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Berlin: Omar Sy Discusses Role as Black Circus Artist

After appearing in U.S. blockbusters such as “X-Men” and “Jurassic World,” Omar Sy is back in France as the star of Roschdy Zem’s “Monsieur Chocolat,” a biopic of 19th century Cuban artist Rafael Padilla (aka Chocolat), who became the black circus artist in France. Sy became a star in the 2011 French blockbuster “The Intouchables.” Sy has been living in the U.S. with his family for the last three years, hoping to build his acting career on both sides of the Atlantic. Gaumont will host the market premiere of “Chocolat” at Berlin.

What’s the genesis of “Chocolat”?

It all started with the producers Eric and Nicolas Altmayer at Mandarin Cinema with whom I had worked with on the film “On the Other Side of the Tracks.” I was immediately drawn to this project because it offered me a role in an ambitious period drama and it’s set in a historical context, which I find particularly fascinating. And it’s also a movie that somehow repairs the injustice that Rafael Padilla suffered during his life in spite of everything he accomplished.

Roschdy Zem makes films that address racism, discrimination, interracial love and social injustice. What was your reaction when he joined the project?

I’m a big fan of Roschdy’s work so when he came onboard I knew we would make a great film. Roschdy is daring and ambitious and he’s demonstrated with his previous films (like “Omar”) that he knows how to address all these issues in a subtle way that triggers empathy and doesn’t feel like preaching. In “Chocolat,” the story speaks for itself.

“Chocolat” tells the story of a black circus artist who struggled to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. Up until now, you’ve done mostly comedies — do you think people will want to see you in a dramatic role?

“Chocolat” is definitely not a comedy but it’s not just a drama either. It’s a big, popular film exploring the colorful world of the circus and clowns. And it’s a friendship story between Chocolat and Footit (the white clown played by James Thieree). It was a very challenging part for me because I’ve always done verbal comedy and for this film I had to abandon all my reflexes and work a lot on physical comedy for the circus performances. With James Thieree, we worked intensely for four weeks and we adapted and modernized the shows.

Going forward, could you see yourself producing or directing movies?

I enjoy being involved in projects from script stage as I did in “Chocolat” because it gives me more time to dream about the films and the characters I’m going to play. I like producer-driven films and at some point I could see myself initiating a project with a focus on stories that stand out like “Chocolat.”

Up until now you have played small parts in big U.S. movies and big parts in French comedies. What do you want to do next?

In the U.S., I’m still viewed as a French actor but eventually I’d love to be considered for any role, not only for French characters. Each role I’ve been given has been a learning experience for me — I’m an autodidact, so I’m perfecting my acting chops as I go along. And of course, I’m still very much into comedies!

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