In ‘Lupin,’ Omar Sy Puts a New Twist on a Classic French Tale

In 2011, a star flip within the French blockbuster movie “The Intouchables” propelled Omar Sy to a César award for finest actor and a budding Hollywood profession, with roles in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Jurassic World.”

This success made Sy, who was born close to Paris of immigrant dad and mom from West Africa, the type of star whom a powerhouse manufacturing firm like Gaumont would possibly ask about his dream roles.

“If I were British, I would have said James Bond, but since I’m French, I said Lupin,” Sy mentioned in a latest video name, in French, from his Los Angeles dwelling. “He’s playful, he’s clever, he steals, he’s surrounded by women. Plus, he’s a character who plays characters. For an actor, he’s the best.”

A couple of years after that dialog with Gaumont, a five-episode installment of Sy’s new French-language sequence, “Lupin,” debuted on Netflix. Less than a week later, the present, a trendy caper set within the coronary heart of Paris, had turn into the streamer’s second hottest title within the United States, the primary time a French sequence debuted within the Top 10, in line with Netflix. A second installment has been filmed and is about to observe later this yr.

Except there may be a plot twist: Arsène Lupin will not be a character within the sequence that bears his title — a minimum of not within the flesh.

But by now many American readers are in all probability questioning “Wait … Lup-who?”

Created by the French author Maurice Leblanc in 1905, Arsène Lupin is an elite member of the gang of pleasant rogues often called gentleman thieves. Like Thomas Crown, Danny Ocean, Simon Templar and (to incorporate a gentlewoman) Selina Kyle, Lupin is elegant and environment friendly. He prefers disguise and persuasion to violence and is so dashing that his victims virtually thank him for the consideration of being robbed.

The hero of many shorts tales and novels, Lupin was first seen because the French reply to a sure British detective; Leblanc even cheekily wrote unauthorized crossover tales starring one Herlock Sholmès. France alone has produced a number of TV diversifications and films concerning the thief. An complete era can nonetheless sing the theme tune from the sequence that ran in 1971-74. A splashy 2004 movie starred Romain Duris.

Lupin can be a in style character in Japan, the place within the Nineteen Sixties the manga artist Kazuhiko Kato, identified by his pen title, Monkey Punch, invented a grandson named Lupin III. That Lupin turned the topic of a number of anime diversifications, together with Hayao Miyazaki’s function debut, “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro,” and the latest 3-D launch “Lupin III: The First.”

Sy, 42, performs not Lupin however a trendy, debonair Parisian named Assane Diop, the son of a Senegalese immigrant, who idolizes the fictional thief. Sy, who can be credited as a creative producer, acknowledged that when he first proposed basing a mission on Lupin, he was largely acquainted with the character’s fame.

“Honestly, it was just something you had to know, a part of culture,” he mentioned. “Later on, I connected the dots between the books, the TV shows I saw as a kid, and some mangas. I became totally addicted by working on ‘Lupin.’”

George Kay (“Criminal”), the present’s British creator and showrunner, mentioned in a video chat that he had been extra acquainted with different fin de siecle pop-culture creations like Sherlock Holmes, the Scarlet Pimpernel or A.J. Raffles when he was introduced on.

“But when I was told that Netflix wanted to do it with Omar Sy, he was attached, the combination of those two things made it really interesting to me,” Kay mentioned. “Because there’s lots about Lupin I love: the tricks, the cons.”

The French filmmaker Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter,” “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”), who directed the primary three episodes of “Lupin,” was an early member of the inventive crew, from earlier than the concept was dropped at Netflix. (The sequence was produced by Gaumont for Netflix.) He mentioned that it took a couple of minutes to zero in on a idea.

“Our first step was to figure out where we wanted to go,” Leterrier mentioned in a video name. “Does Omar actually play Lupin? Is it contemporary or classic?”

Ultimately, “George Kay came in with an idea we all loved,” he added. “We wanted to see Omar in all his humanity and his experience with the myth, rather than call him Arsène Lupin and do something that had already been done.”

When we meet Sy’s Assane, he’s obsessive about avenging his widower father (Fargass Assandé), who died 25 years earlier. The elder Diop, who labored arduous to provide his son the instruments he wanted to reach French society (beginning with the significance of appropriate spelling), dedicated suicide in jail after being accused of theft, leaving younger Assane an orphan. Assane’s most treasured possession turned a Lupin guide bestowed upon him by his dad, a present that might form his complete life. (The sequence is subtitled “In the Shadow of Arsène.”)

Like Leblanc’s rapscallion, the grownup Assane steals and will get out of jams because of his silver tongue and his expertise for shape-shifting. But don’t count on any hyper-realistic latex masks à la “Mission: Impossible” — Assane is resolutely low-tech, befitting the sequence’s fleet footed, intentionally old school bent.

“Lupin was a keen observer of society and we wanted Assane to be the same,” Sy mentioned. “He doesn’t need much to disguise himself: He joins the type of people who don’t get noticed, and he disappears.”

When Assane units out to swipe a closely guarded necklace on the Louvre, for instance, he alternates between going undercover as a janitor and passing as a wealthy art-lover attending an public sale. In the primary case, he turns into invisible, a Black man amongst many others; within the second, he exploits the truth that he stands out in a sea of white faces, distracting his marks.

“I liked the ‘gentleman thief’ aspect a lot but I wanted to subvert it and give it a social angle,” Leterrier mentioned. “I found the idea of a 6-foot-2 Black man sneaking around in both high society and the underworld interesting.”

Kay jumped on the chance to slide in statements with out being heavy-handed. “Having a French-African ethnic lead is very important,” he mentioned. “The character’s targets are the French establishment and the old school, and we’re playing these dramas out in these very classic Parisian settings.”

Indeed, Assane could be very conscious of how conventional French society perceives him, and he typically makes use of these prejudices to hoodwink his victims. The present additionally sends a sly message by having essentially the most devoted followers of the Lupin books be of African and North African descent, or biracial.

For Sy, “it’s about putting a new face on what it means to be French today,” he mentioned. “The archetype has changed.”

Whether cultural or familial, the concept of transmission runs all through the present. For followers of the unique tales, Easter eggs abound. On a extra intimate degree, Assane inherits the Lupin obsession from his father. He then passes it on to his personal teenage son, Raoul (Etan Simon), whose mom is white, as a option to join and clean out a generally rocky relationship.

“It’s the first time I play this kind of father, who has a lot of baggage and questions,” mentioned Sy, who himself has 5 kids. “I’m always interested in fatherhood. It’s not easy, and you don’t know whether you were a good dad or a bad one until your children are grown up.”

For Sy, Leblanc’s previous tales function a type of bridge throughout the sequence. The Lupin guide helps Assane relate not solely to his father but additionally to his environment, and Assane needs it to have the identical affect on Raoul. Culture, like household, is a technique of belonging.

“The idea of inheritance moves me — what do we retain and what do we pass on?” he mentioned “For me that’s the true meaning of life, what makes us human.”

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