Omar Sy is an award-winning French actor, comedian, comic writer and television personality, who is already starting to make a name for himself in America. Honored for his performance as Driss, a young man from the projects who becomes a caretaker for a quadriplegic in The Intouchables, Sy was presented with a Virtuosos Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). Collider was there to cover and attend the event, and we’ve compiled the highlights of what the actor had to say during the Q&A.
While there, Omar Sy talked about why directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache had faith in his abilities when he didn’t even consider himself an actor, getting bigger roles each of the four times they’ve collaborated together, working with co-star François Cluzet, who he beat out for the César Award for Best Actor, and how he’s ready to work in English, but that he needs to work on it a bit more first. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: You got your start as part of a comedy duo, and the directors of The Intouchables, who you’d work with before, said they wanted to hire you, but that you didn’t consider yourself an actor. Why do you think Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache had that faith in you, that you could do this?
OMAR SY: I don’t know. Maybe it’s a gift from God. They trust me and they came to me and said, “Do you want to act in our movie?” It was for a short movie. I said, “I’m not really an actor,” and they said, “We are not really directors.” So, we started like that. It was funny. They are very talented. They are very good writers and they are able to write the truth, so it was easy for me to act because it’s easy for an actor to act the reality. I never took any drama school, so it’s just life school.
You’ve worked with those directors four times now, and each time your role has gotten bigger. Was that progression something that you talked about with them?
SY: It was exactly that way. They gave me more and more. After Tellement Proches and before the last one, they came to me and said, “Now, we want you to call yourself an actor, so we’re writing a part for you.” So, they wrote The Intouchables. The character of Driss was like a suit, but it was comfortable like sweatpants.
SY: I knew his work, and he knew mine, but François is one of the biggest French actors. I’m a beginner, so when I went to him and we played together, he could have been condescending, but he was not. He was very generous and humble. He said, “I play for you, you play for me.” It was the key for me to leave all my complaints and fly like a bird.
Do you think it affects the emotional experience for an audience to see this film in your home country, hearing the words, or seeing it with subtitles and having to read the words?
SY: I really don’t know, but I think it’s the same. People can feel the love, the hope and friendships. It’s an international language. Everybody can feel it or understand it, either way.
SY: Of course! When I was a boy, my older brothers listened to Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool and the Gang. When I would try to get into their room, they would close the door and say, “You can’t hear that. It’s not for a child!” Now, I can listen to it and enjoy it.
You won the César Award for Best Actor for this film, over Jean Dujardin for The Artist and your own co-star, François Cluzet. What was that like? Did you feel bad?
SY: No! Of course not! I was very, very, very, very, very, very happy. But, I have a lot of respect for Jean. He did a very good job with The Artist. He’s a very talented guy. And of course, with François, it was weird for me because we were a team and the César Awards separated us. But, François has a César, so it’s good.
SY: I think I have to work on my English first. But, if you have a part for me, give it to me! I’m ready!
What was the first professional acting job you ever had?
SY: It was on TV, in 1998. I was happy to have a job that was paid, and it was on TV.
Would you be excited by the idea of doing a movie musical?
SY: I don’t know. I don’t think so. I can dance, but singing, I can’t.
Well, you said you weren’t an actor, but now you’re an actor, so maybe you can be a singer, too?
SY: Yes, thank you!