Actor Tahar Rahim


If you haven’t heard of Tahar Rahim, you soon will. He’s the 20-something French actor of Algerian descent whose latest film, A Prophet (Un Prophète) has just been nominated for a Golden Globe.

HE’S fresh from wrapping the Roman epic adventure The Eagle of the Ninth with director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), and he’ll be on your Oscar radar come awards season.

A Prophet, directed by Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) and winner of the London Film Festival Best Film Award, premiered at last spring’s Cannes International Film Festival where it scooped the prestigious Grand Prix.

Rahim’s young French Arab, Malik El Djebena, is a captivating observation in nervous intensity in this prison gangster drama whose teenage convict endures a six-year sentence working inside for the mob.

When I meet Rahim at the Sanctum Hotel in Soho I am not quite prepared for the strains of language barrier rigidity. But like any great actor it’s all in the eyes, and his moody features do more than explain why he can hold a film for two-and-a-half hours and be in almost every frame.

Have you spent much time in the capital?

‘I’ve been to London many times. I worked in London in a club when I was 24, when I was a student. I visit London a lot. I like the mood here, the people don’t look at you here. It gives you more freedom. I feel like people don’t judge you here.’

Where do you currently live?

‘I live in France. If I could work in Hollywood it would be nice, but I won’t quit France. I’m based there, it’s good.’

A Prophet looked like a pretty brutal movie to make. Was it difficult being in a grim prison environment for so long, and what was the atmosphere like on set?

‘The opposite of what people think. No it was very nice because the mood in the team was so good you don’t feel like you’re in prison stuck between the walls and things like that, because what you can’t forget is that it is false. The shooting was 79 days – four months. What was very hard was playing the character – the acting.’

How did you prepare for the role?

‘The only way to play Malik was to believe in every situation. That was very hard. I had eight auditions, so that was preparation first of all. After that I tried to practice method, and I studied documentaries and movies and photos and I was meeting people. It helped me for the second part of the movie but not for the beginning, because we realised that I was making a patchwork of different characters that already existed.

‘It wasn’t good because we had to make someone new, compose someone, so we changed the way of working. I was questioning every situation a lot, and then it was thanks to the team and to Jacques that things got better step by step and we found a way to believe in the moment.’

The film is a promising contender for awards season, which is not far away. How confident do you feel about Oscar nominations, and is it important to you?

‘It’s not an ambition but it’s good, it feels good. It’s like candy. You’ve got it, you feel more confident, you’re happy, but we’re not making movies for awards.’

How are you finding the attention the film is receiving, and in turn your increasing profile?

‘I’m very happy, you can’t imagine…you can make something magic when you make movies. You help people to forget their condition for two hours or two hours and a half. It’s amazing when you think about that really.’

What would be your dream role?

‘I hope to have many different experiences as good as this one. That’s a dream!’

First published on The London Word, December 2009.
© Abbey Stirling