Stephen Holt: In The New York Times, film critic Stephen Holden said that there was going to be an Oscar campaign for Omar Sy? (pronounced “See”) Is that true? Is this happening?
Olivier Nakache: Yeah. Maybe. (SH laughs) It depends.
Translator(translating from his French): It’s in the process of being decided.
ON: Yeah, yeah. But I think, yes. I think maybe the Weinstein Company wants to play the game of the Oscar with Omar. But last year you have already all these French guys. I think the French cinema is in great shape. Great shape.
ON: Because now you have a new generation of French directors.
ON: And we are very close. Because…Michel Hazanviscius, we are very close.
SH: I interviewed him, too, and I told him he was going to win the Oscar and he was like “Quoi??” He didn’t know what hit him. And I was right!
ON:Yeah, can you imagine? But if I told you one year ago the subject of our movie, if I told you – OK, I’m Michel and “I want to make a movie in black and white about American movies, with no dialogue.” I said, “Are you crazy? It never works!” And if I told you that I wanted to make a comedy about a quadreplegic man(Francois Cluzet and a man from the ghetto(Omar Sy), a comedy. (you would say) “Quit! Buy a bakery and stop! Quit the cinema!”(SH laughs) Je crois que l’audace payee.
Translator: The audacity pays off.
SH: Oui, d’accord.
ON: It’s original. It’s new. It’s not Number Two, Number Three or a sequel or a prequel, you know what I mean? It’s new. It’s Fresh air.
ON: Oui. It’s unique. It’s fresh. It’s fresh. And for “The Intouchables,” I think that people are touched by the fact that it’s a tough subject, a deep subject, but we put humor on it so il fait le subject a peu legee.
Translator: It makes those issues lighter.
ON: Lighter, but (pounding his fist) strong!
SH: D’accord, encore une fois. So, the sucess of this film in France and all across Europe, it’s incroyable!
ON: C’est incroyable. C’est vraiment le mot, incroyable. Terrific. Amazing. Unexpectable. Y’know, because we knew that we got something special for the movies. Because we made in France, and I think the same thing in the U.S., we made a big tour before the release to –
Translator: To start fires everywhere.
ON: En francais, aussi, la bouche a oreille. Do you know this expression?
SH: Non, non.
ON: La bouche a oreille.
Translator: Word of mouth. From mouth to ear.
ON: Mouth to ear. And you can imagine, for this movie, c’est tres important.
SH: And also, the challenge is unique, because he can’t move. Francois Cluzet’s character can’t move. He’s a quadreplegic millionaire in a wheelchair. So you have perhaps a very stationary, static situation, for a film. It’s more like for a play. But you never think of that in this movie.
ON: Of course. But we want to show this comedy like a drama, and we thought how can we be –
Translator: How can we pace the film?
ON: The rythmn is really important, (Snapping his fingers) because he won’t move. And around him, there is great, great movement
SH: Yes. It never stops.
ON: That’s why when Phillipe hire(s) Driss(pronounced “Dreees”) in the scene in the office at the beginning of the movie, Omar moves. He moves a lot. Move. Move. We don’t want just a scene with two people –
SH: Sitting down, yes.
ON: During all the movie, we knew that we (snapping his fingers) have a fast edit, movements, music, to create movement around somebody who can’t move.
SH: I just missed your directing partner, who just took off for the airport. We have to mention that you just didn’t do this film by yourself. And his name is -?
ON:My partner? Eric. Eric Toledano.
SH: Do you do certain parts of the film, and he does others? How does that work? Is it difficile? Simple?
ON: To make a movie, it’s difficile.
SH: Oui, oui. C’est vrai.
ON: We learn together. We began together. And we move forward together. We write the script together. It’s our fourth movie.
ON: So it works. It works. I think maybe one day, one will want to do something alone, but the other (one of us) will not be far.
SH: Formidable.So, you both discovered this very strange topic, and it’s based on a true story?
ON: Yeah, yeah.
SH: And you discovered it together on French television?
ON: Yeah, exactly ten years ago, I saw a documentary. Very tres tard de la soiree.
Translator: Very late at night.
