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From "The New York Daily News" Arts and Lifestyle/ Movie section Original Publication Date: 10/27/01
Pyramid Scheme Omar Sharif makes a movie about Egypt
By ELLEN TUMPOSKY
Omar Sharif avoids the spotlight these days but he returned to the screen out of a sense of patriotism.
Sharif plays an old man teaching his granddaughter about the pyramids and the pharaohs in "The Mysteries of Egypt," a National Geographic film at the Loew's IMAX at Lincoln Square. "It was something for my country, to show it in a good light and to make an attractive film about our ancient history," he says.
Sharif has emotional ties to Egypt and strong views about the terrorism crisis.
"The truth is, I don't think it's a war between the East and the West, really. I think the whole thing is a problem between the rich and the poor," he says. "If people don't have food and they have weapons, they fight. If people have food, you have a chance that they don't fight."
Sharif also worries about the growth of religious fundamentalism in the Muslim world.
"Women never wore a head scarf when I grew up," he says. "Now, religion is taking hold more and more. Religion takes hold of poor people more easily than rich people. The rich people live in their paradise on Earth, they don't worry about it."
Sharif became a matinee idol in his 20s but his life was transformed when he was offered the role of an Arab chieftain in "Lawrence of Arabia," for which he won a 1962 Oscar nomination as best supporting actor.
In retrospect, he sees fame and success as a bittersweet blessing.
"Before I got the very good fortune to be chosen to do 'Lawrence of Arabia,' I was married, I had my son already, I had a lovely apartment in Egypt, I was planning to have a large family, lots of kids," he says. "Suddenly, I found myself in Hollywood, in another world." He saw less and less of his wife, he says, and they divorced. "Sometimes I wonder: Would I have been a happier man had I not become famous?"
He laughs off the old stories of his prowess with women. "I wish I'd had 10% of the affairs that are attributed to me."Take the purported affair with Barbra Streisand, his co-star in "Funny Girl." Production photos of the couple kissing caused an uproar in Egypt shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967. "They said this man is a traitor, he's kissing this Jewish girl," Sharif recalls. Streisand handled it with a joke. "She said, ‘You think the Egypt-ians are angry, you should see the letter I got from my Aunt Rose.'"
Making movies and playing big-stakes bridge left his friendships and relationships transient, he says. "Every film was in a different country. I moved into a hotel, I unpacked. I met people for a brief time that it took to make a film," he says."Lawrence" star Peter O'Toole remained a friend. "We were out in the desert a long time, you know, [and] there were no girls around. All we had was our friendship. We had our little drink of whisky and a chat. I had just come from Cairo. He told me all about the theater, the actors and directors. It was like school for me."Still dapper at nearly 70, he lives a solitary life in a Paris hotel, but spends time in the Cairo apartment he shares with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson. "I get a lot of warmth and love and affection when I'm there. I like that, but after three months I get tired of it, because I've become half-Occidental. I get tired of people hugging me and touching me and I go back to Paris where no one talks to me at all. They're very rude and selfish. I like that," he says.