While season 3 of “Balthazar” continues tonight on TF1, Philypa Phoenix, the interpreter of Fatim, returns for us on the success of the series, the evolution of his character, and the “musical” surprise that wait in the end.
AlloCiné: Season 3 of Balthazar, currently broadcast on TF1, is a huge audience success every Thursday evening. What do you think makes the series so appealing to audiences?
Philypa phoenix : I think that this success we owe above all to our two main actors, Hélène de Fougerolles and Tomer Sisley, who in addition to being my work colleagues are actors that I admire a lot. They are very generous in their work, very charismatic. And their duo works really well. I also think that the mix of detective intrigue and humor appeals to viewers a lot, because it’s not something you see so often in crime shows. And then Balthazar is really a quality series, very well written. The writers are racking their brains to bring new things to the surveys, which we do not necessarily see in France. And suddenly it creates a real enthusiasm on the part of the public, we are delighted.
What did you like about the character of Fatim when you auditioned for the role in 2018?
First there was the challenge of being able to say so much medical jargon (laughs). It is really something that I did not know. And then I also liked the fact that, ultimately, this woman does not look like me. I wanted to know what can motivate someone to want to become a forensic scientist, to autopsy bodies. It was truly a mystery that I wanted to explore. And then it was my first recurring role opportunity so I was like “Come on, give it your all”. Besides, I thought I missed the hearing (laughs). So when I was called back I was delighted.
But to be very honest with you, I liked it a lot that Fatim was just the role of a woman. In the sense that my person and what I can represent had nothing to do. We could have chosen any woman to play Fatim. I wasn’t there for my afro hairstyle or anything else. I was there to embody that person. And for me it is important, in my career choices, to be able to embody a human being above all.
In season 3, Fatim reveals himself a little bit more. There is in particular an episode where we discover that she is registered on a dating application. Were you happy with this small development?
Yes, of course, I was delighted that we knew a little more about her personal life because it’s true that Fatim is quite secretive, you only see her in her work environment and you don’t really know what ‘she lives outside. So I hope that for season 4 the writers will explore Fatim’s personal life a little more. That I can see to be the opposite of what one might imagine.
There’s obviously a lot of talk about the Balthazar-Helena relationship, but the Fatim-Eddy relationship is also one of the show’s highlights. They annoy each other, they look for each other, and all of this necessarily reflects a sexual tension. Will things finally move between these two in the final episodes?
Without too much spoiler (laughs)? I can just say that the Eddy-Fatim relationship is going to take an unexpected turn.
You shoot mainly with Tomer Sisley and Côme Levin, precisely, in the setting of the forensic institute. Did it immediately match between you three on the set when you started this adventure in 2018?
Yes, it was even quite magical. On a human level, with the whole team, it was a joy from the start. Having never had a recurring role on a series before, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and ultimately our personalities matched from the start. And I think when it goes well behind the camera, it shows on the screen. It’s great to arrive on a set and know that you will find people with whom you get along wonderfully. And then I learn a lot from these people, who have a well established career. It’s a real pleasure.
Do you have a favorite episode in this third season of Balthazar?
I think my favorite episode is the last one. There is a lot going on. The end is quite difficult, you will see. It still solves three years of intrigue over the death of Balthazar’s wife. I think it was important that it happened now, at the end of the third season. And then this finale offers another dynamic to the series too. And opens the field of possibilities for the future.
And is there a sequence that you particularly remember or that was more difficult to shoot than the others?
Yes, there is a scene in a Season 3 episode where you had to go through an air duct to retrieve a rat. And in fact I am claustrophobic (laughs). So I had to relax quite a bit before shooting the sequence, even though we weren’t really in a ventilation duct since we were shooting in the studio. What was funny is that in this scene it is Eddy who is claustro, so Como had to play this phobia, whereas me in real life I was really in full stress and I was like “Don’t have a crisis of panic “(laughs).
How is the filming of the scenes taking place at the forensic institute? Is a consultant present for the autopsy scenes so that the gestures are as realistic as possible?
Yes, we have two consultants who are real medical examiners. They were there from season 1 to teach us the precise gestures, to make it credible. They also told us anecdotes about their profession and sometimes, hearing certain stories, we said to ourselves “Wow, you really have to have a special nature to do this job”. It’s pretty crazy. And I know Tomer saw a real autopsy before the first season was filmed. I couldn’t have done it, sincerely. But I watched mice and frog autopsy videos on Youtube (laughs). No, more seriously, I still did a lot of work to understand all that. But fortunately we have people around us and advise us on the set so that we are as close as possible to reality.
You sing the song “La Dolce Vita” in the last episode. It’s a song that was written especially for the show, right?
Yes exactly. In fact when the writers gave me this last episode, they wanted my character to sing because they knew that when I was young (laughs), I was in a band called Les Déesses. I had a small musical career. And I said to them “You know, it’s been a long time since I made music, but I would find it interesting to offer you something”. So they accepted, I contacted one of my Danish friends, Es (Esben Thornhal, editor’s note), who is a composer and has a small reputation in his country, and he was immediately up to work with me on a original title for the series. He sent me a proposal, I was inspired right away, and the production really liked the result.
And what’s quite magical is that on the day of filming, no one had heard the song yet. And all the extras were picking up the chorus, some were trying to Shazam the song (laughs). It was pretty crazy. And so we decided to release the song after the episode aired on December 17th. It will be available on all legal download platforms.
Did it make you want to come back to singing alongside your acting career?
Well, precisely, following the recording of this song, Es, my composer friend, offered to work with him on other songs. And suddenly, yes, I’m in the studio, in Denmark, to record songs. I don’t have a specific plan in mind, I didn’t tell myself that I was going to do an EP or an album. But I enjoy making music again, and something is emerging. Life is funny sometimes. We leave a path and it comes back like that, years later. Especially since when I left Les Déesses, I didn’t have too much soul to sing. And there I really enjoy it, I’m comfortable, so it’s pretty awesome and it makes me feel good.
We saw you a few months ago in Grand Hôtel on TF1, in a role very different from Fatim. Was it the opportunity to work again with director Jérémy Minui that motivated you?
In fact, it was Jérémy who called me to offer me the role. I was delighted that he was thinking of me for this series with these incredible actors: Carole Bouquet, Hippolyte Girardot, Bruno Solo, Anny Duperey, and so on. It was touching for me to know that Jérémy trusted me by telling me “If you want it, this role is for you”. So I said yes right away and suggested this wig, with the bangs, straight hair (laughs). Because it was still a TF1 series and I didn’t want to have the same face as Fatim’s. And I really enjoyed playing this mysterious character.
Do you have any info on a possible season 2?
At the moment I don’t know at all. I believe it is in talks, I should know more soon. But of course, if a sequel does see the light of day, I’d love to revive it. But I do not miss so many projects because I am currently filming in Strasbourg another series, In search of truth, for France 2. It is a police and judicial series carried by Claire Borotra, Constance Gay, and Pascal Demolon, and I hold the recurring role of a female prosecutor.
Interview on December 2, 2020 by phone.
Season 3 of Balthazar continues tonight at 9:05 p.m. on TF1: