RIYADH: From Wall Street, to pharmaceutical sales to a bona fide career in acting, US actor Eyas Younis, who is of Jordanian descent, is no stranger to reinventing himself — and with the launch of his new platform Casting Arabia, he hopes to help other performers chart their own paths to success.
The platform came to life in January, after 18 months of meticulous planning, and with more than 1,700 applicants already on the waiting list, it is clear that there was strong demand for such an initiative in the Middle East.
“Drawing on my background in business, I created a free online platform named Casting Arabia,” Younis told Arab News on the sidelines of the recent Ignite forum in Riyadh.
On the portal, any filmmaker can post the roles needed for the cast and crew of their upcoming project, and members of Casting Arabia can apply.
On the flipside, actors and other creative talents in the industry can create non-public profiles and submit themselves for the opportunities posted on the site.
“This is the system in the US on many of the platforms, like backstage, actors, and other casting networks that keep your profile private. By doing it this way, you empower the talent to pick the roles they resonate with,” Younis explained.
The website also features free learning tools, including short and snappy videos on how to take the best headshot, as well as tips for analyzing a script — and more.
It is a valuable tool for up-and-coming actors, made all the more meaningful as Younis himself was once a struggling actor.
Coming from a background in finance, armed with an MBA, Younis worked on New York’s Wall Street until the market crash of 2008, when he returned to Jordan and took up a position at a pharmaceuticals giant in Amman.
“But still, the nagging voice in my head kept searching for excitement, a break from (the) boring corporate world,” shared Younis. One day, he spotted an ad for an acting working on Facebook and, upon arriving, realized it was an open audition.
As daunting as that may sound to the rest of us, Younis gave it a shot — although he admits nerves took over and he sent his brother, who had accompanied him, home, saying “‘I am too nervous for you to sit next to me. Go home.”
He memorized the lines, sang terribly and gave a less-than-stellar performance, but by sheer luck a director named Deema Amr who had just secured her first feature film witnessed the audition and later told him “you were horrible, but there is something there, you should explore it,” according to Younis, who laughs at the memory.
She called him in to audition for a supporting role in “A 7 Hour Difference” — he landed the gig and never looked back.
“I didn’t take the decision to pursue it proficiently. It was a good beginning but it was that feeling of ‘ahhh, this is where I found myself,’” he said.
However, the producer of the film continued to call Younis, offering audition after audition, and he went on landing parts.
“Then I was approached by Basim Ghandour for a short film, on set I decided I would quit. I remember (it was) March 15, 2011. I went to take acting classes in New York, but I wasn’t in a hurry to move there. I kept thinking there was too much competition. Who wanted another Arab actor?
“I vowed never to play a terrorist and never will. But bravely, I signed up for an acting course at the (Stella Adler Studio of Acting). The intensive course program ran for several months, I attended various classes from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. daily. We covered everything from Shakespeare to acting for TV and film. It was very intense… I remember I decided after the course that there would be more opportunities for me in the US than in the Arab world. I just had that feeling that I could do it here,” he said.
“After selling my car and furniture and quitting my job, I moved to New York in May 2011. I got a manager in July and booked a play in September. I was on the prime-time TV show ‘Deception,’ playing an Albanian mafia boss… so, in less than a year, I was on TV.
“I still remember when I called my mum and said I would be on TV, and she knew I wasn’t coming home,” he added.
Cue roles in CBS’s “Unforgettable,” “Homeland” and “NCIS: LA” and it’s safe to say that Younis has found his calling.