Finding The Humor In Desparation In 'Samba' In the new movie, Samba, Omar Sy plays a Senegalese immigrant living illegally in France. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Sy about his own background and his transition from comedy to drama.

Finding The Humor In Desparation In 'Samba'

Finding The Humor In Desparation In 'Samba'

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In the new movie, Samba, Omar Sy plays a Senegalese immigrant living illegally in France. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Sy about his own background and his transition from comedy to drama.


Samba is going to be deported. Now, he's been living in France illegally for almost 10 years, but now the government has him on its radar. His only hope for any kind of reprieve is an immigration advocate named Alice. "Samba" is the name of a new movie starring Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It's directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. By the way, at times, it's a comedy. Omar Sy joins us now from our studios at NPR West. Thanks very much for being with us.

OMAR SY: My pleasure.

SIMON: And your family's an immigrant background - has an immigrant background, don't they?

SY: Yeah, my father come from Senegal and my mother from Mauritania, in Africa. And they came on '60s.

SIMON: This was on your mind as you played this role?

SY: Of course, yes. As an actor, it's always a big step when you have the feeling to play your father. And with "Samba," I had that feeling.

SIMON: And I gather you met with a number of people who are immigrants - illegal immigrants - there in France.

SY: Yeah, I met them to understand how they live daily - how you cross the street, how you get food, how you get work, who can be your friends, who can you trust and everything like that. I learned a lot.

SIMON: Tell us specifically about some of what you learned 'cause I know it's reflected in the film.

SY: Yeah, the way Samba walk in the movie is different than my way to walk on street. I walk head up, free. And I am free to go wherever I want. And for Samba, it's different. You try to not be noticed the way you travel on the street. They have to find the tricky ways to go where they want to go. There are small streets. They try to avoid the big crowd and the cops.

SIMON: Yeah. You know, you - for people who might be familiar with your career from France, you were a well-known comedian and comic actor. And this film has many comic moments. But "The Intouchables" got a significant amount of attention here in the United States. And you became the first actor of African descent to - I'll refer to it this way - to win what amounts to the French Oscar.

SY: Yeah, it was with "Intouchable" I had that luck to be recognized by the proficients. I was so happy because before "Intouchable," it was difficult for me as a comedian to consider myself as an actor. And the Cesar helped me.

SIMON: The Cesar is the award, the French Oscar.

SY: Yeah.

SIMON: What do you think, as someone who is a comedian going into dramatic roles and vice versa? Do you think comedians are well equipped for drama?

SY: Yeah, I think comedian can be an actor. And an actor has to be able to act in any genre, though. So for me, as soon as you consider yourself as an actor, you can go in any genre. It doesn't matter. For me, the most important thing is what are you talking about? What character are you playing? And that's the luck we have as actors. We can do everything.

SIMON: Do you hope this is a movie that will perhaps touch hearts and change minds?

SY: I hope so. That's the goal. There is a lot of hearts in the movie. There's a lot of love and hope. And we can learn a lot about people and human being. And I hope people will come out from the theater with another way to think and perhaps another way to look at the immigrants.

SIMON: How are your parents?

SY: Very good, very good.

SIMON: They must be very proud of you.

SY: I hope so (laughter).

SIMON: What kind of lives have they had?

SY: My father was a manufacture worker. And my mother was a maid. And now they both retired.

SIMON: Supported by their fabulously successful son, I hope.

SY: Yes (laughter), I try.

SIMON: And you're in U.S. films now.

SY: Yes.

SIMON: "Jurassic World," which I haven't seen, right?

SY: Yeah, yeah. I'm so happy, so happy to be in it. It was a lot of fun. And I'm so proud to be in that movie because I remember when I was young seeing that movie at the theater with my friends. And I was shooting the sequel, so we had a good time.

SIMON: So I haven't seen the film yet. What's it like to co-star with dinosaurs? Are they easy to work with?

SY: Yeah, really, really nice guys.


SY: And they speak French.

SIMON: Of course dinosaurs speak French. They're sophisticated people, right?

SY: Yeah (laughter) of course, very smart.

SIMON: Omar Sy, his new movie, "Samba," is now in theaters. Thanks so much for being with us.

SY: Thank you very much.

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