Interview With Night Shift Actor Omar Sy

Night Shift

Aristide (Omar Sy) und Virginie (Virginie Efira).

Three French police officer’s personal and professional lives collide in Night Shift (Police), as they are placed on duty to escort an illegal immigrant to Charles De Gaulle airport. Each one grapples with their own life dilemmas and reflects on the events and days leading up to this very night. However, they become unmistakably aware and develop a conscience, as they realize that this innocent man, played by Payman Maadi, will be shipped back to meet his death in his homeland, Tajikistan. Starring a multi-talented cast, Omar Sy, Virginie Efira and Gregory Gadebois, the film is brilliantly directed by Anne Fontaine, who poignantly captures the intense, apprehensive and contemplative moments of their night transfer to the airport. 

Night Shift made its world debut at the Berlin film festival recently and a few of us lucky reporters had the pleasure of meeting the cast and director. Incredibly sweet, candid and personable, Omar Sy sat with us to talk about playing a different type of police officer, what this film meant to him, his blooming career since starring in Les Intouchables, on working with Anne Fontaine and much more. One thing is for certain, Hollywood has grown to love Omar (rightfully so) and there is no doubt we’ll be seeing more from this talented actor, who has already been in several blockbusters like, Jurassic World, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Transformers: The Last Knight. See what he had to say below.

LRM: This isn’t the first time that you have portrayed a policeman. How important was it for you to play this kind of a policeman now, given the situation in France with the police?

Omar Sy: For me, the movie wasn’t a movie about police. The movie was more about the issue with the immigrant (in the film) and how every country’s going to deal with it and how we are going to deal with this. The focus for me, for my character was more about his humanity. So about him as a human being and it was more difficult and tricky because he’s wearing the uniform. He’s also a policeman. That’s why the question was stronger and that’s how he has to face it really.

How are we going to deal with this, if we are faced with that situation. Here, it’s very easy to think about it and have an answer. We all have an answer and we all have a good answer because we are here now or when we are at dinner with our friends. It’s easy to say we’re going to do like this or let’s do that, but when you are faced with it, how would you really react and would you be brave enough for that and know what is. What is brave?

Omar Sy (Night Shift)

LRM: Why do you think that racism has increased?

Omar Sy: It is increasing, but it’s the world that is working like this today and today it’s difficult to talk about just a country. It’s a global issue. It’s not just a French one or German one or Greece, Italy. It’s the world. We know from the beginning it’s just not fair. How do I leave my country to live better? Since the beginning, the issues haven’t been fair. So how can we deal with it and how can we be fair? How can we help without losing too much? That’s the concern for those who are very, very scared and they can go to the extreme. It’s difficult. And who has the answer? No one.

LRM: Can you talk about the image of France in the cinema? This film and also Les Misérables, it shows a different approach in France compared to the rest of the world. Do you think it’s good for France to have a more diverse image internationally, especially for films that travel, like this one?

Omar Sy: It’s coming, it’s coming. I’m really glad and I’m very proud that we have that today. I’m very proud that Ladj Ly is a good friend, he did an amazing job with the movie and I’m so happy that that movie can travel because it’s a relief for us. It’s so hard and tough to talk about that and to make people understand. That’s why cinema is beautiful and strong.  You know, I grew up there and today to talk about it, it’s not possible for me. When I was watching Les Misérables, I learned things because I left 20 years ago. So it’s a new area and when I have the mic like that and then people want me to talk, I can’t. I don’t know anymore. So it’s really good to have movies to update us, to show what’s going on and try to learn. So I’m very proud that the French cinema can show that. And that’s what we do in those movies. This shows how things are more difficult and less separate than you think and it takes time to talk about it. It takes time to look at it. It cannot be something like the generic or global. It’s specific and you need a specialist to see, to talk about it. Today, it’s a mess. Everybody’s talking about everything very quick, very fast and everybody has something to say. But there is no more wisdom, I think. I think you need time to watch and listen.

LRM: You’ve had quite a successful career and been in a lot of big blockbuster films. Tell me why you chose this part and why this story was special for you?

Omar Sy: As an actor there’s a lot of things that you want to say and there’s a lot things that you want to be a part of and the topics. I’m really sensitive about it because this is my country and I love my country and I love cinema as well. I think as an artist, it’s wonderful that you can be in a movie and make people travel with enjoyment, like entertaining people. It’s really good to do that. As an actor, the thing I want to do most, is to just make people feel something. It can be anything like laugh, cry, think…I just want people leaving the room feeling differently. I can do many films, but it’s always about the same thing. Moving people.

