Hidalgo – Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif. To do a picture in the Sahara with Omar Sharif is perhaps a little too outlandishly perfect. In this film, he plays the Sheik who invites Frank Hopkins to race in the Middle East. We shot many of our desert exteriors in Morocco, basing out of Erfoud near the Merzouga Dunes. Not an elegant place and when we got back to the hotel and washed off the red sand and mud accumulated after a day’s work, we all agreed our hotel bathrooms looked as though a murder had just occurred. I think we were washing red sand out of our ears for months. Omar, on the other hand, was the picture of elegance and style. On set, he was humble, patient and as kind and collaborative as an actor can be with a crew. He enjoyed watching the crew work and was fascinated by how they did their jobs in such difficult conditions. At the end of a hard day’s work, we would come dragging back to our hotel, tracking red dirt through the lobby and our eyes stinging from the daily sandstorms that hit us… And there would Omar be, sitting by the pool in a perfectly pressed silk suit and tie… The picture of elegance. He would wave the crew over to his table, order us a beer and Spanish peanuts and invite us to unwind. He did this for everybody no matter what department they were in. He was just so thankful to the crew. At these times, the old Lawrence Of Arabia stories would start to flow. We heard about the cast and crew camping in tents on location in Syria and how he learned to ride a camel… And the Oscar night when he stood to except the award after Ed Begley’s name was announced as the winner. Fantastic. And to sit there and know the great Sahara Desert was just over the hotel wall. It was beyond belief and I think Omar knew very well just how in awe we were to hear these stories on his stage. As a result, his character in the film is presented as one of great wisdom, belief and faith in what is honorable and right. I think the way he interacted with everybody helped them personify those traits for his character.

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