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Omar Sy

Learning English from Kim Kardashian

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Omar Sy is back on screen as a gentleman thief in season two of the Netflix drama Lupin. The first series of the French thriller was watched by 70 million viewers in the 28 days after its release – beating Bridgerton and The Queen’s Gambit. But Sy’s path to success wasn’t so straightforward, says Lauren Collins in The New Yorker. The 43-year-old actor comes from a line of Senegalese weavers; his parents moved to France in the 1960s. While they worked in factories, Sy and his seven siblings played football on a council estate outside Paris. “In my bedroom there were three of us. I had the bottom bunk. It taught me patience. Limits, too.”

A friend from his estate got him a job in radio because he was “funny” and had a driver’s licence. TV offers began to flood in, and his performance in the 2011 film Les Intouchables cemented him as the darling of French cinema. He won a César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar, and received – and declined – dinner invitations from Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Eventually, his celebrity status became so overwhelming that he moved his wife and children to LA, where nobody knew who he was.

“In France they were sending my agent scripts by the truckload,” he says. But in LA he had to schlep to endless auditions, learning lines in his second language. He binge-watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians to practise his English. “I started saying ‘Oh my God’ and ‘seriously’.” After six months he landed a part in an X-Men movie. At the premiere he excitedly headed into the cinema. But “unh-unh-unh –your boy’s not there”. Almost all of his scenes had been left on the cutting-room floor. Still, he never gave up, and the wait was worth it. “Somehow the experience of being rejected, of trying out and never hearing back, gave me the legitimacy that I needed.”