Q&A WITH RONNY JON-PAUL MOUAWAD

He’s the son of Lebanese migrants and has featured on shows like Underbelly and All Saints, and now the Sydney-born actor has his sights on making a difference on the global stage. With a penchant for filmmaking, Ronny Jon-Paul Mouawad tells Anoujoum’s English Editor Naomi Tsvirko all about his career, future plans and about that time he met screen legend Omar Sharif.

His current project

NAOMI: What are you currently working on?
RONNY: Well, my forte is drama and although I tend to play violent, erratic characters, I have taken on an interesting script for a short film called ‘Minha’ [an Arabic word which translates to ‘port’]. Without revealing too much, what attracted me to this project is the point of view of the protagonist, a young child who is very protective of his mother. We are working with the Islamic Council on this short [film] and even consulted with prominent Middle Eastern Australians like Jamal Rifi, who are in full support of this project.

NAOMI: What’s the main message of this short film?
RONNY: We all live in a neighbourhood, but how many times do we actually judge our neighbour? Judgment or judging others is common in the Arab world and in Australian society and that frustrates me. So this film and the arts in general, for me is a medium where I can make a change. This short film gets the audience to think about this and hopefully reflect.

NAOMI: Tell us a bit about your childhood.
RONNY: I grew up in Sydney’s inner west. My father owned a Lebanese bakery for twenty years and my mother was the best housewife in the world. I have two brothers and three sisters. Growing up, my brothers and I would have to wake up at 1am and help my dad out in the bakery, I hated it at the time but now I appreciate it. It taught me about hard work and discipline and that has helped me as an actor.
NAOMI: What inspired you to pursue acting?
RONNY: I went to De La Salle College, Ashfield and did really well in high school drama. One teacher influenced me. He was an English and Drama teacher. His name was Mr. Roger Wise, he was an Oxford graduate, and he saw that I had talent and that I really enjoyed acting and that stayed with me. I also used to watch my older sister rehearse for school plays in the mirror and I was always intrigued by what she was doing.
NAOMI: Were your family supportive of your career choice?
RONNY: I got teased a lot for wanting to act. My brothers and cousins had sporty interests, so I’d just play cricket or basketball with the boys to keep them happy. My parents would’ve preferred I chose a more stable path but they’ve accepted it all now. Kind of.

His upbringing

NAOMI: Tell us a bit about your childhood.
RONNY: I grew up in Sydney’s inner west. My father owned a Lebanese bakery for twenty years and my mother was the best housewife in the world. I have two brothers and three sisters. Growing up, my brothers and I would have to wake up at 1am and help my dad out in the bakery, I hated it at the time but now I appreciate it. It taught me about hard work and discipline and that has helped me as an actor.
NAOMI: What inspired you to pursue acting?
RONNY: I went to De La Salle College, Ashfield and did really well in high school drama. One teacher influenced me. He was an English and Drama teacher. His name was Mr. Roger Wise, he was an Oxford graduate, and he saw that I had talent and that I really enjoyed acting and that stayed with me. I also used to watch my older sister rehearse for school plays in the mirror and I was always intrigued by what she was doing.
NAOMI: Were your family supportive of your career choice?
RONNY: I got teased a lot for wanting to act. My brothers and cousins had sporty interests, so I’d just play cricket or basketball with the boys to keep them happy. My parents would’ve preferred I chose a more stable path but they’ve accepted it all now. Kind of.

Pursuing his passion

NAOMI: Where did you train to become an actor?
RONNY: I actually rang up NIDA [the National Institute of Dramatic Arts] after I finished school and I was told I was too late. I was three weeks late for their annual auditions.  I then called the Australian Academy of Dramatic Arts and instead of studying there, the man who interviewed Tony Barclay let me audition for a theatre group he was starting. I got in and once I was a part of his group he trained me. I was working with him from 1998 until 2002. He is an inspirational man, just phenomenal.
NAOMI: Do you find that the Australian film industry has typecast you as a Middle Eastern actor?
RONNY: Sometimes. I have actually lost a lot of agents because of that. When I shave I play an Italian on stage, I can play any character. In saying that, I’m not ashamed of my race – I’d rather be dead than anything else. But as an actor, I love to have scope and experience different roles and not be limited by race. I like to explore different ideas and experiences.
NAOMI: You have had roles in Underbelly and All Saints and said you started out in theatre. Do you prefer theatre or screen?
RONNY: Theatre, hands down theatre.
NAOMI: How many plays have you performed in?
RONNY: I have performed in over a dozen plays and am in one at the moment. I play an Italian New York gangster.

Love and life

NAOMI: At what age did you move out of home?
RONNY: While I was a part of Tony BarcIay’s theatre group I had an older girlfriend. I was around eighteen at the time and she was around twenty-eight. We didn’t date for too long, my relationships don’t usually don’t last too long. Anyway, the girl I was dating lived in King Cross. At first I was like, “how can you live here?” But I soon saw what she saw. It was a great place for an actor to live. It’s where it’s all happening. After we broke up, I moved to Potts Point. It’s a haven for artists.
NAOMI: Why do you think your relationships don’t last long?
RONNY: My last girlfriend said – “you have to stop taking your work seriously.” I guess she has a point, to a certain degree.
NAOMI: Can you tell us about a career highlight?
RONNY: The time I met Omar Sharif. A great friend of mine set up our meeting. I was working as a barista and got the call that Omar would meet with me in Paris. I was so excited. I booked the tickets straight away and was on my way to see him.
NAOMI: What was it like meeting Omar Sharif?
RONNY: It was surreal. He is older now and not in the best health. I had him in mind for a filmmaking project I am working on but it’s not the best time for him. He loved my script though and that meant a lot to me. I am so happy that I met him. He’s a legend.

His future

NAOMI: Many Australian actors go to Hollywood to crack into the industry, have you tried doing this? Or will you?
RONNY:I have come to go to the States many times, but something keeps holding me back. I’d actually love to be directed by Nadine Lababki in the future.
NAOMI: What is it that’s holding you back?
RONNY: I’ve been working on a two-part film for over a decade. I’m on the hunt for actor Tony Shalhoub to star in this project. It’s been going on for a while and I can’t tell you much – but I can say that I am passionate about it and that it’s a migration story about crime and criminal aspirations. It crosses the line but it’s a story that needs to be told.

Minha is set to feature in the Lebanese Film Festival in Sydney this year.

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