The Knockturnal had the chance to sit down with director Olivier Nakache to discuss his film “Samba” at the Four Seasons Hotel in NYC. Read our exclusive interview below:
What inspired you to direct this film?
Olivier: The inspiration came from images. Everyday when we go to our office, we would see people at the back of the restaurant. People from Africa, from China, from Asia smoking their cigarettes. They’re the ones who really keep the machine going. It’s been a long time since we’ve been interested in this category of people in Paris and we knew one day that we would make a movie about these people. I remember doing the shooting of Intouchables, Omar between takes, to sort of decompress, he would imitate an African guy with an accent. He’s very funny because he can often imitate an African diplomat. One time we said “Omar do you believe that one day you’ll want to make an African guy a character?” And he said “With you, yes”. During The Intouchables we spoke to each other and said okay, maybe after we can make this kind of character. But our inspiration came from people in the street.
What is the experience like working with Omar?
Olivier: I always say the same thing because he’s an amazing guy. I think there’s two categories of actors. There are actors who learn and take theater courses and there’s another type of actors who are just naturals like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. There’s something special. I think Omar is in that category. He transformed our dialogues. When he speaks our lines, you have a feeling that they were never written. He’s powerful and of course he’s very funny. So when we write something funny, it’s funnier with him. He’s our secret weapon. But he needs the situation to be real for him to feel comfortable and that’s why he was little bit thrown off when they had to shoot X-Men with the green background.
What was it like working with Charlotte?
Olivier: We wanted her for this part so we decided to talk to her before writing the script. We want to make a movie with Omar, a love story but a love story in a social context; very hard. She said “No problem but I’m not funny”. We said “It’s okay. Trust us, we don’t care.” She’s a great actress but you have to know that she’s very famous in France since she’s been 12 years old. She’s the daughter of a huge singer in France. She’s big! She’s like our Mick Jagger. And her mother was also famous in Jane Birkin. She won an award, the French Oscar when she was 12. She made many movies. We grew up with her. She comes out of a certain cinematic genre, author and cinema so we wanted to sort of create this electric shot between these two characters that are so far from each other. It was enchanting and magical working with her. Everybody says that when they’re promoting a movie but it’s often not true but in this case it is. She lives in New York now, you know.
Can you briefly explain the culture of African immigration in France?
Olivier: The French have a particular story with the country of Africa because of the colony. In Senegal and in Mali people talk French so it makes sense that if people speak French, that when things aren’t going well at home that they come over to France, they come and see us. And when there’s an economic crisis, like for instance there is now, the first people that are sort of targeted is them. So in France, the government tries to manage this problem as best as they can and there are things that are done that try to allow them to exist so they won’t have to go through what Samba does but, there’s always a portion of the population that is scared and blames them for everything that is going wrong. So, we wanted to shine a light on these people that are always in the shadow to show that there is a future that is possible with them in our place.
There is a specific scene in Samba where there are hundreds of immigrants lined up for employment. Is it actually like that in France? Does that actually happen?
Olivier: Everything that is in the movie are scenes that we witnessed and all of it is true.
Explain the collaborative process in picking out the different locations for the movie.
Olivier: Our last movie “Intouchables,” was an extraordinary passport so we decided to shoot in a retention center, in a real court, in a real association and everybody opened the door. All the doors were opened for us as if people just trusted us. It was hard sometimes, especially like for instance, you know, in the sorting facility where they were sorting the garbage where there were real people actually doing those jobs. We kind of had to deal with the reality of the situation in our film simultaneously. We wanted to do a really realistic film but also one that was a film story so that’s why there’s this combination of the whole immigration issue and the love story.
What’s your favorite scene from the movie?
Olivier: I have many. You have memories of shooting but when I see the movie it’s a balance; I like the scene on the rooftop because it was a big mess to organize this scene. I like the beginning when Omar threw up his shoes. I like the battle between the actors. There’s many scenes, I don’t have only one. But there’s one that I remember. There’s the scene in the kitchen during the party in the organization where everybody is making a toast. It’s everything that I love. It’s very subtle and it’s an actors sort of game. Also because I like when I’m in the theater and I hear people laugh. I count. Laughter is like a bomb when it’s going off. In my head I have a countdown 3..2..1. But when it doesn’t work I’m sad. But it always works.
Can you name any directors who inspire you? French? American?
Olivier: French, we have two people that are really at the top, Claude Lelouch and Claude Sautet. Two Claude’s. They spoke about their time frame and their time period. They also had unbelievable actors. In particular, there are movies you can see in particular stages of your life and every time you see them you seem something new. In America, it’s Woody Allen. We are totally crazy about him. We are very lucky because we can get together and talk to him for hours at a time. For us, he’s really brilliant. In all his movies, even his worse movie they are always moments that are graced. Spielberg too. We’ve grew up with many kinds of movies. American movies like Spielberg or Woody Allen but we like other French movies and so we are a mix of all these different references. That’s why in Samba there are many different scenes: action scenes, comedy scenes, drama scenes. That’s our DNA.
Are there any particular actors you wish to work with in the future? French? American?
Olivier: Yes! I don’t know if you know him but Omar Sy *Laughs*. No, but we want to work with Jean Dujardin. He’s from The Artist. You remember this movie Black and White. Here in America I can make a list of 100 people. It’s our dream each year there’s a new actor that emerges. I like in Whiplash, you know the teacher, I think he’s amazing. A guy like this or why not Brad Pitt, George Clooney, it’s our dream. Why not one day with Omar? You have the best actors in the world.
What’s next for you? More films?
Olivier: Actually we are writing a new movie, a comedy about the economic crisis in France. There’s a lot of problems and everybody is really uptight. and so we want to talk about these tensions but we also want to laugh about them. We want to start the film in terms of the time frame at 4PM and have it end at 4AM the next morning. You remember After Hours, but in comedy. We want it to be sort of a punch. It will show our issues in France now like immigration, religion, and the economic situation. We’re going to mix all of these things and make it pop.
Samba hits theaters this Friday. Check out some photos from the New York special screening at Paris Theater below: