insight - Tahar Rahim, Actor
Written by Karen Martin
Garnering awards for lead roles in critically acclaimed films, Tahar Rahim is fast earning kudos at film festivals and awards ceremonies worldwide.
Born to Algerian parents, Tahar grew up in Belfort, France. “I’d wanted to be an actor since I was 14,” he says. “When I was a kid there was nothing to do in my city; I got bored so I went to see movies a lot, and then one day I decided that was what I wanted to do…so I tried.”
After studying cinema at Université Montpellier III Paul Valéry, and making a documentary with a friend, he moved to Paris to make things happen. “I worked just to pay my rent, and I enrolled on a theatre course. Then I found an agent and began to get some auditions.”
His first big break was in a television series called La Commune, written by Abdel Raouf Dafri, who also wrote the original screenplay for A Prophet. The director of A Prophet, Jacques Audiard, saw Tahar and asked him to try out for the film. “I had three months of auditions, and then he gave me the lead part of Malik,” says Tahar.
His character, Malik El Djebena, is a small-time crook sentenced to prison for six years. While in jail he falls in with a Corsican mob and quickly learns how to survive on the inside; by the end of his sentence he’s risen among the ranks of an emerging new gang.
Tahar’s performance in the film earned him a string of awards last year, including Best Actor at the European Film Awards, and a nomination for the Rising Star Award at the 2010 BAFTAs.
On the back of this success, this year he’s been busy on the set of several films, including four months shooting Black Gold, an epic adventure adaptation of Hans Reusch’s classic novel The Great Thirst. The film, set in the 1930s at the dawn of the oil boom, centres around a young Arab prince (played by Tahar) torn between allegiance to his conservative father and his liberal father-in-law. The film’s battle scenes were shot in the desert dunes of Mesaieed and Shamal in Qatar.
“Black Gold was the biggest film I’ve made – around the 40 million euro mark,” says Tahar. “It was an amazing experience working with [writer/director] Jean-Jacques Annaud, the actors – Mark Strong, Antonio Banderas, Riz Ahmed, Freida Pinto – everybody,” he says. “And the location was great, really great. The set was built specially for the movie, it was just incredible really – you could believe it was a real city. I really liked the whole experience. But it was hard too. There were long days, sometimes we had sandstorms, it was hot…but it was one of my favourite experiences.”
The film had its world premiere at The Doha Tribeca Film Festival in October, while it will be in cinemas worldwide in December. “I think it’s quite cool to do it in Qatar because the film was shot there, and it’s becoming a great festival,” says Tahar, who was excited to be attending for the first time.
But the red carpet events are just a brief break in proceedings for this hard working actor. Tahar has several films out, or in the pipeline, this year. “Right now I have a movie out called Free Men. It’s about the Arabic resistance in Paris during World War Two,” he explains. Tahar plays Younes, an Algerian immigrant inspired to join the resistance by his unexpected friendship with a Jewish man, under the watchful eye of the Paris police.
“I also shot a movie recently with Lou Ye, a Chinese director,” he says. Love and Bruises follows Hua, a young teacher from Beijing arriving in Paris, and Matthieu, a young worker who falls for her, setting off an intense love affair. “It’s a strange love story, very hard, sometimes violent,” he says.
Tahar has also just finished filming an emotional movie, Loving Without Reason, inspired by the true story of a Belgian mother who tragically killed her five children before attempting suicide. Some familiar faces from A Prophet, writer Thomas Bidegain and co-star Niels Arestrup, joined Tahar on this film. With several harrowing and challenging roles played out over the past year, how does he wind down when he’s not on set? “I wake up, I have a coffee on the terrace, I ride my scooter,” he says. “At the end of the day I like to spend time reading and watching movies. I like to spend a lot of time with the people I love – my family and friends. I go to the cinema to watch movies a lot, and I like to walk, and talk with people. I think it’s the simplest things.”
He may be climbing the ranks of fame and success but this rising star has got his feet firmly on the ground.
Doha Film Institute
Filming for Black Gold, co-produced by the Doha Film Institute (DFI) and Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications, included four weeks of shooting scenes in the Qatari desert. Hundreds of crew, extras, camels, and horses descended on the dunes, along with the main cast and local actors who won their roles at the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival. DFI is a film hub dedicated to film appreciation, education, and building a dynamic film industry in Qatar, focused on empowering local storytellers.
Tahar Rahim’s performance in A Prophet won him Best Actor at the 2009 European Film Awards, the 2010 Lumière Awards, France, and the 2010 César Awards, France, where he also won Most Promising Actor. He also won a 2010 Étoile d’Or for Best Male Newcomer, and a 2010 Prix Patrick Dewaere. He was also nominated for the Rising Star Award at the 2010 BAFTAs alongside Kristen Stewart, Carey Mulligan, Nicholas Hoult, and Jesse Eisenberg.