He made history as the first black man to win Best Actor at the César film awards. Now, Omar Sy is conquering Hollywood, one line at a time…
You may not know him by name but chances are you’ve come across Omar Sy’s killer grin once or twice. That’s right, he was the mute Bishop humming and gurning his way through X-Men: Days of Future Past. And the token wrangler bolting from runaway dinosaurs in Jurassic World. The road to Hollywood is paved with bit parts… But the man can act. He made history as the first actor of African descent to be awarded the Best Actor gong for Intouchables at the César in 2012.
Despite his clout, the ubiquitous face of French cinema is as self-effacing as can be. This artless, easy-going nature can surely be credited to his humble origins. His Cinderella story would no doubt make a cracking biopic. One of eight children, he was raised on a council estate in the Paris suburbs by African immigrants. Mucking about around the neighbourhood he befriended Jamel Debbouze – who would go on to become France’s best-loved funny-man and share the spoils of his newfound notoriety with many of his childhood pals.
After a spell pulling skits on Debbouze’s first radio show, the fledgling stand-up found his groove as one half of double-act Omar et Fred. Propelled to stardom by the improbable success of the duo’s TV sketch show, he notched up quite the acting sideline, with a string of small comic-relief roles in well-received capers, before finally being cast in his breakout turn as an ex-con cum caregiver in Intouchables in 2011.
His warmth and guy-next-door image have gone some way to endear him to critics and the public alike. He was even voted personality of the year by Le Journal du Dimanche in 2012. Since then, he has been a firm fixture of French cinema and is fast becoming Hollywood’s go-to français; with worthy lines to boot. Last year, he graduated to a talking, fleshed-out part in Ron Howard’s Inferno opposite Tom Hanks. Mission accomplie!
10-Second CV: A screen star’s life in one take
Name: Omar Sy
Born: January 20, 1978 in Trappes
Early career: He gave stand-up a crack, larking about on friend and acclaimed comic Jamel Debbouze’s radio show, before joining forces with Fred Testot and forming wacky comedy double-act Omar et Fred.
I know the face… He starred alongside Tom Hanks in the latest instalment of the Dan Brown franchise, Inferno, and has totted up brief appearances in blockbusters X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World.
Where will we see him next? He is poised to front a new adaptation of Jules Romains’s farce Knock, as the eponymous quack who convinces an entire town they are at death’s door to line his pockets. He will also lend his voice to Leopold, in the upcoming CGI-animated film Arctic Justice.
C’est pas vrai! Behind his happy-go-lucky front lies deep-rooted insecurity. The award-winning thesp recently confessed to occasionally feeling like a “fraud” due to his lack of formal acting training.
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