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He's Pitting His Pen Against Their Swords

Culture* Egyptian-born actor has put his career on hold to write a screenplay he hopes will stem the slaughter in the Middle East.

April 03, 2002|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The day is young, but Sean Delon has a weary expression that covers his face like three-day stubble. His intense green eyes are bloodshot. His broad shoulders sag as he slumps behind an old-model Macintosh, pecking away at his keyboard while Palestinian territories burn, while Jerusalem seethes, while another chance for a Middle East peace settlement turns to a handful of dust.

Though he's half a world removed from the bloodshed and the broken vows, Delon seems to be living in a separate time zone from the rest of Los Angeles. After dozing off at 4 a.m., he's already back at work on a project that may never come to pass, a screenplay on a subject few people in Hollywood want to touch, or even talk about.

Ask why this 20-something Egyptian-born actor would put a promising TV and film career on hold to pursue such a quixotic quest, and Delon will let loose a torrent of opinion: about the "true" meaning of jihad, the failed leadership of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, and the treacherous geopolitical crosswinds of our time.

Then he'll relate his recurring dream--"obsession" might be a better word--about how his script-in-progress, "No Other Way," an updating of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" set in the Middle East, could help stem the ongoing slaughter in an agonized corner of the world. After growing up in Egypt, a country that 23 years ago traded the sword for the olive branch in dealing with its Jewish neighbor, Delon is convinced that peace could still be brokered between Israel, the Palestinians and other aggrieved parties now intent on wiping each other off the Earth.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Iranian revolution date--An April 3 Southern California Living story about an Egyptian-born actor's quest to counter Middle East strife with a film project gave an incorrect date for the Iranian revolution. It began in the latter half of 1978 and early 1979, not November 1979, when militants took over the American Embassy in Tehran.

Just how a mere movie might contribute to such a historic outcome, where generations of politicians and diplomats have failed, is a question Delon leaves open-ended. "People don't like politics. They find it boring," he says in staccato, slightly unsteady English. "But if you deliver the message of peace, of Israeli and Arab living together, they're going to believe it. Jews believe in the Promised Land, and they're not going to give it up. And the Muslims believe in the struggle, and they're not going to give it up. So the solution is to live in peace."

Simple, right? In his heart, Delon knows it's not. But his actions tell a different story.

On any given day, of course, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people out hustling scripts in Hollywood. Some hunger for money, others for power, a few for a kind of immortality. Delon's motives skew differently. Time and again, in conversation, his lofty ideas and ambitious talk circle back to a single word: Peace. There must be peace between Arabs and Jews, Delon says to anyone who will listen, anyone who will take his insistent phone calls and incessant faxes--movie studio executives, casting directors, newspaper reporters.

If the politicians can't see the light, he says, go around them! If the media won't put out pro-peace messages, make your own counter-propaganda! "I will try to meet Dan Rather or Barbara Walters," he says. "I'll send e-mail or something. That's America! One day you're nobody, and then.... " Delon lets the thought trail off. "I always pray to God. God give me a sign, keep going, keep going."

But Delon, who's been living in the United States since coming here to study in 1988, isn't pinning all his hopes on agents. He also has a patron: His best friend, David Degan, the scion of a family of wealthy Iranian Jews, who has pledged half a million dollars to the project. "This guy inspires me a lot," says Degan, 28, during an interview at his family's Bel-Air estate. "When this guy puts his mind on something he gets it done, and no one gets it done the way he gets it done."

For months, Delon has been trying to get an audience with Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, to plead for support for his project--so far without luck. Earlier this year he even fired off a letter to George W. Bush, urging the President to invite young Israelis and Arabs to the White House to show they're "united here in America."

And if he can't get his screenplay made in Hollywood, he's resolved to film it in Egypt, where his face is recognizable from soap operas and feature films such as Hatim Fareed's indie comedy "Sweet Guys," about a group of young Egyptians partying in the shadow of the Pyramids on New Year's Eve, 1999. "I'm not Tom Cruise," he says of his stature in Egypt, "but I'm established there."

To some, Delon's fantasy of boosting Middle East peace through a big-screen romance may seem daring and idealistic, to others naive or self-serving. Yet for Delon, who was born Hashem Ali in the ancient port city of Alexandria and raised a Muslim, the medium is less important than the message. If he thought holding a carwash in his backyard would make Arafat and Sharon lay down their arms and kiss in the streets of Ramallah, he might be outside in his shorts with the garden hose right now. "Peace is something I believe," he says, "acting is my career."

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