CIFF interview: Farès Landoulsi

Screen International has announced five of the most talented and promising actors and directors from across the Middle East and North Africa who have been selected for the third edition of its talent-spotting initiative ‘Arab Stars Of Tomorrow’, which this year was launched at the 41st edition of the Cairo International Film Festival and supported by Front Row and Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC).

The ‘Arab Stars of Tomorrow’ have been curated and selected by Screen International’s Middle East correspondent Melanie Goodfellow. She shortlisted five actors and directors who have already made a significant impact in their field with promise of much more to come. The ICS sat down with two of them, Farès Landoulsi and Nisrin Erradi. Here is our interview with the former, the highly talented up-and-coming actor from Tunisia who will soon feature in the anticipated Netflix suspense drama Messiah from writer Michael Petroni and producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Farès studied at the prestigious Classe Libre Cours Florent in Paris, and his credits include remarkable performances in the short films Omertà and Face à la Mer, which were both presented at the Cannes Film Festival.

CS: First of all, congratulations for being here in Cairo as one of the five Arab Stars of Tomorrow chosen by Screen International. How do you feel about that?

FL: It’s really beautiful! It is very encouraging, to start with, because it is like a form of recognition of my work. And it is incredible to be here in Cairo, in such a wonderful environment and surrounded by producers, directors, actors, artists in general. It’s fantastic and I think it is the right formula, and the right environment to make contacts.

CS: Could you tell us a bit about your training and experience in Paris at the Cours Florent, the most prestigious acting school in France?

FL: I did what we call the “Classe Libre”. I took the Concours in 2015, which consisted of three rounds. There were around 3000 candidates, and in the end they only select 19 French candidates and a single international one. And I got to be the one! I did a two-year training, entering directly in the second year. And in 2017 I found an agent and started to do castings and bingo, almost on the spot I got Messiah.

CS: Tell us a bit more about Messiah.

FL: It’s a very ambitious project. It is a ten-episode series for Netflix. I auditioned with the best casting agency in London. We spent an entire year doing audition sessions to get the part with six or seven castings, starting with self-tapes and finishing with a final audition in Los Angeles. From then onward I started working on my own on the accent, because I didn’t speak Palestinian at all. Then they gave me a language coach which was awesome. The working conditions were very comfortable and they encouraged me to give the best of myself. I ended up losing 18 kilos to reach 63 kilos at the skinniest.

CS: Didn’t you get any health issues due to that?

FL: There was some yo-yo dieting after the shooting. But I resumed eating a lot quickly and I put on weight very fast.

CS: Could you expand a bit on your character?

FL: I worked on the idea of privation. He is a very delicate and fragile young man, a bit lost like most young people these days, and not just because he is a refugee even if he is one. He comes from the poorest and harshest refugee camp, Armouk, where people are deprived and have not been able to go anywhere else. They truly live in abominable conditions. The work on the part was very intense and demanding because of the language, the accent, and the state of mind I had to put myself in. But nonetheless this has been my best experience on a shoot so far and I hope what comes next will be on par.

CS: May I ask you who your acting references/models are, if you have any?

FL: I really love Dominique Blanc, I know this may sound like a quirky or staggering thing to say. I saw her playing Phèdre on stage under Patrice Chéreau’s direction, and she is a “grande dame”. I also loved Michel Serrault, God bless him. But my favorite actress is Natalie Portman, I think, I truly love her acting range. I don’t have a male acting model though, but if I had to single out one actor, I would say De Niro. But there is no person I look up to and in whose footsteps I would like to walk. I dream bigger. I want to learn as many languages as possible, I don’t want to have this handicap that my origins don’t allow me to get some roles. In that regard, I don’t consider myself to be a Tunisian actor, but an actor full stop.

CS: Do you have specific desires as to where you want to go next? Theater, cinema, television?

FL: To be honest with you, if there is a second season of Messiah then I’ll go for it obviously, but otherwise I have had it with playing refugees, migrants and whatnot because it truly is an exhausting process intellectually and emotionally. It works very deeply on the emotional memory because those terrible life trajectories are unknown to me, and you constantly work on the imaginary. Anyway, all the parts I have played so far, be it on stage, in cinema or on television have all been very tough so now maybe it’s time for me to play a young man who has the time of his life in a comedy (laughs). But then it’s so uninteresting and this is not the reason why I do this job. I really want to defend values and characters. But I have no such thing as a role preference. When I was a kid, I always dreamt to play a schizophrenic person. I really love challenges, and I really love playing characters that are very remote from who I am, like I just did with this part in Messiah, where the commitment is between you and yourself.

Fares Landoulsi