Related: Getaway Interview: Jaclyn Betham On Crafting A Good Twist In A Horror Movie

LRM: What was it like to film this in Paris and in the middle of the night, in the cold?

Omar Sy: It was difficult, but it was also a choice. It’s always a choice. For this movie, this is something I wanted to do and it worked. I’m very happy to talk about that and it’s a new thing for me to be in this kind of film with a director like Anne Fontaine. What drew me to this is that I wanted to play different parts too. A few years ago we did Samba, and I played a character from the other side. I think that the topic is still going on, so we just want to talk about things that are going on in the world and something that I’m sensitive about.

LRM: You are one of the actors who is now demanding some changes in the Academy. Can you talk about what kind of changes?

Omar Sy: When I read the manifest, the thing that I saw that was interesting for me and why I signed it is because they were talking about becoming more democratic and that we’re going to vote for the president, we’re going to be a part of it, a part of the decision about the equity, everything. So that was very interesting because I know that the system works, where people can vote and people can talk and say what they want. 

LRM: Does that mean more women in the Academy as well?

Omar Sy: It means more everything, more change. Not only for women, but more change in general, more minority, more younger people, more everything. Just some changes. It’s not specific to women, blacks or minorities. It’s not that, it is more changes just because it’s time.

LRM: Now that you are living in the United States, can you compare the film industry between both countries?

Omar Sy: The film industry is just the same. I do it with the same. There I do more studio movies and the movies I was watching when I was younger. So, it’s kind a dream. In the studio sets, I feel like a kid more because I enjoy it so much, maybe because we have more money from the studios and in France it’s just different. The big difference is always the director because all directors are different. 

LRM: What was Anne Fontaine like to work with?

Omar Sy: It was so interesting and so enjoyable because of the new way to work. She’s so precise, gentle and calm and I liked the silence. I speak a lot, loud and it was different with her. With her there was silence, and we are filmed very close. So it was a weird feeling in the beginning, but at the end, it was very interesting to get inside of the character. I think it’s stronger and more powerful. In terms of the experience for me as an actor, it was interesting to be able to do that and to be confident enough to do that. I think it’s going to help for my next project as an actor.

LRM:  How have you changed as an actor and as a person over the last 10 years of your career?

Omar Sy: It’s difficult to say because I’m not in the right place to do it. It’s better to ask my friends, my family, my wife, my kids. I hope I’m wiser because that’s my only goal, to be wise and to be more aware about things, and have a better awareness about our world. I hope I can contribute to bring some small changes and the movies are about that too. How to be brave in our lives. I think we all can be in our own ways. Our characters in this film are not the Avengers, but they saved the world. Even if it’s for two days, they saved the world because it was something impossible in their lives to do this, but they break the rules to save that guy, even for two days, but they got to give it a go and they succeeded. So, it’s not the Avengers, but it’s the same journey and the same bravery, the same result, and that’s the same success in my eyes. For me, that’s the beauty of the movie and the message.

LRM: How much did your professional life change because of Les Intouchables?

Omar Sy: Everything changed because I had more choices in movies, or movies in English. I had to learn English. I changed the place I live. I was living in ParisI now live in Los Angeles. My way to see the work changed too because the projects are different and I have more choices. So I had to pick different things. I had more mics in my face (interviews)….you know people are listening, so you have to be careful. That’s a good awareness because in the beginning I was talking just like that. I was just a young guy, happy to be here but, when you are happy you say things and then you see the consequences. So you start to think, okay, when I say that, that’s what they hear. That’s what they do with that. So you have to be careful about what you say.

LRM: And now that you do have your choices and you’re being cast in big action films and dramas, what would you like to do next?

Omar Sy: I don’t know, because everything came to me just like that with a lot of surprises and everything happened unexpectedly, so it’s difficult for me to make a plan. I never did. I am always ready and prepared to the best and the worst. And I just take it as it comes.  I can’t make plans, I never did. The plan I had for my life, is far, far away from here. And it’s so small compared to now. So I’m not good for plans. The plan I made is worth nothing compared to what I am living. So, life is stronger than me and more fun. So let’s go.

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