A Prophet - Tahar Rahim interview
Previously unknown French actor Tahar Rahim is about to become the darling of European cinema following his gritty lead performance in A Prophet. He tells Kaleem Aftab about playing a killer
Tahar Rahim looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights. We are on a hotel roof overlooking the sea at Cannes and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet has just had its world premiere. In 150 exhilarating minutes, the 28 year-old has gone from unknown to the toast of the town with his turn as a 19-year-old Muslim convict who uses guile and courage to become the top dog in prison.
Dressed in a suit, the actor looks uncomfortable as he tries to deal with all the attention. Young, beautiful and talented, it’s little wonder everyone wants a piece of the man, born in Belfort, near the Franco-German border, who has produced one of the great movie debut performances in recent years.
Audiard has a habit of getting the best out of his actors; Matthieu Kassovitz, Vincent Cassel and Romain Duris have all flourished under him, so naturally Rahim was excited when the director started calling. ‘Jacques came to a projection of a TV series that I did called La Commune and he said hello and gave me the scenario of A Prophet. I was ecstatic as he was my favourite director. I was then asked to come to an audition, a process which lasted for three months.’
The biggest problem for the son of North African immigrants was getting into character, ‘Malik is nothing like me,’ he says. ‘Except perhaps the desire to create something, to not have a meaningless existence and have independence. It’s very hard to play him because I had no reference point. There was a method that we had in school where we’d substitute something from our own life and that wasn’t possible when you want to work out what it feels like to kill someone.’
Whatever his secret was, it worked. Unsurprisingly Rahim has been inundated with offers since Cannes. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of other Audiard collaborators, he’s looking to carve out his niche with his next role as the Gaelic-speaking Seal Prince in Kevin McDonald’s Roman epic Eagle of the Ninth.