Chat with Ralph Amoussou

French actor Ralph Amoussou stars in 'Transatlantic', one of the most anticipated Netflix series this year, which premiered on 7th April. More recently, he starred in the critically acclaimed Netflix horror series 'Marianne' and the sci-fi series 'Missions'. Next up, we'll be able to see him in 'The Three Musketeers: Milady', a new re-telling of the classic novel 'The Three Musketeers'.

French actor Ralph Amoussou stars in Transatlantic, one of the most anticipated Netflix series this year, which premiered on 7th April. More recently, he starred in the critically acclaimed Netflix horror series Marianne and the sci-fi series Missions. Next up, we’ll be able to see him in ‘The Three Musketeers: Milady’, a new re-telling of the classic novel The Three Musketeers‘.

Ralph, we’re able to watch you in ‘Transatlantic’, one of the most anticipated Netflix series of the year. The show tells the true story of the Emergency Rescue Committee during the WWII, which helped thousands of refugees escape Nazi-occupied France. How was it filming a true story with such a historic meaning?

Filming ‘Transatlantic’ has been amazing as it is based on true events where American journalist Varian Fry is sent to the south of France to rescue a few artists, but the show runner Anna Winger had the artistic freedom to create a few characters also based off of real people. Filming the series knowing its origin brought some gravitas and meaning to the project. All of us lead actors knew that it was a way to represent so many people who to this day remain invisible. I believe as artists, and in my case as an actor, it is our duty to make sure we represent our characters in the truest way possible.

I myself come from a military family and my great uncles were sharpshooters during WWII, so it was a way to honour their memory and pay tribute to all families hurt by the war, including black families, whether black American or African.

In ‘Transatlantic’ you star as hotel concierge Paul Kandjo. What was your favorite Paul’s storyline?

First and foremost, I want to express my delight and excitement that such a character was brought to life. I owe this to showrunner Anna Winger and her talented team of writers, including Isabel Teitler, Tunde Aladese and Steve Bailie, for daring to tell stories about WWII from the perspectives of those who are usually overlooked and unmentioned.

The character of Paul Kandjo is captivating, as he embodies three different personas. He is a political mastermind navigating some of the darkest times in the Western world and a meticulous planner behind closed doors. On the flip side, he’s also a front desk employee who must remain impeccable as he hides in plain sight at the Hotel Splendid. Lastly, there is his personal life, which I don’t want to spoil.

What I love most about Paul is that he’s a renegade. A renegade rejects the status quo to accomplish something brilliant and extraordinary. He perceives the wrongdoings of groups like the Nazis and the French government and chooses to join the resistance. All our characters are fighting against evil, but Paul’s fight is twofold, coming from occupied territories, French colonies. The acting required for this role was fulfilling as it demanded extensive research and political insight.

Would you say you’ve learned something new about the history through this series?

Absolutely. Before this series, I had no knowledge of who Varian Fry was or his role in WWII. The research process was enlightening, introducing me to numerous stories of people who helped simply because they could. You realize that it doesn’t take much to help. It’s the little things that count, especially when combating oppression. I also gained a lot from the research I conducted to create Paul’s character. I read Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ and works by Ida B. Wells and began noticing societal nuances that many are aware of, but seldom address. The fact that Paul works at a hotel, an industry often rendering its employees invisible, is no trivial detail.

Your role in ‘Transatlantic’ was your first major global role. What does this mean for the future of your career? What are the ultimate goals?

Indeed, ‘Transatlantic’ is my first global project. I can’t predict what it means for my career’s future, but I can assure you that my passion for storytelling and my craft is unwavering. The 14-year-old me who told his mother “I want to be an actor” is still alive within me, as passionate and determined as ever. As for ultimate goals, they’re vast. I wish to continue evoking emotions and touching people’s hearts. I dream of working with certain directors whose work has deeply impacted me. Names like Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, David Fincher, Antoine Fuqua, David Cronenberg, Iñárritu and Anna Winger come to mind. I’m truly excited about the future.

You started your acting career at 15 in France. How does French film industry distinct from global productions? How did it prepare you for a global career?

As far as I’m concerned, global productions tend to be less conservative and more daring. They tend to invest more because the return on investment is greater. In terms of inclusion, global productions also appear more daring, understanding that all communities want to be represented. Denying other communities visibility is not only a lost source of income, but also racist.

