Arab actor Lee Majdoub discusses life-changing success of ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’
DUBAI: Lee Majdoub was never supposed to get a poster. Agent Stone, the role the Lebanese-Canadian actor plays in the blockbuster “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie franchise, was written as a bit part — essentially a target for Jim Carrey’s stream of one-liners. Now, in “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” Majdoub has become a cornerstone of the franchise, embraced by both the filmmakers and the fans, and setting a new course for his career in Hollywood.
As Majdoub looks at the poster featuring Agent Stone, however, it’s not how far he’s come that he’s thinking about, it’s what that poster means to the kids going to that theater, and what it could mean for their futures.
“When they released the poster that only features Agent Stone, people came up to me and told me about their kids seeing it. They told me that their kids looked up at them with a huge smile and said, ‘Oh my gosh! That guy looks like me,’” Majdoub tells Arab News.
“I immediately realized that, growing up, I never had that; I never looked at a poster and saw someone that looked like me. I never even watched a movie and saw someone that looked like me, and even since then I’ve rarely seen someone that looked like me represented in a three-dimensional light. Now I have the chance to help change that,” he continues.
Representation has long been on Majdoub’s mind. Growing up without real representation on screen, he didn’t know how to embrace his identity in the West, often feeling the need to shy away from it in order to fit in. Now, his mission is to do what he can to ensure no kid coming from the Arab world or beyond is forced to feel the same way.
“I always ask what I can do in order to counteract preconceived notions about the character that I’m playing, or the person that you see on screen,” he says.
The fact that Majdoub has found the biggest success of his career thus far with the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies is fitting. Majdoub has been a huge fan of the franchise ever since he played the second “Sonic the Hedgehog” video game on the Sega Genesis back in the early Nineties. So when he got the role, it was not to collect a paycheck from another cynical cash-in on a popular intellectual property, but a chance to give his all to something that helped shape him as a child.
Luckily for Majdoub, the rest of the Sonic team loved it as much as he did—which he sees as the winning ingredient in the franchise’s outsized success.
“So many of the people involved in the creative process actually care about Sonic, whether they grew up with the video games, or their kids love it, or they love the comics. In some way, they were all affected by the Sonic world. I think it was just the amount of care that went into it,” says Majdoub.
“A lot of times with big-budget projects, there’s no communication, and it turns into a little bit of a nightmare. To come on board for the first movie and see that everyone cared was amazing — and not just cared for Sonic, but cared genuinely about the whole team. Everyone talked to each other like human beings. It was a breath of fresh air,” he continues.
The love and care that the filmmakers had for the franchise is something that the Sonic fanbase recognized, and returned in kind. “The reaction has truly been incredible,” Majdoub says.
For Majdoub, he has forged no more important bond on set than that with Carrey, who plays the franchise’s main villain, Dr Robotnik. Majdoub’s childhood hero was Carrey, a man who overcame a huge amount of childhood bullying for being different and went on to become one of the most beloved actors of his generation, and whose unique energy is what helped him become a success — a story not unlike Majdoub’s own.
“There’s no one like him. I’ve always loved Jim. It’s incredible that he’s been doing this for 30-plus years at such a high level. I experienced only a few weeks of his energy — I don’t understand how he’s kept that up for so long. He functions at such a high level, and is still at the absolute top of his game,” says Majdoub.
Carrey has said that after the “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies conclude, he will step away from acting, an announcement that pained Majdoub as a fan of Carrey’s, but warmed his heart as a colleague and friend.
“If he’s ready to walk away, then bless him. My hat’s off to him. He doesn’t owe anyone anything. If he feels it’s time to go spend more time with him family, he’s more than earned it. And for us fans, there are so many films to go back to,” says Majdoub.
The chemistry between Majdoub and Carrey was not exactly instant. In fact, in his first day on set, Majdoub spent their first scene together having practically an out-of-body experience, unable to process that a man who helped him become the person he is today was now standing opposite him, performing in top form, with Majdoub expected to respond in kind.
After an initial hesitation, Majdoub settled his nerves, and started living in the moment with Carrey. The result was not what they had planned. It was much more.
“The team said to me, ‘These moments of magic between you and Jim are something none of us expected.’ The more it got fleshed out, the more Jim came up with ideas. We started feeding off of each other — off the energy we created together. They told me that Agent Stone wouldn’t be Agent Stone if I hadn’t played the character, and I definitely think there’s some truth to that,” says Majdoub.
Part of the reason that they’re able to add so much of what Carrey and Majdoub do in the films comes from Carrey himself, who has the freedom to rewrite his scenes, to fit both his own and Majdoub’s talents.
“Jim gets to do a lot of the creative and writing for his character, they kind of leave that open to him. It’s like, ‘Here’s the scenario, and … go!’ He’ll figure it out write some stuff down. A lot of the stuff that he and I get to do are from his amazing mind,” says Majdoub.
Ultimately, it’s been a life-changing experience for Majdoub, allowing him to finally embrace his potential, with so much more to come.
“Thirteen years into my career, and I’m finally accepting what I really have to offer,” he concludes.
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