The Rabbit Film Section has an exclusive interview with Youssef Kerkour, a regular performer at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon; he has performed in New York City and on various London stages, appeared in numerous television programmes. His latest role is in ‘Hummingbird’, the latest Jason Statham film, check out what he has to say below.
It is an unusually chilly April afternoon in the centre of London, I’m about to meet actor Youssef Kerkour in the warmth and comfort of the National Theatre, a good place to get out of the cold. Youssef Kerkour emerges from the cold, a towering six foot four, dressed warmly in jeans and a jumper. He gives me a friendly handshake, I buy him (after much persuasion) a coffee, and then we find a quiet corner to chat.
Kerkour is an accomplished actor, often on London stages and an RSC regular, he is an actor who knows the value of a hard day’s work, his last run was seven months performing at Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford Upon Avon; “It’s seven months of serious work, they work you to exhaustion, my knees have given up, because they had people climbing on me in the shows and now that I’ve stopped I’m completely shattered, you can hear my voice has gone,” he explains.
Often seen on our stages, he has been in The Orphan of Zhao, Boris Gudanov, Measure for Measure and Written on the Heart for the RSC. I wonder why Shakespeare is so important for British Culture, “I think it’s very important, but not in the sense that people would think, that he is just a part of our British Heritage, so therefore he important, it’s to do with the ‘Human Condition’,” he smiles and– continues; “We need to remind ourselves as a society of the human condition, what makes us tick, what love means, what betrayal means, the stories that we have amongst us, the general transactions we have against one another, the more we can be reminded of them the better,”
“And Shakespeare’s greatest gift is his insight in to human nature and insights that still continue to surprise people, you know, you can read Shakespeare again and again and again you will gain new information” Kerkour answers “It’s like looking at a tip of an Iceberg, when you look at the tip of an Iceberg there’s a whole mountain underneath, that’s what his plays are like, floating tips of icebergs but there is so much underneath it and just exploring it teaches you more and more about who you are, he does that, he’s good for British Culture.”
Clearly, Kerkour knows his Shakespeare, but that was not always the case. He was born and raised in Morocco in 1978; his mother is English, his father Moroccan. He was educated in the Rabat American School, where he started acting at the age of eight, “I kind of haven’t stopped since then,” A self-confessed “below average” student, it was in Drama where he achieved the top marks, “I always got As and A+s with Drama and Theatre
“I moved to New York when I was 18 and studied Dance Drama at the Bard College in Upstate New York, from there I did four years of University and got a BA in Theatre, and moved to New York City. I was an actor there for two and half years, and then, I was in a show that was leaving the US it was going to Singapore, September 11th had happened just before that and I have an Arabic name and it was hard, at the time to get work if you were Arabic, very difficult,” he reflects “And immigration lawyers had just said look, ‘you have a British passport, go to England, work for a little bit and come back’, so that was the plan, and I’ve sort of been here [London] ever since”
“I moved here the tail end of 2002, I did near two years in London without knowing anyone, then I went back to Drama School. He went to LAMDA in 2006 and England has become his home, and any thoughts of returning to the Big Apple have been put on the backburner.
I wonder what the differences are for a working actor in London and New York; “Good question, in America, the main difference, as a jobbing actor, is that in America you assume you’re not going to be paid,” he laughs “Whereas, in England you always assume that you are gonna be paid, unless you’re told otherwise,”
He goes on to describe American values for a working actor, “There is a drive and a fire in everyone’s belly, if you have a chat with one of your mates about a project you’re gonna work on and someone hears you next door then everyone starts chiming in, you’ll be working with them by the weekend making a short film, writing a script, at the very least they are in your work, and this idea of growing a network is so important over there, whereas here, you don’t need a network because the system is in place.”
There is refreshing frankness in Kerkour’s tone, it is sometimes misunderstood how much work goes in to becoming a real working actor, he admits that: “I hustled so much, I think that’s what’s made the Actor I am today, I am really lucky to have worked with some really quite big names and big productions, but I am, I wouldn’t classify myself as a leading actor…”
One of the big names Kerkour has worked with, most recently, is hard man, Jason Statham, star of ‘The Bank Job’ and ‘Snatch’, often known for his gritty roles. Kerkour admits that Statham is making a departure from his usual roles. I wonder if he can offer the University of Essex students an exclusive insight in to the film and his role in it. “the film is written by Stephen Knight who wrote Dirty Pretty Things, which he was nominated an Oscar for; this is his Directorial debut and you wouldn’t know it from working with him he’s incredible.” he smiles.
What’s the plot? “the story is about a Special Forces Soldier who is homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol, through a series of chance, gets his life back together across one summer, and uses his new found position amongst the criminal underground to make right a lot of the wrongs in his life, with a lot of the baggage that he’s carrying around” Clearly, this is a Jason Statham film which has more of a journey, his character physically changes, his character journey is more pronounced.
“The film is a departure for him, it’s more of a journey, he has some depth to his character and he is covering that really well. He is a very good actor, I mean he’s in his element and knows exactly know how to react to it, what moves look good, what don’t look good, he knows how to sell action on scene, he’s in his element and knows exactly know how to react to it.”
And Kerkour’s role? Well, he is one of the only actors who can say that he has beaten up Jason Statham, an impressive statement, we both find this amusing; “seeing it from my perspective” he continues, “I beat him up in the beginning, he runs away from me, I then chase him down Soho, he hides from me in a flat and then in the flat he hears an answering machine message and learns that he’s away for the summer, so he decides to stay in the flat and to take on that person’s identity and that’s how he cleans his act up, then he comes back mid film and then beats me up.” He laughs.
Bouzanis is Kerkour’s character name, a “tax” man, a muscle man, something which Kerkour has often played on stage and screen. Kerkour admits, he is built for those muscle roles, a towering 6 ft. 4, “I’m a big guy and haven’t got any hair” he admits, but his physical presence has been the source of his income for his career. Kerkour himself is nothing like these characters, which is a testament to his acting, kind, funny, and a very giving actor. The work he’s most proud of? “I did a Charity gig once called Support Dogs, it’s run by two very lovely women in Yorkshire, it was incredibly emotional, no-one’s heard about it, I do a lot of things out of love for other people, but nothing like that before, I think I’m more proud of that than anything than any TV series I’ve done.”
Clearly, the hours in his career spent working for no pay in America have stood him in good stead to become a real working actor, his career has been successful and varied, he is currently keen to go back to Stratford-Upon-Avon, working amongst creatives, actors, directors, like-minded people, people he has been surrounded by since he was eight.
He’s found his home in London, where he is able to do the job he loves, I wonder if he has any advice for any students at the University who want to become actors? “My main advice is: know who you are, you need to ask yourselves questions, when you’re young, such as, would you be considered as a romantic lead? How do people see you? And then how do you see yourself? How does that match up with you?”
“You need to do that type of introspection and you need to know who you are. That feeds in to what I used to say, you really gotta know what you want to do with your career, do you want to be famous, or do you just wanna work? You have to identify that. If you can’t bear to make a living doing anything else, then you need to focus on making a living as an actor. Are you willing to work above a pub, in some tiny town in the middle of nowhere, if it pays you more than you’d get on the dole?” Make a decision about who you are and who you want to be.”
Kerkour was perfect company during our interview, funny and interesting. He has had a steady career, often on sought after London stages and through his extensive work with the RSC, his diary about being an actor at the RSC Whispers from the Wings is in the works to become a book. It seems Youssef Kerkour has an exciting time ahead, keep an eye out for him and go and see him in Hummingbird.
Hummingbird is out in cinemas on May 17th 2013.
Naomi Jeffreys, Film Editor