Humble, kind, soft spoken and quietly handsome. That is how one could describe Karim Leklou in just a few words. The French -- with roots in North Africa -- actor made his debut in Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet in 2009. And he's been on everyone's world cinema radar ever since.
In 2022, Leklou starred in two films, Sons of Ramses by Clément Cogitore, which was part of the Semaine de la Critique selection in Cannes, and Venice Orizzonti title For My Country by Rachid Hami, also featuring Lubna Azabal.
For My Country plays next at the Cairo International Film Festival, which kicks off this weekend, and will see both Leklou and Hami in attendance to present the film.
We caught up with Karim Leklou in Venice and asked him a couple of questions, while we await to ask more in Egypt. One thing is certain, being in the presence of the actor means coming to terms with the idea of an unconventional talent, one that will break stereotypes and dispel pre-conceived notions of what makes a star. And that is apparent in his answers to our questions as well.
At which point you became involved in For My Country?
Karim Leklou: Actually I met Rachid quite early. I read the script which I found fantastic and I read it about a year and a half before the shoot, so I started to get involved quite early on. We met with Rachid often, before the rehearsals, and since the film takes place in two different times, and two different ages, what I did is through the script, I tried to build and develop a consistent character. A character that would be consistent and a character who is on a quest for redemption and social justice. At the beginning of the film, he’s not very mature as a person but then he’s looking for his own maturity. I tried to give him a sense of engagement as his younger brother would have liked him to do.
Although the film is based on Rachid’s experience, you are not him — as he’s much different in person. Did you base some of the traits on him, or did you come up with a completely unique character?
Leklou: This is very interesting because even though the character was inspired by a real character and the film is inspired by something that really happened, actually the film was all built as if it was only fiction. It’s true, you might think of the character as if it was Rachid but actually, it was not, because we really focused on fiction. My character has his own characteristics.
What I really liked about working with Rachid is that he is very subtle and he’s very neat — naturally speaking. I found this very beautiful. He doesn’t wish to talk about something happening, he wants to focus on cinema and this is why we had a character that was totally different from Rachid.
It’s true, it’s very cinematic the film, even though it is based on a true story. I also watched you in Sons of Ramses which premiered in Cannes this year. You play these great characters who have roots in North Africa, much like yourself, but are then living in French society. How important is it to you to bring some of that culture to your characters?
Leklou: When I approach a character, I don’t ask myself questions of where does this character come from. I am interested in the character for the sake of the character. I know the characters can come from different places, and different countries but what I’m interested in is to ensure consistency in the character. And in the end, in my films, my characters always belong to French society -- one hundred percent. I’m not interested in something exotic.
I don’t like the idea of showing that a character belongs to a specific culture or a specific geographical region or country It’s true, roots are quite important, they tell a lot about people. But to me, the most important thing is universality. This is what I find beautiful, even this film was shot in three different countries, across three continents, Taiwan, France and Algeria and the topics shown are quite universal — and that’s what I like. When you talk about religion, faith, how people live and how they behave, this is something that applies to all societies and is universal and that’s what attracts me to cinema.
Who were your idols, your inspiration as actors, growing up?
Leklou: These are French actors I admire, more than being inspired by… I don’t have the pretension of having been inspired by them. I love Gerard Depardieu, Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret, Jacques Villeret, John Turturro, Vincent Cassel, Michel Serrault — I adore him because basically he can do everything.
I also adore Riz Ahmed. And Tahar Rahim from my generation, I’ve had a few exchanges with him and find him an extraordinary actor.
What is next for Karim Leklou?
Leklou: It’s a film I find very funny. It is called Vincent doit mourir ("Vincent Must Die") by Stéphan Castang. Everyone wants to kill him, but no-one knows why… With a beautiful actress, extraordinary, Vimala Pons.