Simon Abkarian, a French-Armenian actor who played Col. Amanulla in “Kaboul Kitchen,” flew from the ongoing Venice International Film Festival to receive the grand prize at the Seoul International Drama Awards. It is his first visit to Korea.
Reflecting on his diverse roles in films, TV dramas and plays over the past 30 years, the 52-year-old actor said he considers two things when selecting a drama.
“First, we actors have to work and make a living, at least for me,” said Abkarian. “But second, and more important, I choose the work where I can be faithful to what I believe in and be able to defend the work and not run away from it. I cannot betray what I believe in.”
Actor Simon Abkarian. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)
As an actor, Abkarian likes to make choices when they are available to him, just as he chose to star in “Kaboul Kitchen,” which he says depicts an environment in which two cultures meet ― a French restaurant run by an ex-journalist in the war-torn city of Kabul, Afghanistan.
“It is a clash of cultures between the East and the West, where people who don’t know each other and are from different backgrounds learn to live together in a war situation,” he said.
But the film also talks about journalism, said the actor: “Just like in many countries around the world, journalism has lost much credit in France. But people still want to see journalists doing real jobs of investigation and searching for truth. When viewers see that, they have hopes for the future.
“You realize, it becomes heroic in today’s circumstances to tell the truth as a journalist, and bring the news out, battling between the money and power.”
He also worked with director Fatih Akin very recently in the drama film “The Cut,” centering on the Armenian genocide during World War I, which is competing for the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival. Being of Armenian descent himself, working on the film was very meaningful for him.
“As an artist, I like to make choices,” he said. “It is true that I cannot carry all the world’s problems on my shoulders, but I can make choices to stand for the people who don’t have voices, who are not visible, and tell their stories.”
Actors can give voice to the unheard and the forgotten, said Abkarian: “I write and direct plays as well to create my own vision in this world by expressing my freedom.”
“But I am not always serious,” he continued. “I also like to have fun, so it is a good balance between humor and being political.”
Upon his visit to Korea, he watched many Korean films, including “Old Boy” by Park Chan-wook.
“Korean cinema practices art with great freedom and with artistic madness,” said the actor. Abkarian thinks that many Korean films beautifully blend modern and ancient themes well. “If I do get a chance, it would be a lot of fun to take part in Korean films, if I can learn the language fast enough,” said the actor, who already speaks five languages ― French, English, Armenian, Turkish and Arabic.
“I am not afraid of learning new languages because communicating is so important for me,” he said. “When I go to new countries, I always do two things: visit (the dining) table and the stage. Since I had good Korean food last night, I would like to see pansori (Korean traditional opera).”
Asked why he became an actor, he couldn’t answer promptly, though.
“But I knew one thing. I love people and that is why I am acting. It is important how you represent your people ― not only Armenians or Koreans ― but humanity in general. There are no racial, social boundaries to love everyone.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)