Mike Mosallam makes his directorial debut as a writer and director with the new film Breaking Fast. A story that we can all relate to regardless of sex, nationality or sexual orientation. At the same time that it covers series topics there is the perfect touch of comedy.
Set against the twinkling lights of West Hollywood, Breaking Fast is a romantic comedy that follows Mo (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitors), a practicing Muslim still reeling from heartbreak. When an All-American guy named Kal (Micheal Cassidy, Zoom) offers to join him in his nightly Iftars –the traditional meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan– meal after meal, the two start to discover they have more in common than meets the eye.
I had the opportunity to speak for the creator of this story, Mike Mosallam. He spoke about his experience making this film and opened up about how personal this story is to him. In addition, he shared his experience to view the film with a live audience.
Nancy Tapia: Breaking Fast is your baby. It’s your directorial debut.
Mike Mosallam: It is both my baby and my directorial debut. Thank you.
Nancy Tapia: You’re welcome. I know your film made it to one film festival for sure. It made it to the San Jose film festival, right?
Mike Mosallam: At Cinequest. That was our world premiere, was at Cinequest in San Jose. Yes. We premiered just the day before California went into lockdown.
Nancy Tapia: What was your experience to be able to premiere it and see people’s faces? The excitement of getting to experience it.
Mike Mosallam: We were very grateful for it. We played San Jose on a Saturday to a fairly sold-out crowd at one of the theaters there, and it was not your typical demographic of the film. It was a really nice cross-section of both, and we were still smitten by how uproarious the laughs were for the film and how the emotional response to the more sentimental moments. It was just an unbelievable experience, and then the very next day, we flew back to LA, where we premiered here in LA. It was again a very sold-out crowd, and this time it was much more LGBTQ, and there were a substantial amount of Middle-Eastern and Arab folk in the audience. We were just so touched that the responses between the two audiences were nearly identical and that people were laughing and crying in all the same places. Honestly, it just made us really feel this movie was universal enough to really mean something to a lot of people.
Nancy Tapia: Right now, you mentioned people crying and laughing. I did both too while watching the film.
Mike Mosallam: Oh, thank you.
Nancy Tapia: You’re welcome. Which one was your favorite scene to shoot?
Mike Mosallam: I appreciate that question. My favorite scene, I think, on a very personal level of this film, was this scene in the mosque. I personally loved being in the mosque. The mosque that we were at was so unbelievably supportive of the film and what we were trying to do. I also think that finding humor in such a solemn space, like a funeral was really fun, and the actors were really on board. There was just a real sense of reverence for the interesting cross-section that this film fits in. I mean, I don’t think we get to laugh as much as we do when we’re dealing with things about our faith. Also, I don’t think that we often find these harmonious moments in the intersectionality of our faith and also our sexuality. So it was just a beautiful moment for me as a Muslim, as a filmmaker. I just loved being there, and I love being able to use and be in an authentic mosque here in LA.
Nancy Tapia: I want to ask you about the dinner scene. That scene has some serious talk, direct statements about each other. How did that scene come about to filming versus to when you wrote it?
Mike Mosallam: So I had to write that scene mainly because I didn’t want anyone to think that it fell on deaf ears that Mo, our lead character Haaz Sleiman. I was obviously, as I was writing it, was really coming at life from a real place of privilege. I mean, he’s a doctor, he’s got this really accepting family. He’s got his life together, and his identity was in a lot of ways, devoid of the hardship that I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of Muslim queer folk deal with. So I think it was a moment where his best friend (Amin El Gamal) who also in the film is a queer Muslim and has a very different backstory, could really explore their differences and how they got to be and also the difference in the viewing of one space and the role that religion plays in the profession.
Also, to that point, as I said, as I described who Mo was, what’s on the other end of the spectrum. Then, somewhere in the middle was Hassan (Patrick Sabongui), the inevitable ex-boyfriend who chose to lean into the culture and the cultural pressure and try to bury his authentic self. It was very important to me to have a representation of all kinds of experiences outside of just one that was just fine.
Nancy Tapia: How much did you enjoy exploring something so familiar to you? You said you’re Muslim and in this case, Mo as a Muslim and a gay man. I think anyone can relate to the story, you don’t have to be gay or Muslim, because it’s about breaking patterns breaking that merry-go-round.
Mike Mosallam: That’s exactly right. Listen, I think for me, one of the tonal pieces that I always came back to was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Julia Roberts inspired rom-com. These were all pieces that felt very real to me, and the biggest difference between them and myself was that I never found myself in those pieces. But I knew that My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was this deep dive into a very specific culture, I have those moments as well. I had the loud relatives. My parents are quite loud and boisterous, and food plays such an essential role, and there are these really culturally authentic and culturally specific things that I knew would resonate but there was nothing in film or TV that was showing that.
