Find this feature in Numéro Homme 44, available in newsstands and on iPad on October 14 2022.
As Omar Sy’s voice resonates, the actor is in Colombia for the shooting of Shadow Force, a film starring Kerry Washington and directed by American filmmaker Joe Carnahan. Travelling across the world has become a habit for the one who happens to be the kind of miracle the history of cinema has rarely known. Making his debut as a hilarious comedian for television, hosting the famous SA V [after-sales service] show along with Fred Testot on Canal+ between 2005 and 2012, the native of Trappes, near Paris, has reached the status of favorite personality in France, without it tarnishing his good-heartedness and his commitment to his work. The stratospheric success of The Intouchables (2011) and of the Netflix show Lupin since 2021 – the shooting of season 3 has finished this year – have not changed the situation. The word that comes to mind when thinking about him is humility, which he claims to have. “I have entered this world by the back door and I am still learning. So, to me, the game is indeed bigger than me and I’m approaching it with a great deal of humility. Cinema is something important, even if it is not serious. I feel like I’m dedicated to that idea.”
Who would have bet on the punchline king to become one of the most sought- after French actors? Surely, not him. “As a child and a teenager, I never imagined any of this would happen to me. I have always been very curious and a chatterbox, the guy with a specific word to add to the conversation. It was my personality trait. As my teachers and my father often told me: ‘You don’t make a living out of it’ [laughs].” It eventually became a profession, through Radio Nova and television, at a key moment. When Omar Sy realized his full potential, he was on the set of Tellement proches [So Close] (2009) by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, the future directors of The Intouchables. In the film, he plays the role of a young doctor facing racism. “There was this headbutt scene that aimed at something other than comedy, with a little social smell. They told me later on: ‘We saw you in a new dimension’. According to them, I could bring something more dramatic. While I didn’t dare to see myself as an actor, they were telling me that I was one and that I should be aware of it.”
When asked about his acting philosophy, the star replies with a joke that is deeper than it sounds. “Some are actors, I am a reenactor [laughs].” Omar Sy sees filming as an arena in which others inspire his work. “I don’t master the technique. I’m an instinctive actor, I learned on the job. I pick up things from my partners, but I can’t really tell you what exactly. The only thing I know is that I like to adapt. You have to remember that I come from a duo. The way I connect to the other, first with Fred Testot, then with François Cluzet in The Intouchables, is my foundation – and my joy still today.”
While he will soon be on set filming the long-awaited remake of the cult film The Killer directed by John Woo himself, the Cesar-winning actor has established himself as a French icon. Perhaps to the point of embodying a role beyond cinema, as a very notorious black man in a country still plagued by racism... The answer from this father of five is clear: “I don’t see myself as a flag-bearer, I have no political agenda, even if I am obviously interested about what is happening in the world. Morgan Freeman put it this way: ‘As long as we’re still questioning racism, we have a problem.’ The real social and political implications are unconscious. At some point, we stop asking the question and we move on. The same goes for gender equality.” In his own way, Omar Sy has taken part in contemporary debates by starring in Father & Soldier directed by Mathieu Vadepied, about the Senegalese members of the French army – the actor’s family is from Senegal – who were forcibly conscripted during First World War. The film will be released in January 2023. At the end of the screening in Cannes last May, the actor shared this wise phrase: “We don’t all have the same memory, but we all have the same history.”