For instance, a few years ago in France, if there had been a casting call for a period piece set in the 80s or earlier, almost every non-white actor knew they had little chance of getting a role.Today, when there is diversity in French productions, aside from comedies, it’s usually limited to a token role or a small presence. However, only time will tell if this will change.

I was fortunate to grow up in Lagos, Nigeria, where I spoke English. This exposure to a different culture, language and perspective helped prepare me for an international career. I had to look outside the box to find people to look up to, people who inspired me and people I wanted to work with. Like many others, I grew up watching Spike Lee’s films and actors I could look up to like Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jamie Foxx. I genuinely believe I wouldn’t be doing what I am today without their influence.

What ignited your passion for acting? Have you ever though about any other career path?

I’ve always been a reserved kid, mostly keeping to myself and reading. My mother got worried that I might be bullied and signed me up for acting classes. I also took acting classes at school and fell in love with the craft immediately. I fell in love with not just being myself, but with creating the character I wanted to portray. I could talk about this for days.

As for choosing another career path, despite some difficult days, I’ve always had an all-or-nothing mentality. I’ve never seriously considered a different career path. I’m all in.

Next up, we’ll be seeing you in ‘The Three Musketeers: Milady’, a new re-telling of the classic Alexandre Dumas novel The Three Musketeers‘. What can you share with us about this film?

‘The Three Musketeers: Milady’ is the second film following ‘D’artagnan’. In this film, we learn more about the character of Milady, portrayed by Eva Green. I play the character of Hannibal, who is based on the real-life figure Louis Aniaba. Aniaba was an African prince and the godson of Louis XIV, originally from what is now Ivory Coast. Educated in France, he was groomed to reign in Africa and to facilitate the protection of French assets once he became king. In the film, the character is just being introduced.

We’ll also be able to watch you in the series ‘Split’, directed by Iris Brey. Tell us more about your role in this series and what makes it a must to watch?

In the series ‘Split’, I portray Natan, a director of photography who recently lost his twin brother. Natan is in a long-term relationship with his very supportive girlfriend Ana. However, when Natan returns to work on the same set as Ana, she falls in love with the actress for whom she is doing stunts, even as she is pregnant with Natan’s child.

Natan is a complex character, a grieving brother who lost a part of himself. Having lost a sibling earlier in life and more recently friends to suicide, I could relate to the pain, the struggle and the survivor’s guilt. The mental health aspect of the project was very appealing to me because it’s a topic not many people talk about. There is also the inclusive aspect of the project that I love. It’s a very personal story to Iris Brey, the director. When you watch it, you’ll understand that Iris, being a white woman, could have chosen a white actor, but she chose me instead. When I asked her about her choice, she said she chose the ‘best man in the room’. She dared to make this choice and I appreciate that about her. I love that I am part of the first French lesbian series. I think you’ll enjoy the show.

You were born in Paris and raised in West Africa. What did growing up in Africa teach you about life? What do you miss the most about Africa?

I spent most of my childhood in Lagos, Nigeria, and returned to Paris at the age of 12. Growing up in Africa taught me a lot about resilience and the importance of staying connected to one’s roots, a privilege that not many of us have. I learned to appreciate the power of oral storytelling, as many of the stories were not written down. I am fortunate to have known my family, especially my grandmother, who was the most inspiring woman I know. Would it be a cliché to say that I miss my grandma’s cooking the most?

Ralph, what are some of your favorite things to do in Paris when you have a day off from filming?

First of all, seeing my friends is a must. I usually work outside of Paris, so every time I’m in the city, I fall in love with it all over again. I enjoy simply walking in the city, perhaps going to watch a film in the Odeon area and having a nice coffee at La Cafeotheque. I know it may seem like all I have on my mind is food, but apart from my grandma’s cooking, nothing beats a macaron.

Talent: Ralph Amoussou
Photographer: Thomas Lachambre
Fashion editor: Joy Sinanian
Hair & make-up: Frédérique Van Espen @ Agence Aurelien
Production: Obvious
Fashion assistant: Camille Huguenin
Photography assistant: Anthony Peyper
Editor: Timi Letonja

This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.

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