"Allen Altman shows a serious side in the new movie, 'Incendies.'" - Interview

Montreal native Allen Altman is ready to make a splash at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Altman’s talent for playing deep, brooding roles, complemented by characters ranging from comedic to dramatic, will be showcased in Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated film, “Incendies,” set to be released this September 2010. Altman will also shine on the small screen this fall, with his recurring role on HBO Canada’s “Living in your Car.” He recently stopped by to talk about “Incendies.”

Q - You're currently starring in HBO's "Living In Your Car." However, your newest film project "Incendies" seems to be a little more serious than your role on "Living In Your Car." What is the process like preparing for a dramatic role versus that of a light hearted one?

A - Comedy is drama; but a situation is what makes it funny. With great writers like George F. Walker and Dani Romain I had the greatest time working on "Living In Your Car." David Steinberg, who directed most of my scenes, created an atmosphere that allowed the actors to be playful and improvise. He’s awesome. During a scene, he said to me “Allen, do you think you can make that bigger?” He was totally poking fun at me pushing the scene too far.

Q - "Incendies" has an interesting premise. How did you get involved with the project?

A - From what the producers have told me they had a very difficult time casting my role. I was very flattered when Lucie asked me to audition. After reading the material and hearing that Denis Villeneuve was directing, I have to admit I was a little scared. I hoped I could create a character that would do justice to the story. After auditioning for Villenueve and creating the character Notary Maddad, I realized I had to have the part. I buckled down! I worked hard, had a great time and here I am.

Q - In the film, you play Arabic-speaking Notary Maddad. I read that you had to learn to speak French with an Arabic accent. What was that experience like?

A - Learning to speak Arabic was humbling. Speaking French with a Lebanese Arab accent was a challenge I really enjoyed. I had so much dialogue that I found it liberating to lose myself in the character and story.

Q - "Incendies" was shot in both Canada and Lebanon. Was this your first trip to Lebanon?

A - Actually, the Lebanon scenes were shot in Jordan for practical reasons. All my scenes were shot in Montreal and Villeneuve seamlessly made it appear as though my character is having a conversation while driving on a street in Lebanon with Maxim Gaudette (who plays Simon) and Remy Girard (who plays notary Lebel). They shot the point of view of the other two actors in Jordan…Amazing.

Q - How is the culture in Lebanon different than that in Canada?

A - Although my character, who is Lebanese, has a great relationship with the Quebec notary Lebel, this is based solely on a shared mutual respect of the profession. The movie explores what happens when two cultures collide. The epic imagery of cultural tableaus and questions that were never intended to be known, are answered. The culture in Lebanon, like many other Arab countries, is changing. Particularly the struggles of women are changing these countries. "Incendies" reveals a mother's last wish to send her twins, Jeanne and Simon, on a journey to the Middle East in search of their tangled roots. Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's acclaimed play, "Incendies" tells the powerful and moving tale of two young adults and their voyage to the core of deep-rooted hatred, never ending wars and enduring love.

Q - What did you learn from Lebanese people that you were able to incorporate into your character?

A - We are all similar in our differences. Love is healing and hate never breeds anything but more hate. Being an actor is so rewarding and such a thrill when you get to be a part of a great storytelling movie like "Incendies."

Q - You've worked with Penelope Cruz and Charlize Theron in "Head in the Clouds" and Rob Lowe in "Dead Silent." Is there a different atmosphere on the set when Hollywood big names are existent?

A - Every production is different, but when there is more money involved often the stakes are greater and that can affect the mood on set. I stay focused on the work and enjoy the process with the actors I am working with.

Q - What did you learn from these actors and experiences?

A - I recently worked on a movie called "Wandering Eye" with Amanda Righetti, who stars in the television show "The Mentalist" and was in awe at her simplicity and generosity. I can only speak from my own experience but most actors I have had the pleasure of filming with share my philosophy of hard work ethic and enjoying the moment.

Q - Is there anything you wanted to add?

A - Go see "Incendies!" It is a magnificent story.


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at jason@zoiksonline.com.

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