The career to stardom of Omar Sy, the French charisma that has conquered Hollywood

Released in January 2021, the first part of the series Lupin it attracted more than 70 million households in the world in its first month of broadcast on Netflix. That made it the second best debut on the platform, only after Bridgerton. It is the only French show that has made it into the top ten most watched in the United States. But also in your country of origin, in Italy, Spain, Brazil or South Africa. For Omar Sy (Trappes, France, 1978), the protagonist and the visible face of this title of global repercussion, it has been his second outbreak of fame. His second encounter with the demanding media attention, interviews, photos. And it has come exactly 10 years after the first, when he starred in the movie Untouchable, the biggest French hit in history: 19 million viewers in France alone, nearly $ 450 million raised worldwide, several remakes in different countries and for which he rose as the first black actor to win the César award (the Oscar or Gallic Goya). But in this decade between film and series, Sy has learned many things. Among others, he has learned to overcome the impostor syndrome and has finally accepted that he is not just a comedian sneaking into movies, that he is also an actor.

Lupin It is for Omar Sy, moreover, that medium in which he puts his career in France and his desires beyond at the same speed and height. The actor moved to Los Angeles in 2012. The initial excuse was the promotion for the Oscars of Untouchable. The real reason was to take refuge from the excessive fame that the film had given him in France and that was already reaching his children. His plan was to spend a sabbatical in the sunny Californian city with his family (his wife, Hélène, since 2007, a girlfriend since 1997, and four children, the fifth was already born in the United States), and they will be there for ten years. In this decade of trying to make the Americas, things didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted. He had to start over. Do castings For the first time in her life, introduce herself, say her name. And, of course, learn English. A feat that he achieved with four hours a day of private lessons and seeing a lot Keeping Up With the Kardashians (after initially giving up with CNN).

Omar Sy is wearing a Dior Men suit and shirt.

All that work paid off and Within six months of arriving in Hollywood, she landed her first role in a major production, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), playing a mutant with the power to travel through time. The big day of the premiere arrived, the premiere, and sitting in that cinema he felt ashamed: they had practically cut him from the final cut. “It was a violent surprise,” he would admit later, although he knew how to fit it with humor and sportsmanship. He had learned the hard way how the industry worked and he was still laughing. Because his smile is always ahead. In the profiles about him, in every interview, In any statement from co-workers, Omar Sy’s smile goes ahead of Omar Sy.

That know-how, kindness and natural elegance has been his hallmark since he was a teenager and still a neighbor of Trappes, the suburb where he lived with his parents (a Senegalese worker in a car factory and a Mauritanian who cleaned offices) and his seven siblings (he is the third), one of those working-class neighborhoods around Paris that began as an example of reception and multiculturalism and ended up as a conflictive and abandoned place. A place that, despite everything, Sy remembers with much love and happiness. Surrounded by the countryside, they were free, and without leaving their block of flats they traveled the world with their neighbors of dozens of nationalities. There he found his first partners in the world of entertainment. There they called him ‘the horse of Trappes’, like the Trojan horse, because they used his kindness and plant to get anywhere. The same qualities that have led him to this day and his global fame. Although there he has also had to add a lot of effort and work.

Growing up in that neighborhood, the world he now inhabits was not a possibility. Luckily for him, his parents never put barriers to his dreams, nor to his decisions (raised Muslim, his wife is Catholic), and it started by chance. A friend from the neighborhood asked him as a favor to join his radio show posing as a retired Senegalese footballer. At the end of the show they told the joke, the producers loved it and asked him to come back every day pretending to be someone new. His friend was Jamel Debbouze, today a great name in French comedy, and on that radio Sy met Fred Testot, with whom he would form the comedy duo Omar et Fred, triumphing on television. This is how his first film offers would come to him.

And so he met Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano, his amulet directors, also raised in the suburbs, children of immigrants, who wrote for him the character of Driss in Untouchable, that man who brings all his neighborhood wisdom and joy to the stuffy and boring life of a rich quadriplegic man (François Cluzet). Again, Sy’s smile was ahead in that film. Then came its transformation as a shuttle for change in French cinema that did not reflect the diversity of its streets. A role and a responsibility that, however, the actor took with prudence, departing, at first, from any kind of declaration or political act. “I am not a leader,” he justified himself in an interview in 2014. I’m just an actor who still has a lot to learn and who has preferred not to say or do anything ”. He openly but politely refused to be “the fashionable black man or to be used as a vehicle for clichés.” He preferred to be a reference and inspiration through deeds and work, not words.

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Omar Sy on the set of Lupine, in front of the Louvre, one of the star locations of the series.

And so it has been until now. After the stumble of X-Men he realized that his professional place would be with one foot on each side of the Atlantic. In Hollywood, he kept getting small roles in big movies (Jurassic World, Inferno, Transformers: The Last Knight), while in France he chose big roles in smaller films (Samba, everything starts tomorrow) that were never a success for others, but were personal achievements. Because they were their choices that they wanted to preach with that example that they asked them to be. The clearest case was Mr. Chocolate (2016), the real story of clown Rafael Padilla, nicknamed Chocolat for the color of his skin. Omar Sy felt all the ghosts of inequality and racism still very much alive about him playing that character. “It meant a lot to me. The first black clown is clearly my ancestor. He opened the door and we walked in behind him, ”he said. That job opened his eyes too. “It was my first movie as a real actor, it required a lot of physical and emotional preparation, I chose it with conscience and everything I gave there was decisive for what came after.”

Without Chocolat, I might not have felt the energy and security to star in. Lupin. There he did put weight on his shoulders: being the umpteenth reincarnation of a character as French as Arsène Lupine, the white-gloved thief created by Maurice Leblanc in 1905 and that Sy met through the apocryphal adaptation of a Japanese manga. A project that they thought to suit him and let him cut his suit: it was the actor who decided that it would not be Lupine, but a fervent admirer, Assane Diop, who, inspired by the books, steals and cheats to avenge the death of his father. Besides having served to put his name in France and Hollywood on the same level, Lupine is not just a training show; It also gives off a social message: his character uses invisibility and prejudice towards the black population as an advantage for his robberies. The series is the result of a well thought-out career directed by an actor who continues to have a comic soul and does not forget where he comes from.

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The career to stardom of Omar Sy, the French charisma that has conquered Hollywood