Hot Topics: Hazem Shammas

Sounds like a bid right there. Yes! Find your truth.


After gaining your Logie, you reflected on the fact that you were “just a little immigrant boy from the suburbs.” What was the money situation like growing up? Always a stress point. You know, migrants coming here on an up-and-coming barge from a poor village.

To what extent was your move an economic decision? As they left Fassouta, life for the Arab Israelis became increasingly difficult and less peaceful. My mother studied nursing and my father wanted to study electrical engineering, but he was told he could only do that if he became a teacher. So they decided to emigrate and brought all their savings with them. Dad ended up getting an electrical engineering degree here and for the next 20 years he worked days and mom worked nights so we were never alone. I definitely inherited some insecurity about money from my early childhood.

How did you come up with the idea of ​​wanting to work in art? You do it by promising that you’ll get a degree in a regular job first. My first degree was a Bachelor of Building and Project Management. At the same time, I started doing acting and giving weekend workshops. I was sort of moonlighting for a few years, then when I graduated at 25, I said, “That’s it, I’m out of here.”


What was your first paid acting job? I had a role in Australia’s most wanted 1994 as a hooded criminal. But my first real job in a year at the Actors Center [in Leichhardt, in inner-west Sydney] followed by three years at WAAPA [the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts]was at the Belvoir St Theatre [in inner Sydney’s Surry Hills].

What are the realities of money as an actor? You are an artist in a country that doesn’t really appreciate artists so only do it if you love it. I’m always grateful for the work I get, but the reality is that even great actors work for free. Every other artist in this country gets a check when they win an award: No acting award is rewarded with a check. So even the most famous actors could still have problems.

What are your criteria for saying yes and no to jobs? It has to make money [laughs]. I have to take care of a young family [Shammas has three sons aged six, four and 10 months]. I think actors are made to feel that they are not allowed to appreciate the “business” part of show business. But we must, and it is wise to do so.

Suppose I give you $100 and you have to spend it within the hour. What are you buying? I would buy my partner a nanny for a day. And a massage. A massaging nanny.


Describe your body to me. My goodness, this is difficult. [Pauses] I am slim. Not too big, but not too short. I have long arms and big hands. I have hairy legs and a less hairy torso. I’m pretty active so I think I have muscle definition. I have a beard and a full head of hair. I have thick eyebrows that speak and express as much as my hands. Deep-set eyes. Eyebrows. And a good Arabic nose.


How do you feel about these physical qualities? I’ve learned to love her.

“Mature” implies that this wasn’t always the case? Yes. But then, in middle age, I became a little more grateful for this gift I was given.

Tell me why acting is terrible for your body. Because you’re pushing it, and as you get closer to 50 – the warranty’s basically expired – you start to feel it more.

Tell me why acting is good for your body. It takes you out of your mind. Especially Shakespeare.

What’s your secret party trick? I was always very good at standing on one leg.

Hazem Shammas plays Macbeth in Bell Shakespeare, which opens in Sydney from 25 February and in Canberra and Melbourne in April and May. Hot Topics: Hazem Shammas

Jaclyn Diaz

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