Learn­ing the lan­guage

From ‘X-Men’ to ‘Juras­sic World,’ French star Omar Sy learns English.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PROVINCE - BROAD­WAY

If you live in the United States, you prob­a­bly don’t know Omar Sy by name. But chances are, you’ve seen him.

The tall, hand­some French ac­tor has popped up in a few small roles in ma­jor block­busters over the past few years. He played the energy-wield­ing, dread­locked mu­tant Bishop in “X-Men: Days of Fu­ture Past” and Chris Pratt’s fel­low ve­loci­rap­tor trainer in this sum­mer’s box of­fice smash “Juras­sic World.”

But this isn’t just any in­ter­na­tional trans­plant work­ing his way up the Hol­ly­wood ranks; he’s al­ready one of France’s big­gest stars.

In 2012, Sy be­came the first African to win a best ac­tor Ce­sar — France’s equiv­a­lent of an Os­car — for “The In­touch­ables,” a com­edy-drama about a quad­ri­plegic and his care­taker (Sy). It be­came one of France’s high­est gross­ing films and earned over $426 mil­lion world­wide.

His latest, the im­mi­grant drama “Samba,” out Fri­day in lim­ited re­lease and ex­pand­ing in com­ing weeks, takes him back to his home coun­try and his “In­touch­ables” di­rec­tors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano.

De­spite his re­cent foray into in­ter­na­tional star­dom, a ca­reer in the movies was never a given for Sy, who gained fame in France as one half of the sketch com­edy duo Omar and Fred.

Ac­cess to movie the­atres was dif­fi­cult in his child­hood, and most of his en­ter­tain­ment was rel­e­gated to what was on tele­vi­sion. While he never dreamed of act­ing in movies, he did drop out of high school to pur­sue com­edy. The de­ci­sion baf­fled his par­ents.

“They thought I was los­ing my mind leav­ing high school to be a co­me­dian,” he said. “My fa­ther was a man­u­fac­ture worker, my mother was a maid. For them work was hard labour. It was dif­fi­cult for them to un­der­stand work­ing and hav­ing fun at the same time.”

Suc­cess came rel­a­tively easy for Sy once he hooked up with his com­edy part­ner Fred Testot. They had a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion show and things were go­ing well.

Then “The In­touch­ables” changed ev­ery­thing. He was now rec­og­nized as an in­di­vid­ual, sep­a­rate from his Omar and Fred ori­gins. He also be­gan think­ing about his ca­reer dif­fer­ently.

“I started to con­sider my­self as an ac­tor af­ter ‘In­touch­ables,’ not be­fore,” said Sy. “I was a co­me­dian. It was dif­fer­ent.”

He re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les with his wife and chil­dren and took meet­ings with agents to see what he could do in Hol­ly­wood. He also had to learn English in the process, which re­mains an on­go­ing chal­lenge.

The tran­si­tion hasn’t been seam­less, or easy. Sy might have had his pick of parts in France, but he es­sen­tially has to start over in Amer­ica. He has a bit of a leg up on the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause of his in­ter­na­tional clout, but he still has to au­di­tion and fight for parts - even the small ones.

“I don’t want to be blase when I come back to France. I don’t want to think that it’s nor­mal what I have in France,” he said. “Work­ing hard here makes me work harder when I come back to France. It re­minds me to stay grounded.”

With cred­its in “X-Men” and “Juras­sic World” and a role in the up­com­ing Dan Brown se­ries “Inferno,” op­po­site Tom Hanks, Sy rec­og­nizes that the films he does in the U.S. are quite a de­par­ture from those he gets to do in France. For him, that’s a good thing.

“I can’t do a fran­chise in France. That’s why I have a good bal­ance do­ing fran­chise movies here and other movies in France,” he said.

“Samba” is one of those “other movies” that he’d only get the chance to do in France at this point. Sy plays a Sene­galese im­mi­grant strug­gling to work and skirt de­por­ta­tion.

“We wanted to in­tro­duce an im­mi­grant to peo­ple,” said Sy, whose par­ents are im­mi­grants. “We’re talk­ing about im­mi­grants but we don’t know them. The movie can maybe help us to learn who they are.”

He’s also work­ing on “Cho­co­lat” about Cuban artist Rafael Padilla and has a part in the Bradley Cooper chef movie, “Adam Jones.”

Though com­edy is in his blood, Sy doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily want to go that route in U.S. films un­til his English has im­proved.

Sy in­sists that he doesn’t have any spe­cific goals for his ca­reer as he takes his place in the Hol­ly­wood ecosys­tem.

“Hav­ing pre­cise goals is the best way to be dis­ap­pointed. I do that to pro­tect my­self,” said Sy. “I just hope for a lot of things and wait for a good op­por­tu­nity and try to not miss it.” 9:30 p.m. BC Lions at Win­nipeg Blue Bombers From In­vestors Group Field in Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba. (Live) (3:00) (TSN)

AP PHOTO

This photo pro­vided by Broad Green Pic­tures shows, Omar Sy, left, and co-di­rec­tors, Olivier Nakache, cen­tre, and Eric Toledano, re­view­ing a scene of their film, “Samba,” on set. The movie which came out on July 24 in lim­ited re­lease, is a drama from Nakache and Toledano about a Sene­galese im­mi­grant strug­gling to work in France and skirt­ing de­por­ta­tion.

AP PHOTO

In this Mon­day, July 20, 2015 photo, Omar Sy poses for a por­trait at the Mon­tage Ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills, Calif. Sy stars in the French film, “Samba”.

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