Omar Sy has become a household name in France after his role as the lead character in The Intouchables, but he’s also made inroads into Hollywood movies, including X-Men: Days of Future Past and Jurassic World. He’ll next star in Father & Soldier, a drama about Senegalese Tirailleurs who served in French military units during World War I.
La Tour Montparnasse Infernale (2001)
Originally known for Jerky Boys-like phone improvisations on the Canal+ variety show Omar et Fred, Sy made his feature debut in the 2001 comedy La Tour Montparnasse Infernale. Several years later, the actor earned critical praise and a best-actor Cesar nomination for his role as an irrepressible ruffian hired to assist a quadriplegic aristocrat in The Intouchables. The film went on to become France’s biggest-selling domestic box office hit of all time and catapulted Sy into the spotlight.
Since then, Sy has starred in the modern adaptation of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman thief novels as Assane Diop for Netflix series Lupin and earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. He also voiced a character in Luc Besson’s 2015 animated film Arthur and the Vengeance of Maltazard. The actor reunited with co-star Francois Cluzet in the 2019 war drama Father and Soldier, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival and is scheduled for release in 2021.
Micmacs marks a return to form for Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie). The cluttered settings, retro look of objects and the way they are shot with dramatic close-ups and distorted wide-angle lens all echo his earlier films.
The story centers around a video store clerk named Bazil who takes a bullet in the head and lives rough with a group of other oddballs called Micmacs. He concocts a scheme to get revenge on the weapons manufacturers who maimed him. The film is a clever satire about the world arms trade but it lacks the magic of Amelie.
Dany Boon’s blandness as the lead isn’t helped by the clunky script that strains to generate humor that never quite works. Sy, on the other hand, is a standout as his brash character shows no mercy to his enemies. The film also stars Romain Duris, Dominique Pinon and Yolande Moreau.
The Intouchables (2011)
A wisecracking Parisian ex-con lands a job as the caretaker of a quadriplegic millionaire, in this feelgood comedy. Sy makes the part his own, earning rave reviews from papers like Le Monde as a rare black actor in French cinema—which is still lagging behind America in racial diversity.
Director Olivier Nakache and writer Eric Toledano rely on a mix of classic comic archetypes (pompous master, clowning servant) and modern social relevance to tell their tale. But they also pay attention to details, from the music to the way in which contrasting images illustrate the setting and the two characters.
Francois Cluzet and Sy have effortless chemistry as Phillippe, the wealthy Parisian, and Driss, his Senegalese caretaker. Their frank conversations, laced with profanity, are funny and touching, despite Phillippe’s wheelchair-bound status. The film avoids any pity, instead focusing on the strength and humour of their friendship.
Les Tuche (2013)
After the success of “The Intouchables” Sy branched out, taking on films that showcased his range. He starred in the Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano directed buddy drama film SAMBA, and as a clown in Roschdy Zem’s CHOCOLAT, based on the life of Rafael Padilla, the first black circus performer in Paris.
His performance in the latter received critical acclaim and was a huge box office hit, winning him ‘Globe de Cristal Award’ and nominations at the ‘Tokyo International Film Festival’ and ‘Lumieres Awards’.
After conquering Hollywood, he returned to France with a new perspective and an undying love for his homeland. This was evident in the resounding success of his Netflix series ‘Lupin’, in which he plays Assane Diop, a gentleman burglar inspired by Arsene Lupin. This role proved to be yet another milestone in his career and cemented him as one of the most important faces of French cinema.
After a decade of Hollywood fare, Sy returned to France for the popular series Lupin (2021; Part 1 on Netflix). In the role of Assane Diop, an artful thief inspired by the classic French tales of Arsene Lupin, Sy nimbly grapples with Parisian racial dynamics while relying on his own mastery of disguise.
He nailed his part, earning praise from critics and becoming the first actor of African descent to win a Cesar, France’s highest film honour. The success catapulted Sy to superstardom, and he became one of the country’s biggest stars.
While some actors cling to the image of their blockbuster roles, Sy is more interested in proving his acting prowess beyond these glossy moments. His next projects include a biopic of a pioneering Black circus clown, Knock (2019; starring alongside Gad Elmaleh); and a submarine-set thriller, Le chant du loup (2019; The Wolf’s Call). He also recently signed a multi-year deal with Netflix to develop and star in his own original films.
Father & Soldier (2019)
A Senegalese villager enlists voluntarily in the French army during World War I to be with his son, and finds himself sent into a no-man’s land of shells and bullets. Directed by Mathieu Vadepied, Father & Soldier puts Sy at the forefront of a drama that interrogates France’s colonial legacy and its treatment of African soldiers.
The film has a handful of bitter truths about the futility of seeking glory on the battlefield and the impossibility of sheltering children from the realities of the world around them, but an overly melodramatic tone and underdeveloped characters shortchange what could have been an emotionally wrenching experience. Still, Sy’s performance stands out as a powerful one.
Sy gained early fame for his duo with Fred Testot on the sketch comedy series Service apres-vente des Emissions on Canal + from 2005 to 2012. He then shot to superstardom with The Intouchables, written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano.