Chosen to be part of an exclusive cast of young African creatives for Diesel’s Studio Africa project, Sy Alassane has gone from model to actor to familiar face in just a few short months. We spoke to him in London to see what’s next on his hit list.
Fabien Kruszelnicki: You filmed Restless City a couple of years back now and it launched at Sundance, how did that feel?
Sy Alassane: The feeling was of satisfaction. Satisfaction for achieving my first movie, and learning that I had the skill to play different personalities. It was priceless. This has given me the confidence to say, from now on, I can play any character I want to.
FK: Are you attracted to independent movies?
SA: Because independent movies mean you find your own ideas and your own money, to do what you really want to do I have a great amount of respect for, and understand the difficulties, that come hand-in-hand with making them.
FK: You started acting in some French productions, how does French cinema compare to Hollywood?
SA: My first experience of being in a French production I would not really call ‘acting’ for me. I was not doing something that I really enjoyed – it was a small role in a little caricature production.
I think that that role and the production itself was the opposite of what this industry should be about. But I do think though that French cinema has amazing talents and directors with great ideas. While they don’t produce as much as Hollywood does, I do feel there is a certain quality that comes with a French production. French cinema is not yet as open to equality between actors and artists in general, no matter their colour or where they are from. I have to say that things are changing slowly, and I look forward to seeing some directors starting to change the way they work.
FK: What have you got coming up?
SA: The next movie I am doing is A Chjàna, by the African-American-Italian director, Jonas Carpignano. I was at Sundance Labs last year to work on the preparation of the shoot, but at the moment it’s difficult to film a movie in Mali, Libya and Algeria due to the conflicts happening there. Hopefully it’s going to finish this Summer.
FK: How did you get involved in acting to begin with?
SA: The brilliant Nigerian-English photographer Andrew Dosunmu was shooting me as a model and he just so happened to be working on his first feature movie, Restless City. He was convinced that I was the person he was looking for in the main role. I will be always thankful to Andrew for the trust he had in me that I could play the part.
FK: How do you feel about black actors being typecast? Do you think times are changing?
SA: I do think that times are changing, as there is no other choice really. The fact that I am here today shows that we all have our role to play within this changing process.
I believe London is taking the lead on this significant change in the industry. People are working on it at different levels, for the best, and not just for the minority but for humanity in general. I like to think that openness and equality can make a nation culturally rich and therefore happy.
FK: You grew up in Paris after fleeing Mali as a child, yet there is still conflict in the country, do you follow the news about it?
SA: I grew up between Mauritania-Senegal-cote D’ivoire and France, but I always follow what’s happing around Mali and that region. All of those countries used to be part of the empire of Mali, so it’s the same people and same history.
FK: What is it about the movie industry that appeals to you?
SA: I like the idea of using image to tell not just stories, but changing things. Cinema is an amazing art!
FK: Do you watch many movies yourself? What are the five top movies you’d recommend?
SA: I don’t really watch that many movies. But one of the last I watched is Bamako from Abderrahmane Sissako. I suggest you see it.
Jacket by Diesel+Edun; hat Sy’s own