movie, his rise to fame since its release, and what else he’s been working on…

NW: What inspired you to pursue an acting career and what challenges have you faced?

TAREK: That’s a funny story. Since I was a kid, I’ve always had big ambitions with my life. I never expected to go for an acting career and never even thought about it. I lived in one of Denmark’s biggest ghettos all my life and still do and I studied law school at the University in Copenhagen.

All this changed last year when I was buying some clothes and went for a walk at the city centrum with my friends. A caster approached us and asked if we wanted to try to come to an audition for a movie called Shorta (also known as Enforcement in the US).

At the beginning I hesitated, cause where we come from, chances like that never come, and I thought that even if I go to the audition, why would they pick me out of hundreds of others? After all, I’m just a hoodguy.

But afterwards, I just thought “I have nothing to lose,” so I persuaded myself and went for the auditions, and surprisingly got the role. The directors said that my background and who I was as a person matched the role. But I’ve never acted before this movie, so it was totally new for me, all this.

Tarek squares up to Jacob Lohmann’s bad cop in the excellent Shorta PHOTO CREDIT: Tine Harden

When I got the role, they sent me for acting lessons and courses where I had to spend a couple of days far away from home, and just learn the acting technique etc. This lasted for a month before I was ready to go in front of the camera. The most difficult challenge I found came with the balancing my acting with my life.

I just thought “I have nothing to lose,” so I persuaded myself and went for the auditions, and surprisingly got the role. The directors said that my background and who I was as a person matched the role. But I’ve never acted before this movie, so it was totally new for me…

While we recorded the movie, I was still studying in law school. I had to control and balance between filming and studying. Suddenly I had to juggle between an ambitious education, a demanding script, and long days on the film set.

I learned quickly that if you have your priorities under control, you can do everything at once. Those 35 days we recorded the movie, I was getting 3 hours of sleep each day. I was either at home studying, at school, at the film set, recording or preparing with the manuscript. I finished recording the movie, while I was studying for my finals and ended it with top grades in Family- and Inheritance law.

NW: Do you think Danish cinema is an exciting place to be at the moment?

TAREK: Danish Cinema is a great place to be at the moment. We won an Oscar with Another Round, and there are a lot of exciting movies out in cinemas. Danish movies keep on developing every year.

When I was a little kid, I didn’t even like Danish movies, but now, it is impressive how good they have become. On the other hand, there is something I think that Danish cinema could do better.

Amos gets on the wrong side of the law – Photo Credit: Tine Harden

It is not easy for brown and black men to get roles in the Danish Film industry. And the filmmakers have a tendency to prioritize picking ethnic Danes who have been in the game for too long, to the roles. It is difficult to manage an acting career in Denmark when you are black or brown, because there is a restriction on which roles you can get as a brown/black guy.

However, my character in Shorta is a one-of-a kind role and Amos is not a typical brown criminal like the other guys from the ghetto. That is what I think the Danish film industry could do better – more brown/black guys in Danish cinema.

NW: How much fun was it working on the movie with the cast and directors?

TAREK: It was fun on the film set. There was also some long days, sometimes we could go 10 hours each day. Besides that, it was my first time being on a professional movie set, so it was all new for me. However, the whole team took care of me and showed me how fun it can be in a film set.

It took 35 days to record all the scenes from the movie, a further 10 months to edit between the clips. So approximately 1 year to make the whole movie.

At the movie set, while we were recording, I got a lot of help and advices from the directors and even Jacob Lohmann and Simon Sears. Before every scene, Anders Ølholm and Frederik Hviid would sit with me for a couple of minutes and explain to me, how the character (AMOS) develops and feels about the tensions in each scene.

Tarek’s character Amos makes a break for it! PHOTO CREDIT: Tine Harden

We were good at helping each other. Even sometimes when Simon and Jacob forgot the script, I would jump in and tell them what to say or correct them. After all, I read the script so many times, that I could remember every single line in my head.

There was a scene at the end of the movie where I had to be very emotionally affected. The scene was very difficult to act on. During the filming, I remember Simon telling me how I could control and act on an emotionally affected Amos. He taught me to think back at some hard experiences, where I had the same emotions that I have to act on in that specific scene. This helped very much.

NW: How did it feel seeing the finished product in the cinema?

TAREK: It was impressive to see how every clip and every scene we recorded got put together to become a whole movie. Even till this day, when I see the movie and each scene, I get flashbacks from the film set the day we recorded it. You watch a movie differently when you’ve been behind the scenes on the same movie, and that is how I feel when I see the finished product in the cinema.

I remember first time watching it, me and the team was in Venedig, Italy, for the Venice Film Festival. The movie had world premiere in Italy as it was nominated for an award, and while being there and standing in front of all those people giving me a round of applause, asking for autographs and giving me compliments about my acting skills, I felt like a real actor.

That’s where it came to me, that this is all real and I want to continue with my acting career.

Meet the cast – From Left: Jacob Lohmann, Tarek Zayat, Issak Khattab and Simon Sears

NW: What else have you been working on and what is coming next for you?

TAREK: Since the movie came out in Danish Cinemas, I’ve been offered a lot of jobs. I got into the model industry and have since made some photoshoots for a couple of Danish brands, including FLYING TIGER. Now I can proudly call myself an actor, freelance model, and a law student.

Since the movie came out my whole life has been overwhelming, and I’ve never been used to it. People who stop me in the middle of the street to take pictures with me, fans and supporters texting me, and all the interviews I’ve done since.

In relation to my acting career, I’ve made some short films (not out yet), been acting in a couple of music videos, made some work with SONY Denmark and have yet been to a lot of casting for different movies and series.

I even had the pleasure to participate in making a short film for the Danish National Museum. But my ambitions are way too high for me to stop now. Now that I’ve started my acting career in Denmark, I can see myself aiming for an international career as well.

Want to WIN yourself a digital copy of Shorta to own? Head to our Twitter page @NordicWatchlist to get a chance to win (open to UK residents and finishes midnight on Sunday) – don’t have Twitter? Then share this post and subscribe to Nordic Watchlist to give yourself a chance!

Interview by Alex Minnis

Shorta – released in cinemas and digital 3rd September. 

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