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A Prophet – Jacques Audiard interview

A Prophet

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JACQUES Audiard talks about his critically acclaimed prison thriller A Prophet, the dream casting of Orange Rising Star nominee Tahar Rahim and why he wanted to use ex-cons as extras for added authenticity…

Q. The script for A Prophet went through various versions. How did it come about?
Jacques Audiard: It’s a script that a producer friend of mine was developing; it had been developed my Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit and at the time of the actual treatment I’d been contacted by the producer, without any particular commitment; they just wanted me to have a read. And when Abdel and Nicolas started properly writing and I saw the result I found it really fascinating.

Q. How did you come to cast Tahar Rahim as Malik?
Jacques Audiard: I first met him the back of a car because I went to see a friend on a series that Abdel had written call La Commune. When we were back in the production car there was this actor in the car. When I saw him I knew there was this instant feeling of love at first sight. The only problem with that sort of thing is that you can’t really believe it. Like falling in love, you think it’s too good to be true… that you’ve found the person you’ve been looking for. So, I felt I had to see about 40 other actors first to convince myself I’d seen the right person. Tahar is at the beginning of his career… he’d only done a documentary, and had small part in Abdel’s series and done a bit of theatre. Now when I think about it I really don’t know what I’d have done had I not found him. I still wake up in sweats thinking about that question.

Q. How did you research the prison system?
Jacques Audiard: It was already part of Abdel’s script, but what you have to remember is that this film is a work of fiction. Often when I’m in situations like this people say: “Well, it’s so realistic.” But d I ask them: “How much time have you done?” It’s a pure genre film. The set is false; we made it. Rotten corruption like that would never be as visible in a real prison.

Q. Where did you find the location?
Jacques Audiard: In an empty factory in the Paris suburbs. The set designer did do a lot of research and the set is a mixture of a lot of French prisons. So, what was at my disposal was about 15 cells, three corridors, three staircases and we changed everything so we could create a more important space. That’s the magic of cinema.

Q. Is it true that you used ex-cons as actors?
Jacques Audiard: Their place is very important. The whole cast of extras have a very strong role to play, and some had actually spent some time in prison: they knew how to cross a corridor, how to look at each other, how to interact in open space. I learned a big lesson in this film. The first week I was very ill at ease, it didn’t really work; it was wooden. But because I was working how I always do: I rehearse with my actors and then once that’s right you bring in the technical crew and discuss angles and shots and then, based on what you’ve got in your lens and shot, you sort out the background. It was the opposite I had to do here: once I got that I had to change the way I work. I had to do the background first, get all the extras in place, and then when that was set up I it was as if I’d been given the proof of what cinema really is. It’s life that is there first and then you put rest on top. It makes one modest.

Q. How do you decide how much violence to show?
Jacques Audiard: I have a problem as a filmmaker with violence because I know it’s false. When a character dies, I know the actor doesn’t. Violence and the act of love making on film are false, it always puts me in an embarrassing situation. We were interested in following strictly the genre, so we had limits in that respect. What we were interested in was for the character to have an interior life; if he had that, it would work, but that’s rare in pure genre films. Those issues came up while we were writing, so when we were writing and suddenly one of us said: “What if he dreamt or what if the guy he killed came back as a ghost?” So, he has an interior life and you know his soul is alive.

Q. What films were important to you when making this?
Jacques Audiard: The Pusher trilogy by Nicholas Winding Refn; I don’t know if they inspired my film, but they made me want to make it.

Tamar Rahim interview