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Omar Sy talks The Intouchables

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Omar Sy talks The Intouchables
By Wilson Morales

May 23, 2012

Coming out this week is the acclaimed French film, ”The Intouchables,” starring François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot, Clotilde Mollet, Alba Gaïa Bellugi, Cyril Mendy, and Christian Ameri.

Directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, “The Intouchables” tells the true story of a wealthy, physically disabled risk taker, the picture of established French nobility, who lost his wife in an accident and whose world is turned upside down when he hires a young, good-humored, black Muslim ex-con named Driss as his caretaker. Their bond proves the power and omniscience that love and friendship can hold over all social and economic differences.

For his performance, Sy won the César Award for Best Actor in 2011.

While in New York promoting the domestic release of the film, Sy spoke to about his experience on this film, winning the award, and the Hollywood remake planned for the film.

What attracted you to the role?

Omar Sy: The project was offered to me by the two filmmakers and I had already done a lot of work with them and I like them a lot. I was really touched that they offered me this big role. The story I really liked and at the same time I thought it was very funny and very touching and very unusual. That was interesting enough in of itself and I wanted to talk about this. Usually I’m offered other roles as a character that came from underprivileged suburbs of Paris. In those other scripts, the character had a negative attitude or a negative role; whereas this was the first time the script had a character from that environment that had a positive contribution to the story. This was the first time I saw that in French cinema and I wanted to be a part of that.

Are you a comedian by trade? If not, how did you develop the skills to be so funny?

OS: Originally I’m a sketch comedian. I have a two minute show on French TV with a partner. It’s a comedy show. A friend and I also did a theater piece that was a comedy, so that’s what I’m known for. In terms of classical training, I don’t have much of that. My career developed by chance, by meeting people right the other and it took me to where I am now, but it’s not like I set out to do that or I had a preconceived idea that I followed. It must be something that’s in my personality or my way of being, but then I take these personality features I have and work on that on stage.

How are you similar to the character you play and how was it working with two directors?

OS: In terms of my similarity with Driss, we come from the same place. I am the son of immigrant parents and was born and raised in the French Parisian underprivileged suburbs. I grew up in a small apartment with plenty of brothers and sisters so we come from the same world. Then our paths went different ways, but just like him, my own path in life was impacted and influenced by the people I met. That’s what unites us. These people have changed the development of what lives were going to be. We both a sense of humor and always want to crack a joke. That’s something we both used as a technique to relax.

In working with two filmmakers at the same time, I don’t see a difference when compared to working with one filmmaker. In my own professional development, I’m also part of a duo, so I know what it’s like to work with two people. It’s as if it were a two-headed dragon. Both filmmakers do things and it’s hard for me to know who did what. I don’t see a difference. It’s like working with one person. It’s very natural.

How was working with François Cluzet and which scenes did you enjoy the most?

OS: As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have any formal training so it’s the people you meet and work with that teach you and change you. In my work as an actor, there is a great divide in my time before and after I met Francois. Francois is extremely generous and he really helped me a lot to get over any complex that I had. Before I met him, I had a hard time calling myself an actor, but working with his talent, his experience and his strength really helped me get over that. He gave me a lot of reinsurance in the idea that working instinctively and based on your feelings is not a bad direction. He shared so much with me. He taught me that sharing as an actor is very valuable. He gave me a lot of confidence and put me at ease. He did all that from his wheelchair and without ever moving. That was incredible for me.

In terms of specific scenes, driving the car and paragliding were pretty exceptional.

How’s life been since you won the Cesar Award?

OS: I actually didn’t expect that at all. The nomination alone, alongside all those big names in French cinema, was a success in itself. It was exceptional having my name listed next to them. Years and years to come I would happy to say that I did that and sat next to them. Winning it is beyond anything you can dream of. It something you hope for but you don’t believe it will happen. In getting the award, I can’t even describe it. It was as if it cut my legs. It was an insane shock. It’s also a relief. You let go. It’s a sign of recognition and love. As an actor, I mean it because I need to be recognized by people. It’s definitely filling and reassuring. In terms of consequences on my life, it’s still too recent. I need a few years to look back and ask myself what happened.

Have you met the guy you played?

OS: Yes, I did meet Abdel Sellou but only after the shooting. He came to the premiere in Paris. We didn’t get together for the shooting because there were some scheduling conflicts but I also think it was good not to meet him before. It’s a huge responsibility to tell a story of someone who is still alive. I think it was better for me to have my own space and play it the way I wanted. Also, the way the character was written in the script was in between my personality and Abdel’s personality. It left me some leeway to play it my own way. I did meet Philippe Pozzo di Borgo in Morocco and we spent a few days with him. What I got from that meeting is that Felipe felt a lot of love for Abdel, and that was great for me to know.

What do you think of the remake being planned for the film?

OS: I’m curious to see this film. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have any specific input on what it should be like or who will play my role. My film is done and that’s what we have.

What’s next?

OS: I have a supporting role in Michel Gondry’s film. I play a chef. The film is based on a novel. I have other projects lined up and a luxury of time to decide on the best work.

The Intouchables opens on May 25.

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