This film marks your return to film. We missed you!
Jamel Debbouze: It’s nice, but when Alad’2 was released in cinemas four years ago, I never stopped. I hosted the Marrakech du rire, the Jamel Comedy Club, I participated in films of friends, such as Citoyen d’honneur, by Mohamed Hamidi, and I never stop writing, thinking and creating. Since I rarely think of myself as “intramural”, I do a lot of work for others and work collaboratively.
The New Toy, by James Huth, is the perfect example: Francis Veber’s film was a Proust madeleine, I wanted to adapt it very quickly, but learned that the rights belonged to the Americans, I let it fall. In the end, it was the producer Richard Grandpierre who went to the coal, when Daniel Auteuil and I hatched the dream of finding ourselves together on the poster of a remake.
What does Daniel Auteuil represent to you?
Jamel Debbouze: He illustrates THE cinema! The first time I went to see a film with my class from Trappes, it was Jean de Florette. So, since I was little, I had unlimited admiration for him. But when I moved to Paris, in his neighborhood, we first forged neighborly bonds: our children were enrolled in the same school, we went to the same bakery, the same cafes… Crossing paths, we sat down at the the same table to share a mint tea. And this is where the idea of doing a remake of the Toy came back.
What did you discover while playing with him?
Jamel Debbouze: He is a fascinating actor because he doesn’t compose, he IS the character. The man I met at the slaughterhouse had nothing to do with the very rich boss he became once he arrived on set. He had the same effect on me as Zidane when he scores a goal: it looks effortless, he doesn’t even realize his ability.
Was it easy to juggle between the Zidane of comedy and the young actor playing his son?
Jamel Debbouze: Yes, because Simon Faliu, who played in Petit Nicolas, already has a great technique and maturity. On the set, he spontaneously integrated the director’s comments and brought out his text with slight variations… In fact, with Alice Belaïdi, I was only surrounded by professionals. I was the only beginner.
How do you see that you remained a child?
Jamel Debbouze: I like to do stupid things! For example, I have a particular love for twirls. When I can shirk obligations, I do so willingly. And then I lie with disturbing ease – I got diplomas for it… But I know how to remember important things. For example, pay attention to those who are more fragile than yourself. That’s what my role as father or producer entails. When a young artist arrives, he expects a lot from me and I have to know how to get the opportunity. And when my children open their mouths, I try to listen. Besides, there is not a weekend or a week of school holidays that I spend without it, because these moments are the most precious.
What was your biggest quirk?
Jamel Debbouze: As a child I was not the picky type. I was the oldest, quite responsible, and because I had read the administrative letters to my parents, I knew what a sheriff was.
And then, with my gang, we didn’t demand anything, we took everything! We spent a whole summer in a school, playing in the classrooms and picking the fruit from the cherry tree in the garden. But as an adult I have to admit that I had a few quirks… I came back from Tangier by submarine, I landed on a magnificent horse, Place de la Concorde, to impress my wife and during the filming of Angel -A , from Luc Besson, where we closed the avenue des Champs-Elysées, I asked for an extra hour to do moped rides with my friends.
Do you know how to show your authority with your children?
Jamel Debbouze: Fortunately, I was extremely well accompanied for that! Education is teamwork. I would find it hard to be a good father without having a good mother by my side. And at this game Mélissa is extra.
And in business, how do you do that?
Jamel Debbouze: I started companies with the idea of protecting my work, defending artists I believed in and avoiding too many concessions. But my goal has always been that we should remain artists, artisans, and I did not draw up a “business plan”. In order to set up viable structures regarding the Jamel Comedy Club or the Marrakech du rire, I still had to associate myself. The Kissman Productions ecosystem represents a dozen people and, as productions progress, it can rise to six hundred. But besides being the part that annoys me the most, becoming a boss is what has brought me the most worries.
“Since I rarely think of myself as ‘intramural,’ I do a lot of work for others.”
How do you keep profiteers at bay?
Jamel Debbouze: You never get used to the change of social class and the new way people look at you. For a long time I felt guilty because I got rich and I helped everyone. But when I realized that everyone I helped was angry with me for witnessing their failure or misery one day, I stopped. Now I prefer to give a helping hand so that people can do things on their own.
How do you like to spend your money?
Jamel Debbouze: On trips, in family and in my work. The very expensive soundproofing work I undertook after a former employee filed a complaint meant that the Jamel Comedy Club room would never be profitable. But Mélissa and I often put our hands in the pot to keep it going and we make up for it on the shows.
What are your projects?
Jamel Debbouze: I have the old dream of making a sitcom public and I want to quickly present the biggest stand-up show in the world in France by bringing together our best comedians. But my most important project is the launch, in Marrakech, of a carnival that will probably compete with that of Rio! We have been working for ten years on the creation of a gigantic dromedary which, like the Nantes elephant, will be a 16 m animatronic robot connected to solar batteries. Named Nour, it is under construction at the UM6P university and will be ready next summer for a parade choreographed by Philippe Decouflé and costumed by Philippe Guillotel. This dromedary will then join the twelve regions of Morocco before traveling around the world. Parallel to the carnival we will revive the National Festival of Popular Arts so that all African artists and craftsmen can make floats, then we will set up a giant stage in a crater in the Agafay desert for an electro concert with the best DJ . There are also plans to launch a contemporary art festival to set up a large open-air museum. My goal is to make Marrakech a cultural crossroads, because what I love above all is to make the wires touch each other so that the electricity passes!
The New Toy, by James Huth. Released on October 19.