Omar Sy broke out in the 2011 box office smash The Intouchables and quickly made a name for himself worldwide as the French film rolled out to global acclaim. Now, as the 10th anniversary of that award-winning $427M grosser approaches, he’s back on the international stage with Netflix’s Lupin. The first part of Season One of the French series has been a phenomenon with Netflix in January projecting 70M households viewing the five-parter in the first 28 days (confirmed figures have not yet been released). Part 2 of Season One debuts this summer on the service (see the teaser here).
I recently spoke with Sy who had just arrived in Paris (he’s lived in LA for the last eight years) and who was still reeling from the global success Lupin has achieved. “Clearly we do things hoping they’ll work, but this level of response is totally beyond me. We said we didn’t want to be red in the face in front of American or English series. It was us little French guys trying to be in the same court, but to have a result that is so enormous was totally unexpected.”
What’s been especially satisfying for Sy is the globality of the response. “In cinema, in series, when we tell stories the idea is to touch everyone at the same spot and when I see the experience of things that I’ve done that speak to the world, it always meets in the same place; everyone is touched or amazed by the same things. It’s great to see in Brazil or in France they loved Lupin for the same reason. There’s something universal and that’s something I always try to achieve.”
In the series, Sy stars as Assane Diop who uses the world famous gentleman thief and master of disguise, Arsène Lupin, as his inspiration. The French original from Gaumont Télévision is created by George Kay (Criminal UK, Killing Eve) in collaboration with François Uzan (Family Business) and is a contemporary adaptation of the novels penned by French writer Maurice LeBlanc, who created the character in 1905. The books have been adapted into dozens of TV series and movies over the years, but not to this sort of worldwide recognition.
I asked Sy when he knew they really had something special and he told me that right from the beginning there were some “extraordinary” factors. “The producers came to me and asked ‘What would be the ideal role for you?’ That’s extraordinary, there are very few actors who get asked what is the dream role that you’d like to play and so that started the adventure.”
Sy didn’t initially have it in mind that Lupin would be the ideal. “I had to think about it, I never thought I’d be asked the question. Then Lupin came up quickly. When we think about a character who’s cool, who can do lots of things, who has style, who’s charming — he has everything so I say he’s James Bond for us. If I were English, I’d want to do Bond.” Would he ever want to assay the real 007? “I know there’s a rule to playing James Bond. I did some research to see if I wasn’t reaching too far to hope for that one day, but the first rule is they have to be English so it’s already screwed for me,” he laughed.
The Lupin ball quickly began rolling with Netflix coming aboard, something of which Sy is quite proud. “Netflix is the Olympic Games for series and we are the French representative.” Also getting Louis Leterrier on board as director was “an honor and great luck.”
Part of the international success, says Sy, may also be that Lupin helped people to travel to Paris from their living rooms. “In the aesthetic that Louis wanted, it was to film Paris. We knew that Paris was a character in the series like it was in the books and we respected the work. Lupin and Paris are inseparable so it was important to shoot Paris in a certain way, but also our Paris. The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, okay, but also Montreuil, prisons in Paris… not just the postcard version.”
The shoot was longer than expected due to Covid interruptions and restrictions, and this gave Sy time to ponder. “Like everyone, I experienced Covid asking a lot of questions about myself, my way of life, it was a sort of forced inventory for everyone, the way we live and the world in which we’ll live in the future.”
Sy and Leterrier are again teaming with Netflix on a sequel to 2021 French comedy On The Other Side Of The Tracks, but does the future hold more Lupin? Sy says, “We’ll see what Netflix wants to do with this franchise. The first bet that we won was to bring this character to life and to create a franchise. The franchise exists and now it’s up to Netflix to see what they want to do with it. We’ll see what they propose, but this is a character that is super enjoyable and who I would take great pleasure in revisiting tomorrow if I can.”