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Interview with Idir Chender

By Luan Greenwood

What was your first impression when you read the script for STOCK?
Stock is a film about non-communication and whereas it can be very destabilising to watch people that aren’t really communicating, for me, the whole appeal of this film lies in its ability to recount a story through feelings. At least, that’s what hit me upon reading the script. I discovered a narrative that was ultra sensitive, based on emotions, on misunderstandings between one character and another. The fact that there are no long dialogues or explanations encourages you to interpret what is happening from an emotional perspective.

How did your first meeting go with Naqqash Khalid?
Firstly, I thought, WOW, he’s really very young! Then, when I started to get to know Naqqash, chat with him, I found out he was a University Lecturer. I had trouble actually believing that someone so young could be in that position so I ended up visiting his University and realised it was all true! I was really surprised, Naqqash is someone who is extremely intelligent, his intellect hit me immediately plus his mastery of nuance and his dynamic personality. I really enjoyed the fact that, as a Director, he doesn’t stay in his own world, he intelligently translates ideas into actions and he has a way of injecting dynamism onto a set and that was really enjoyable.

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When he talked about the character, what did he say?
He told me my character was a sensitive person, a bit lost and caught up in the bottleneck of Brexit. He represents a foreigner, in unfamiliar territory who tries desperately hard to communicate, to be understood, who others, in turn, try to understand. Yet it’s precisely those communication difficulties that lead them to be in the situation they find themselves in. What I retained most about my character was Naqqash explaining that he tries as hard as he can to be understood and even when there is a complete communication breakdown, he still keeps trying. As an actor, that reaction in itself was far from the usual clichés and really interesting to play.

What about this project attracted you most?

First of all, the opportunity to act in England, as I’d never been. I’ve played in a lot of foreign countries but never in Britain so that was a main factor of attraction. Then it was down to the script, the subject, Brexit. I was really upset when I found out the Leave vote had won. Obviously, I respect other countries voting decisions but I was concerned it would affect our relationship, our Anglo-French friendship. So when I had an opportunity to work in England, I seized it, seeing it as a way of demonstrating that Brexit wasn’t an end to our special relationship, it’s a situation that creates a lot of miscommunication, as the film shows, but nothing stops us remaining friends. Both the subject matter and the people involved really appealed to me so I had no difficulty whatsoever.

How did the shoot in England go?

It’s a short, so the shoot didn’t take very long which is even more frustrating when you work with such a fantastic, dedicated team. The shoot was really dynamic and peppered with some local euphoria which made it even more pleasant to be a part of. It wasn’t a shoot that benefited from a huge budget, very far from it, but it was so rich in terms of the quality of people working on the film. I found the communication between the French and English actors went very well and it was really tough when the shoot came to an end, particularly from a human perspective.

How did you, Hania and Sarah-Jane communicate behind the scenes to prepare your shoots?
We rehearsed our lines together, over and over again, in different places, at the hotel, in a rehearsal studio or just before a scene. We worked together and helped each other out and took the project on in as healthy a manner as possible. We met up, had a laugh together, ate out certain evenings and worked hard together, trying to speak English at all times. Obviously when I was with Hania, we spoke French to each other but sometimes we made the effort to speak English as we didn’t want to appear unsociable or the production team to think we were extra-terrestrials! However, we quickly realised that it didn’t really matter what language we spoke, everyone accepted us whether we spoke English or French and that helped facilitate our work.

Are you at all like you character?

When you play a character, you always bring a part of yourself to a role. Have I ever experienced what the character goes through in real life? No, I haven’t. In fact, that’s generally the case for most actors. Do I identify with my character’s modesty, awkwardness and sensitive nature? Yes, those characteristics could be true of my life. But I try not to compare myself too much with a specific character, as I want cinema to provide me with the hope of forever unearthing feelings that are deeply embedded within me. I suppose I want to say that no acting ever comes from a sterile place, it’s a prism that reflects you as a person, your life, your feelings, and what truly comes from me or what comes from the character should remain a mystery! At least, that’s how I apprehend my work as an actor.

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The story of miscommunication is universal, butdoes it say anything about today’s Britain?
I think from a political perspective, the French just couldn’t understand the Brexit vote, it was like having a brother who no longer wanted to talk to us. You can interpret that as being a misinterpretation in itself! However, as we all well know, you don’t have to understand policy to understand people. When I was in England, I didn’t see the England or Brexit that was portrayed on French news, I just saw England itself. I wandered around the streets of Manchester, speaking French, yet everyone I met was always willing to help me out, show me the way, I never felt any racism and I’m sure I must have spoken to some Brexit voters. Miscommunication is ultimately political, it’s scary, you’re afraid of losing a member of your family but when you are actually in the company of British people, it’s a different relationship, a really enjoyable one.

Do you prefer directing or acting?

I really like directing whether on a theatre stage or on a screen. I can’t choose between the two because if I had to disown one or the other, I’d feel I could no longer fully express myself. So, I can’t say I have a preference, I just wouldn’t feel complete if I couldn’t direct but also act. They are both communication mediums that relate to me; as an actor, I integrate a world and as a director, I create a world. So I need both disciplines in my life, even if in reality, things are more complex than that; an actor can easily create a universe and a director can integrate another... It’s about maintaining two perspectives on life and I’d like to continue down this path.

‘Stock’ will premiere at the Barbican Centre in London on February 23rd, 2019. For updates, follow @StocktheFilm on twitter.