By María Estévez, MWN
Arsène Lupin is back with the new series recently released on Netflix. The most famous gentleman thief in French literature, idolized throughout 17 novels and 39 short stories, revives thanks to the French actor and comedian Omar Sy. The 43-years-old plays Assane Diop, a man who pretends to be Lupin, in a TV show created by George Kay and François Uzan that also talks about diversity, immigration and class struggle.
Sy began his acting career as a comedian in the early 2000s, and played in two hit films called “Nos jours heureux” (Those Happy Days, 2006) and “Tellement proches” (So close, 2009). The international success came with “The Intouchables” (2011), a film with which he won the French César and the hearts of nearly 20 million viewers. Since then, Sy has starred in blockbuster franchises such as “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Jurassic World,” and also participated alongside Tom Hanks in “Inferno” and along with Harrison Ford in “The Call of the Wild.”
“I came into this project with the offer to play any character I wanted. It was a rare situation. It didn’t take me long to find Arsène Lupin. He is the perfect character for any actor,” Sy explained. “He’s seductive and intelligent, plays multiple roles in each episode and makes you go on all sorts of adventures. He is like James Bond for people from the UK. In France, we have Lupin. When you grow up here, you read stories about him, you imagine what he looks like and you know what he is capable of. He’s one of our heroes. I was familiar with the manga version of Lupin, so I knew the character from the 1980s Japanese perspective. When I joined the project, I started reading the books and went back to see all the filmed adaptations. I must say that Georges Descrières’ interpretation (in the 1970s French TV series) is my favorite.”
Assane Diop marks Sy’s first TV role. It is a sophisticated, action-packed version of a character that has become so important in the Gallic imagination.
“We thought about how to translate the character into today’s world. We couldn’t reuse the masking effect from “Mission: Impossible,” so we opted for a very simple choice. Assane is defined by his thirst for justice, by the fact that he is socially ignored. His invisibility is his trauma and his power. The more he changes costumes and trades, the more he blends in with the crowd. I embraced that idea because it’s something I totally relate to. In my experience as a TV comedian, I know that all it takes to change identity is a hat and a pair of glasses. Assane needs little things to move up in society because people tend to focus more on what people do than who people are.”
And while the role has had a big impact, Sy used a ‘less-is-more’ approach.
“As an actor, I tend to be more over-the-top. But my performance in Lupin is subdued. In that sense, I feel like I’m venturing into new territory,” he said.
Lupin is a purely fictional creation with literary-historical references, as he is considered to be Leblanc’s version of a bandit created by Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail in 1857; several years before the first appearance of the novel “Arsenio Lupin, Gentleman Thief” in 1907.
“When you talk about Lupin, you talk about the mastermind of a robber, the man who is always one step ahead of everyone else, the action of such a character is exhilarating.”
Diop emulates the literary character in his crimes and seeks revenge 25 years after his father, a Senegalese immigrant, committed suicide as he was accused of stealing a jewel that belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette.
“When you come to the performance itself, you have to consider the character’s background: how he became who he is, the gray areas, the nuances. George Kay and François Uzan, co-creators of the series, wanted to explore Assane’s childhood.”
The first five episodes of the 1st season became one of Netflix’s biggest hits.
“The audience is responding very well, I’m very happy. This is my first TV series and I must admit that it has been a totally different experience. It was like shooting a 10-hour movie. My way of acting was different because the story takes place over a much longer period of time,” Sy concluded.