He's been called one of France's most magnetic screen personalities, and now Omar Sy is taking his talents to Hollywood. But don't call him a "Hollywood guy" just yet.
His breakthrough performance in Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's Oscar-winning French film "The Intouchables" made Sy an international star. The actor went on to appear in Hollywood blockbusters like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and this year's box office hit "Jurassic World" (which just scored a sequel set for 2018).
But Sy is not the kind of guy who is easily blinded by Hollywood lights, so when it came time for Nakache and Toledano to do their follow-up -- "Samba" -- they collaborated with their good friend Sy and wrote the titular role for him. "Samba" follows a Sengalese illegal immigrant trying to keep from being deported in France. While this doesn't seem like the most lighthearted material, it's actually quite funny, and it allows Sy to do what he does best: comedy.
Paired with one of France's most respected actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Samba" feels a lot like a rom-com with added emotional, and political, weight. Gainsbourg plays Alice, a social worker who tries to help with Samba's case while dealing with her own anxiety issues. Tahar Rahim rounds out the charming cast as Samba's fellow immigrant and partner in crime.
MTV News chatted with Sy about "Samba," his relationship with friends and directors Nakache and Toledano and his Hollywood aspirations. Also, we ask him the most important question from "Jurassic World": one margarita or two? Read our full interview with Sy below:
MTV News: I was completely charmed by Samba as a character. Did you read the script knowing that people were going to root for him so passionately and be charmed by him?
Omar Sy: I was hoping that people would be because that was the goal, you know? Like, people will meet him and try to look at this guy differently. Because there are a lot of people like this in France, working early in the morning, going back late home and sometimes you see these guys on the subway and you don’t know who they are or what they do. I wanted people to know Samba.
MTV: You have an incredible relationship with these directors. They wrote this part for you, and they have more parts for you in the pipeline, and I know that you talk to them about future projects. What is it about Olivier [Nakache] and Eric [Toledano] that keep you coming back for more?
Sy: It was just the luck of my life because they made me. They raised me as an actor, so it's a blessing to have them, and today, they are my friends. And we have a lot of chats about life, our country, our duty for our country, what we can do -- what stories we can tell to change a little bit, to change the way we look at all of this. I always say, if you need me, guys, I’m here. I’m just here if they need me.
I know they have a lot of things in mind, and we'll see what next. But I have to be prepared because maybe one day, they will do a movie without me. I will be sad, but I have to be prepared. There is no obligation, really. But it’s always a blessing to work with them because each movie was a challenge for me, as a man, as an actor. After each movie, something changed in my life, in my character, so it always a pleasure, and it's always a pleasure to be with them.
MTV: You’ve done movies without them so it's only fair.
Sy: Yeah, of course it's fair. You're right.
MTV: But the comedy, what particularly struck me was your chemistry with Charlotte [Gainsbourg]. She had said that she and a lot of the other actors were scared to join the movie with you because you're so good at comedy. Are you really that intimidating?
Sy: I'm not! I certainly was. Charlotte, she's been an actress since she was 13, and I grew up with Charlotte's movies as a kid, so for me, I was intimidated. I think Olivier took advantage of that because they wanted an awkward love story, and for them, it was perfect because I was intimidated and it was the same for Charlotte. They loved it.
Charlotte and I met maybe three or four times before shooting, so we learned to know each other during shooting. It was interesting, but it was really, really good. She's really nice and cute and maybe it was intimidating because Eric, Olivier and I know each other for a long time. We did many movies together, so we have easy communication. We are welcoming, really. More people we are, more happy we are.
MTV: I heard that you were a little upset that you didn’t get to dance in the film. There's a lot of dancing that happened, but you didn’t get to dance.
Sy: I didn't! And it was upsetting for me. But sometimes, when the scene was over, and they asked for another one, I'd break out the scene with a little dancing. Some takes I just stood up and danced because it was so difficult not to.
MTV: There was a little bit of physical comedy in this movie, too. That window-washing scene was particularly hilarious. Are you comfortable doing that?
Sy: I love that! They were, you know, teasing me about it. "Now you’re doing Hollywood movies so we have to do stunt stuff to bring to our movie." It was funny. Even for them it was a challenge to set up scenes like that. It was tense -- we have a lot of running, the scene on the roof, the fights. I think it was a lot of new things for everyone.
MTV: You were part of the biggest movie of the summer, "Jurassic World." Next, you’re going to be in "Inferno" with Tom Hanks. You have a big Hollywood career ahead of you. What is the most striking difference between doing French cinema and these big budget Hollywood movies?
Sy: For me, the difference is not about the budget or the way you’re doing French or American movies, it's the director. It's the different way to work with the director. Because you can see "X-Men" and "Jurassic," both American movies, are two different experiences. But the thing is, with a movie like "X-Men" or "Jurassic" or even "Inferno," it's the type of movies I can’t do in France because we don’t have that in France. I'm really happy doing that, and it's the type of movie you can act like, when I was six years old, fighting the dragon. It’s a good feeling to bring back in childhood, acting. And meeting those amazing directors, Bryan Singer, Ron Howard, Colin Trevorrow... That was Colin's third movie!
MTV: Speaking of "Jurassic World," we saw your character get trapped in a log, and then we saw him at the end. So what happened in the log? How did he escape?
Sy: He waited! He was very quiet. And after the raptor left, he just ran really, really fast.
MTV: When you were filming, did you realize sort of what a huge deal Chris Pratt was at the time?
Sy: Of course! Because when we were shooting "Jurassic," it was the moment when "Guardians of the Galaxy" was released. So he started to become the Chris Pratt of today. But he's an amazing actor, a great comedian, such a funny guy. We had a good connection. We laughed all day. I’m a good fan of Chris Pratt's, and I like his jokes.
MTV: It was just you, Chris Pratt and the raptors.
Sy: Yeah, that’s our crew. I'm lucky Colin wanted me to stay alive. His wife is French. He couldn't kill me. But I was scared when I started to read the script and read that I was stuck in the log, but Chris Pratt saved my life.
MTV: Now that you've had the chance to be in "Jurassic World," and you were Bishop in "Days of Future Past," do you see yourself doing more of American films? Do you ever see yourself being a Hollywood guy?
Sy: No, never. I can’t be a Hollywood guy, I’m a French guy. But I want to do more, of course. I want to do more because it’s always interesting and it’s always fun to be in these kinds of movies made by those people and work with them. So I do want to do more. I will work my way forward.
MTV: Finally, there’s a scene in "Jurassic World" -- maybe the best scene in the movie -- where the pterodactyls attack and we this this man grab his two margaritas, just straight-up double-fisting during a dinosaur attack. Would you do the same if you were in this situation? Would you have taken the time to grab both drinks?
Sy: Maybe not both! Maybe one. You have to have at least one.
"Samba" is currently out in theaters.