Marseille. Or “Planète Mars” as we love to call this city. On this occasion, let’s meet Moussa Maaskri, a French-Algerian actor and comedian who has become a leading figure in Marseille in film and theatre. Moussa Maaskri grew up in Marseille, a city with a strong personality that more and more production companies are interested in for national and international movies. I’m pretty sure you have heard of or watched Taxi 1, maybe 2, 3, 4 and now 5.
Meeting at the Café de l’OM, of course on Le Vieux-Port… The welcome lets me guess that I’m going to have a great time. Indeed, I spent two hours laughing, talking seriously about nothing and everything. The first thing I notice about Moussa is that he’s passionate and “entier” (genuine).
The meeting is set at the OM café (the Marseille soccer team), I guess you’re a lover of OM, Marseille’ capital of soccer (laughs)? (sorry Paris)
Ahhh Marseille world soccer capital. When I arrived in Marseille from Algeria I was very young. We went to the stadium and at the time when you were under 10 years old, you did not pay to go to the stadium. The emotion when you go from shadow to the light, the crowd, people all had OM written on their cushions to sit on because it was concrete, and at the end of the match they threw all their cushions up in the air. For a kid it was huge.
I also remember the World Cup in 1970, I was 8, I had just arrived in France, we looked at Pele, Jairzhino … and 2 years later I saw an OM match. The link with football was created like that, a link that I have been continuing for years now.
Arrived as an 8-year-old in Marseille, rising figure in the radiant city, what is your connection with this city? Generally, we say that we love or hate Marseille? I guess you like …
Try to remember your first love story. Either you like this person or you hate them. It’s a mix of both that you love them very much.
Marseille, when I arrived, I remember my mother crying on the boat, she did not know where she was coming to. Only my father knew he was waiting for us in Marseille. At the time we had no internet, we had nothing, just a letter with a Polaroid photo of my father on the Old Port. Can you imagine, we had no images of it at all.
When we arrived in Marseille. I was sleeping. Then I wake up, I see the sun, I look at the boat and I see lots of Arab women. Actually, I confuse them with the nuns who had veils too. They carried bags in which there was sugar, a piece of butter, jam and mint alcohol. And in the middle of the crowd, I recognise the actor Clark Gable, and my father. Then I say to myself “merde we’re in France”, I thought the boat had turned around in the night (laughs). My father takes me on his shoulders and we walk and from this vantage point, I discover all the ice cream and balloon traders.
We arrive in a place behind the Stade Vélodrome Boulevard Romain Rolland, in the la Sauvagère estate. There was a shantytown and behind a wall a woman who makes skewers, a sheep and I say to myself “they are too cool the French, they made us a small village so that we do not feel disoriented” but in fact, it was a slum I lived in until the 70’s.
This story had to shape your personality, you became an actor. What is the story behind this?
A news item brought me to the theatre. On October 18, 1980, the day before a football match. I was with a group of suburban youth who love football. A friend buys an R12 car (old Renault). I see everything there. We will all ride with him by car because he is the only one who has a car. One moment my mother makes me get out (she saved my life) with a broom (laugh). A friend of mine gets into the car, there is an identity check and a riot police officer puts two bullets in his mouth and says he did not do it on purpose. We call it a blunder. He is judged. We fight for him to be sent back to the criminal court. And here I am disappointed because his case is dismissed.
We realised that it would be difficult to condemn the police, so we decided to do a theatre to express our pain because we were not coping well.
We created a theatre troupe, there were 7 of us. Our first piece was a success and I found the theatre awesome, I was 18 years old, and so we continued.
How do you choose your films?
Firstly according to the director. In general, a film is a statement, it is a work.
And I also like actors De Niro, Pacino. Then I do not look at nationality, everything interests me. I like crime films a lot.
Exactly, you play the role of the bad guys, lately, in Taxi 5, you play a “ripoux” (a corrupted police officer). What do you like in this kind of role because you do not look mean to me?
It’s a bit of a break for me. It’s an experience. We all have dirt deep inside, it’s an outlet. Give something meaning. That’s why my bad guys are human. The worst of men is human and you try to understand what he’s doing that he ended up where he is. I think that we do not exploit it enough in the bad guys. I always thought that a mobster was a guy who could go to the bakery, be polite, help an older person cross the road and two hours later put two bullets in a guy. My bad guys have a real life.
What role would you like to play?
(Without hesitation). A lawyer. It’s an old story. Since I could not afford my theatre classes, I went to court to take comedy classes. I watched the lawyers defend guys who knew they were guilty and they were very clever.
What is your best experience of your acting profession?
De Niro. I apologise to all the others. Actually, Luc Besson called me one day and said “here I have no role for you in” Malavita “(The family) but I want you to meet Robert”. He made me come to Paris. I arrive in a box and there he says to me “here is your costume, yes you are shooting with De Niro, so get ready”. I say shit. It was not much.
I play a dead person. A scene of two minutes. I’m in my death bag, Robert de Niro arrives, pulls the bag, puts me in the grave and there he puts a little dirt on my face. He stops, he says “sorry did I hurt you?”
We finish and we leave. We hang, we feel that there are connections. He’s a neighbourhood guy, he’s an Italian immigrant, all that makes us uprooted, exiled by our parents. I have a video with him that I keep preciously. Sometimes when I’m not doing well, I watch it.
What are your current projects?
I am playing “Zorba the Greek” at the theatre. It’s a piece that speaks to me a lot. It is the relationship between master and servant. Zorba is there to serve a teacher who imposes and learns to live. And life is eating, drinking and women, everything else is speculation. And he explains it to him with his wounds.
The tour began in early October throughout France, Belgium, Switzerland and Greece.
Then there is this beautiful film called “Last Round” is the story of a smuggler. Some kids come from Tangier slums and he earns his living organising boxing matches between them.
And I’m going to Miami to make a short film. I’m just doing it to go to Miami. (smile)
Merci NHM Translation for the correction
Moussa Maaskri: Agence artistique – Cover Photo source: © CF AGNCE