ON: Very late at night. And I text to Eric, “Put your TV on, please.” And we saw this documentary “A La Vie, A La Mort “and I phoned to him “Do you think what I’m thinking?” And he said ” Yes, I am thinking what you’re thinking. It’s a great story for a movie.” But we were too young. We were not mature. We, at this time, we never make a feature film. We just make short movies.So we wait to learn the tools of the cinema. We wait –
SH: To grow up.
ON: To grow up And also, we met Omar
SH: He’s incredible.
ON: We wrote the script for him.
SH: Oh! Ah, vraiment.
Translator: And if he told them, “I am not interested, they would not have made the movie.”
SH: RIght. Wow! Wow. Is he an established actor? Is he known in France?
ON: Not as a actor. He’s known. He’s really, really famous as a comedian.
SH: Like Jean Dujardin is.
ON: Not really Not really not like Jean Dujardin, because Omar has got his own TV show.
ON: But a tiny TV show. Really tiny ten minutes each day. It’s a daily show. With a partner. It’s a duet.
SH: Doesn’t Jean Dujardin do that with his wife? Also? A ten minute comedy show each day?
ON: Ah! Kind of. But not really. Not really.
SH:Let me tell you an interesting story about the Rendez-vous (with French Cinema. In March) I was interviewing everybody and I was very involved with Jean Dujardin and I loved “The Artist” and this was right after it and Jean won the Oscars, and all the other actors there, the big French stars, they were so jealous. The men. They were tres jaloux. And they were like “But he is just a comedian! He is not an actor!” And again, this is the success of another French comedian in America. Omar, I mean. It’s looking like it.
ON: A lot of actors come from Saturday Night Live here.
SH: That’s true. OK.
ON: It’s exactly the same for Omar. Omar is a kind of Saturday Night Live. Because it’s not like Jean Dujardin, because his show, it’s like a fiction. With a woman.
SH: It’s a sketch comedy show, Jean Dujardin’s show. With his wife.
ON: Yes, a sketch. Omar talks directly to the camera, to the people, about politics, about the scene.
SH: What’s the name of Omar’s show by the way?
ON: It’s difficult to say in English.
Translator: Customer Service. Post-Sale Service.
SH: (laughs) That’s so funny.
ON: He critiques the other TV (shows), the politics, and what is happening in the world. So he can talk about Obama, and he creates characters. It’s very different.
SH: What is the racial situation like in France? Since America is so hung up on race. The racial situation I think historically in France for black actors, like for instance Josephine Baker in the ’20s. There was no prejudice, nothing. It’s different.
ON: But you have to know that in France, I hope I am clear. In France, you have the immigrants, les emigres et les francais. In America, you have black people and Americans. Mexicans and Americans. In France, that is the same group. You know what I mean? They don’t live in a special community. They don’t live in a special part of Paris. They live in the housing projects.
SH: There’s no ghettos, in other words.
ON: It’s ghettos, but not for one community.
SH: It’s for all foreigners?
Translator: All foreigners. It’s like a melting pot. Where they’re all together.
SH: In these ghettos.
SH: Projects, yeah. There are black and Hispanic and Asians all mixed in here in the projects, too. Americans will sort of go to, relate to the black and white theme here, too.
ON: The black and white thing. We have not the same history that you have. In France, we have emigre people.
ON: And the French. The second generation,like me, because my parents were born in Algeria and Eric’s parents were born in Morocco, but we are French.
SH: So you have a very,very deep connection with this topic.
ON:We have a special history in France. We have the colonization. My parents were French, because Algerians were French. But for us, we call us les jeunes de banlieue.
Translator: Young people from the projects. It’s a social group.
ON: A social group. Banlieue. The suburbs. The housing projects.
Translator: Banlieue translates as suburbs.
ON: You know in the real story (that this film is based on), it’s an Arabic person, Abdel, the real character.
SH: Yes, I noticed that at the end of the picture. You showed the real people this film was based on, Phillipe Pozzo di Borgo and his caretaker, Abdel.
ON:But for a French audience, it’s exactly the same. Driss is from Senegal, but it’s exactly the same. It’s les jeunes de banlieue. Omar’s got the same past as Abdel. Omar came from the same type of housing projects.