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Oussekine actor Hiam Abbas: ‘It is a responsibility to be part of projects where people identify themselves with the characters’

Veteran French actors Hiam Abbas and Slimane Dazi talk about Disney Plus Hotstar series Oussekine and the tragedy that it explores.

Hiam Abbas Succession, hiam abbas, SuccessionHiam Abbas as Marcia Roy in Succession. (Photo: HBO)

Oussekine is a French drama series about the murder of 22-year-old French-Algerian student Malik Oussekine in the backdrop of 1986-87 mass protests against certain educational reforms in France. Malik was not a participant, but was caught up in retaliatory action by the riot police and mercilessly beaten to death.

The authorities tried to hide the atrocity and paint him as a criminal involved not just in the protests but also with particular shady outfits. Despite not being part of the protests, Oussekine became a symbol of the agitation anyway, which intensified considerably after his death. And a couple of days later, Alain Devaquet, the politician behind the controversial proposal to reform the higher education system, resigned, and the French government revoked what was called the Devaquet law.

The series, directed and co-written by Antoine Chevrollier, stars Sayyid El Alami in the role of Oussekine. The cast also features big names like veteran French actors Hiam Abbas (who you might know as Marcia of HBO show Succession) and Slimane Dazi as Malik’s mother Aïcha and father Miloud, respectively.

The superbly-written and acted series works as both a thriller and social drama. It has a gripping narrative but is also heart-wrenching. Since it is a Disney series, the recreation of late 1980s’ Paris is dead-on.

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Indianexpress.com had a brief conversation with Hiam Abbas and Slimane Dazi about the Disney Plus Hotstar series Oussekine and the tragedy that it explores. Here are excerpts from the interaction.

Q. Do you believe that when cinema or television addresses social issues like persecution of minorities and police brutality, it has the potential to improve things?

Hiam: I think so. If you’d asked me this 10 years ago, I would have thought twice. I think with time and with whatever is happening in the world, I think it is a responsibility to be part of projects where people identify themselves with the characters. Maybe give them answers to their doubts. So yes, I do believe so.

Slimane: I agree. Absolutely.

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Q. What was about this project and your respective characters that was appealing to you on a personal level?

Hiam: It’s maybe the easiest question, but it’s the hardest to start with. Because sometimes we really don’t know why we go for something. And we call it connection. I think with years of experience, you want to do projects that appeal to who you are, appeal to your values, whatever you believe in, and what you want to defend in real life. So there are subjects that are not often brought up. This [Malik Oussekine’s murder] is one of the things that created a big wound in the history of Algerians in France. Algerians who thought they were French, who thought they were part of this country, and suddenly the fact that they weren’t allowed to live until the end of their lives. And I think today we pay a lot of that price. The other thing is, it was a beautifully written story and well-told from the point of view of an intimate life of a family that suddenly encounters grave injustice.

Slimane: My family comes from the same roots [as the Oussekine family], and the same region in Algeria. I grew up in a suburb of Paris. This story is very close to mine. So my participation in this project, well, it’s a gift for me.

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Hiam: When Antoine asked me who would you like to play your husband, the first name that came to my mind was Slimane’s. He said, “That’s it. That’s the guy I’m thinking of.”

Oussekine is a superbly-written and acted series that works as both a thriller and social drama. (Photo: Disney)

Q. You both are senior actors, but has your approach towards acting changed?

Hiam: I really don’t know. Because, again, this is something where there is no theory to it. Yes, they are schools for actors and schools for acting. There’s coaching and whatever comes with that. But I think the most important thing about acting I have realised is that when you are in the moment, whatever you learned has to disappear and you should use your emotional connection with the character. And acting is just an emotional journey. I think a lot of us would be able to do this craft with no problem. It’s just about how sincere you are at that moment, and how much in the moment you are.

Slimane: I’ll try to give you an answer because we [Hiam and he] don’t have the same journey. I am totally an autodidact. Suddenly, when I was 39, somebody said I want to do something with you. And I said I’m not an actor. And when I agreed and I saw my face on the screen, I didn’t recognise myself. It’s the first time I saw my own face. It’s another person, I thought. You know what I mean?

Hiam: Acting in front of the camera has something to do with a truth to the moment that the person can bring with the help of a director. It drives you to wherever the character should go. And there is acting for theatre, which is a completely different thing. Often we think acting is just like that. (snaps fingers). It’s not, there is a lot to it. And at the same time, it should be easy. It’s very contradictory as life is, but that’s how it is.

First published on: 17-05-2022 at 16:14 IST
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