So for me to think, I just, would say, what would I want to watch? What is real to me and in writing those scenes, they ended up having such a universal appeal. Thank God I had so many friends from so many different walks of life say, “Oh my God, I’m not this, but this felt just like my,” whatever. I feel people were able to relate with so much, which means so much to me. It means the world to me, really.
Nancy Tapia: Let’s talk a little bit of a funny part of the film. I had two favorite scenes, and one of them was the “squat down with me” scene. How hilarious was that? Haha…Was that in the script, or was it improvised?
Mike Mosallam: Haha…No, it was very much in the script. It was one of those awesome moments. Haaz Sleiman was a tremendous actor and terrific lead in the film. He’s not somebody who was ever given a lot of opportunities to do comedy. Whereas for me, as somebody who comes from a theater background with a high emphasis in comedy timing and feeling things out, we’re really just ingrained in me. So to just navigate with him how to find the humor in these embarrassing moments were so fun. I’ll give you if that happens in front of your favorite scenes. I give you a little secret in the scene that ended up in the film, Haaz’s towel actually fell! Haha.. and so the yell that you hear from him is totally real because, through his counterpart Michael Cassidy, it was a real breaking of the back.
Nancy Tapia: That’s hilarious, haha…I was watching the screener by myself, and I was laughing! I laughed out loud, haha…
Mike Mosallam: That’s great haha…I’m so glad.
Nancy Tapia: Yes.
Mike Mosallam: What was the other scene?
Nancy Tapia: It was the dinner scene because I feel like that seen can open conversations after the watching the film.
Mike Mosallam: I hope so! I hope you’re right about that.
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Nancy Tapia: I think so. I feel when it comes to religion or politics there’s always we don’t always understand each other. Some don’t respect it. So it can help open up conversations to maybe delegate and give peace by just listening and understanding each other.
Mike Mosallam: That’s a good point. I hope so. That’s the intention for sure.
Nancy Tapia: I’m glad I nailed it for you.
Mike Mosallam: You did.
Mike Mosallam: Yes. You better climb that mountain haha…
Nancy Tapia: Yes, I loved it. So tell me how that came about?
Mike Mosallam: I have a background in musical theater. Both of my degrees are in musical theater. It’s coursing through my veins. I was just thinking, I was actually watching The Sound of Music, and there’s this scene, you know exactly the scene, and she’s feeling all not bothered. She loves the captain, and she’s supposed to be only loving God. The mother said to her, so simply just because you love this man, it doesn’t mean you love God less. I think I’m taking it a little out of context, but why can’t the same apply to me. Just because I love a man, it doesn’t mean I love God less. There are many people who say, to others, you can’t have both, and I don’t believe that’s true. I think we should live in a world where everybody should live their life. If they want to have a relationship with their Lord, let them. Whose business is it?
Nancy Tapia: I completely agree on that! We should have the freedom to do as we please and makes us happy. You know what, if we were able to do that, it would be a better world.
Mike Mosallam: Yes, I agree. If we can all get out of each other’s way. We are far more alike than we are different on a human level. The sooner we just accept that, the sooner we’ll stop fighting everybody to be just like us.
Nancy Tapia: I agree. Let’s hope for that change.
Mike Mosallam: That’s right.
Nancy Tapia: One more thing I wanted to talk to you about is the cast. How did you come about knowing that Haaz Sleiman was the one to play Mo, and Michael Cassidy was the one to play Kal?
Mike Mosallam: So Haaz and I have been friends for many, many, many years. We’ve known each other for quite some time. He’s really prolific, and he’s a pioneer in his own right in terms of being an LGBTQ Arab Muslim man. I really wanted him and wanted someone like him to spearhead this film. When he read it and said that it came to him at a point in his career where he was ready to take those kinds of risks and do these kinds of films, it really was just a serendipitous great moment where we got together. And because we’ve known each other for so long, and we had a shorthand that made it really, really fun.
Michael Cassidy came to me from our casting director, Tineka Becker, who is incredible. I didn’t realize that I have known Michael’s work prior to this stuff, but I was a big fan of both Dare and the Dare Project, his short films. And then also once I met him and fell in love with him. I found out that he wasn’t Jimmy Olsen in the Superman v Batman: Dawn Of Justice, and I thought, well, this is a sign from God, and he has to be the one.
Nancy Tapia: That’s awesome. and To finalize how much joy was it to film in LA in the West Hollywood area?
Mike Mosallam: Honestly, It gives me a little too much emotion thinking about it because filming this movie was probably one of the greatest joys of my life. It was such a collection of the best people doing really exceptional work, and I really hope that we get another opportunity to make a film as fun as it was to make as it is to watch because I just loved working with all of those people.
Nancy Tapia: Well, thank you so much for your time and discussing Breaking Fast, and people will finally get to see it this Friday, January 22nd, as a release.
Mike Mosallam: Yes, I can’t wait. Thank you so much.
Breaking Fast will now available on VOD today!