INTERVIEW: Breaking Fast writer/director Mike Mosallam

As Breaking Fast (read our review here) gears up for a North American VOD and Digital release on January 22nd, our own Peter Gray was fortunate enough to chat with the film’s writer and director, Mike Mosallam.

An enthused fan of the film in his own right, Pete was excited to chat with Mike regarding the origins of the film, the distinct casting, and how it was to create something so personal.

I saw this film about 6 months ago and I just adored it! I’ve been very vocal about that, and yourself and Haaz (Sleiman) have both interacted me on social media, so I’ve really made it no secret of my love for this movie…

Continue shouting it from the roofs! I have no issue with that, shout away my friend. I’m thrilled that you’re such a fan of the film, I really, really appreciate it.

I know that this was originally a short film, how did it eventuate to becoming a feature length film for you?

We made the short in 2015 and we were very lucky that it went to Cannes and a couple of other festivals, and sort of grew a life of its own in terms of people’s reception to it. We never thought about using the short to springboard a feature, but there was such an interest from the audience about what happens next with these guys and where does their relationship go. We obviously had this great concept of the month of Ramadan as the backdrop of the film, and rather than just one night we thought wouldn’t be interesting to explore the entire month and how that evolves. Really (looking) at the chasteness of that month and how do two gay men figure out how to navigate each other when you take away the physical intimacy? We were fortunate enough to find an investor who was a fan of the short…and here we are.

There was the interest in finding out what happened to these characters, and you had the notion of Ramadan. How did you navigate the fleshing out of the story whilst narrowing it down to focusing on the month specifically?

That decision came quite quickly in the development process. I have an amazing producing partner, and we knew very early on that the short was day one of ramadan, feature was going to be the month of and it was going to culminate with the typical celebration that comes with the end of ramadan for most families. So it was just everything in between that needed to be figured out, and what from the previous months do we bring in, and what do we look forward to, but the family, and the friends, and characters like Sam and how they interact within this story was really the fun part.

Haaz is just perfection as Mo. How did he become involved in the film?

Haaz and I have been friends for a long time, and he actually had a role as the ex-boyfriend in the short in a scene that was cut. So I then had to call Haaz and say “sorry your scene was cut”, but then years later I thought wouldn’t he be great for Mo, let’s call him up and see if he’s interested. He read the script and we just started talking about it, and because we’ve known each other for so many years that we have a shorthand…he can yell at me when he’s frustrated and I can slap him around if necessary (laughs). We knew we were both passionate guys and it could get tense but we knew how to get through it and it made for a really fun experience.

It’s such a joy to see an actor of his ethnicity in a lead role of a mainstream-skewered film that’s not stereotypical at all. It was really so refreshing to see. Was there any hesitation or reluctance on his end at all?

I would say quite the opposite. He really lobbied to play the role. He read it and I think it came to him in a time of his life where he was really ready to step into a role like this. I think we also talked about how this role was far different from roles that he had played previously. Haaz is very charismatic and he leads with a lot of sensuality, and that is not who this character was. So it was getting him to dial that stuff back and let someone else play that, and let himself be awkward and quirky and funny and be nervous….and it was new and fun for him, and he was so unbelievably trusting in letting me take him on that journey.

Haaz Sleiman and Michael Cassidy in Breaking Fast

Two of the things that are very important to Mo’s character are musicals and Superman. Is that something you personally injected into the character to reflect your own love?

Let me remove this as sort of mystery. Those two things about Mo are very, very true about me and I could spend a long time talking about both musical theatre and Superman. When it comes to Mo and I being exactly similar, it would just be those things. I needed to get out those loves that I have and I used Mo to do that.

Films that deal with sexuality or religion can often ruffle a few feathers and this film tackles both. How important to you was it to address such issues? Cause you really do it in such an open and honest manner.

People are so afraid of talking about these two things separately, and the fear of that just intensifies when you put them together. I think there is a large contingency of people where those two things together are not as in conflict as the mainstream narrative might want you to think. It was really important for me to create a sense of authenticity and nuance within that intersectionality that is very real for a lot of people, myself included. I think it’s a story that we don’t often hear about it, and it was very important for me to address it in a real way.

The character of Sam, who is this very opposite character to Mo, was he based on someone you know personally? Who have those views that may not align with what people expect…

Sam is not based on anyone specifically. He’s based on a lot of conversations I’ve had, and he exists in this world because I think it’s really important that we have grown Arab men who are friends, are friendly, who care about and love one another…and that we see that. Seeing platonic, familial friends is really important in reshaping the narrative of Middle Eastern and Arab men in cinema, period.

I just want to loop back to the casting of Michael Cassidy. How did become involved in the film? I imagine it could’ve been a challenge for a straight actor to take on such a role.

Michael came to us through our amazing casting director (Tineka Becker) and I did a deep dive and I realised I knew Michael’s work. His gay short film “Dare”, and subsequently the follow up to that, and after he and I had a Skype session I knew I wanted to work with him. He was so unbelievably charming and charismatic – even through a Zoom screen – and I thought if he could do that through this, God knows what he’d be like on set. He felt like this character. He walked in the shoes of this character. He proved me right through his performance. But subsequent to all of that I found out he was in “Batman Vs Superman” and I thought “this is a sign!”.

Yeah, I was going to mention that, because he really does have such a perfect Clark Kentness about him.

It’s so funny because we haven’t talked much about the fact that he’s straight, and I think a lot of that is because it never was something to think about with Michael. Michael said to Haaz at one point “I love you as much as I have any other love interest that I’ve played in any other film”…and it was so real for him. He never deviated from the idea that it didn’t matter who was in front of him. The role was that he was falling in love with that person.

Breaking Fast is available on VOD and Digital from January 22nd in North America. An Australian release is yet to be determined. Our thanks to Mike Mosallam and Vertical Entertainment.

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