5:25 p.m., May 9, 2022
Disney+ establishes its presence in France with a new 100% French series: Oussekine, inspired by a true story, that of the death of Malik Oussekine, this student who succumbed to the beatings of the aerial police during a demonstration against a project of university reform, December 5, 1986. Co-written and directed by Antoine Chevrollier (Black Baron, Le Bureau des legendes), this series in four episodes is centered on the fight of the Oussekine family to obtain justice. In the role of lawyer Georges Kiejman, an astonishing Kad Merad.
You were born in 1964, like Malik Oussekine.
How did you experience this case? At the time, I lived in the suburbs of Paris and we didn’t go out much. Paris was far away for us. Nevertheless, I remember very well this shocking and very striking drama of rue Monsieur-le-Prince, the news and all these images. It was when Antoine Chevrollier told me about his project that I got back into the swing of things. I loved working with him on Baron Noir, I was immediately thrilled.
By interpreting Me Georges Kiejman, it is the first time that you play a very real public figure. What does this change?
Well, it’s not Elvis Presley either! [Rires.] It’s not a biopic, it’s an evocation of Georges Kiejman. It is not a question of resembling him feature for feature. I immersed myself without trying to imitate him. I watched a lot of the period footage, his public statements. What matters is what he says and how he says it. I worked more with the voice and the intentions than with the physical, even if I have a mustache and I don’t have too much hair either!
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Oussekine also shows that, by his tone, Kiejman tries to calm the situation…
Yes, and also a great determination. He had and still has a way of saying things. He was very sure of himself with at the same time a certain charm and verve. I found this character quite beautiful and very pleasant to play.
Antoine Chevrollier explained to us that he had offered to meet with Kiejman but that you did not want to. Why ?
At that time, we were in the middle of a pandemic and Mr. Kiejman is still quite old [il a aujourd’hui 89 ans]. So I didn’t want to take any risks. I did the same thing with my parents: I spent almost two years without kissing them! I do hope that I will manage to meet him, and tell him how honored and proud I was to interpret him. Every time I put on the lawyer’s robe, I saw him and remembered his expressions, his eyes and his charm. It helped me a lot, because it’s a very difficult role.
The last episode takes place almost entirely in court. Is it an actor’s fantasy to play this kind of scenes?
It is both a fantasy and a trap. We all want to think of ourselves as great lawyers, to have lyrical flights and convince jurors. But we are very quickly confronted with reality, with the people we have in front of us. We shot in a small court. It was a little stuffy, not far from scary. But it’s exhilarating to defend someone or a cause. And since it’s very well written, it was enjoyable.
Do you understand that this story is put forward by a platform like Disney + rather than by a public channel?
One can ask the question, but I was not in the discussions of production. When Antoine Chevrollier proposed the project to me, he immediately told me about Disney+, and especially about the strength of this platform to shine around the world. This French story will be seen in more than 150 countries. Given the quality of the series, I think it will probably be watched and commented on more than if it were on France Télévisions, for example.
It’s jubilant to defend someone or a cause
Oussekine is launched in a sensitive societal and electoral context. Will it stir things up?
The idea is to change things. Each time we move in the direction of being all together, of understanding each other and of understanding our society, we will move forward. A series like this can indeed interest, intrigue and, I hope, change mentalities. It is important that such series exist, whatever the political context. Others are needed.
On May 23 on Canal+, we will find you in the comedy Le Flambeau, in a completely different role: a somewhat heavy bar owner, candidate in a survival game…
It’s called schizophrenia, it’s my job! [Rires.] I am neither comic nor dramatic, I am a performer. It’s a chance, the chance of encounters and desires. For me, it was very pleasant to be on a beach in Le Flambeau and then to put on the dress of this prestigious lawyer to tell an important story. And I think we can take as much pleasure in front of Le Flambeau as in front of Oussekine.
By Antoine Chevrollier, with Sayyid El Alami, Hiam Abbass, Kad Merad. 4 episodes of 60 minutes. Available Wednesday on Disney+.