Meeting with the star of the new police series of TF1, which starts this evening at 9:05 pm. Seen in “Unfaithful”, “Cassandre” or in the Palmashow sketches, he tells us about his career, from athletics tracks to theater boards.
Luther is adapted from the British series of the same name, worn by actor Idris Elba. Was it a challenge to reprise this role after such an iconic performer?
Christopher Bayemi: I am often asked if I am under pressure, but I rather have a feeling of pride to be able to take on such a role after an actor like him. It is an honor for me to play this character. Idris Elba has been one of the actors that I have been following for a long time. When I was little, at the age of 5 or 6, and I watched French series or films, I had a little trouble projecting myself. And when I discovered that there were black American or English actors, I realized that we were also part of this cultural field. It stuck with me, so I’m a lot of black actors, but that doesn’t prevent me from being a fan of an actor like Vincent Lindon, who is my favorite actor.
Especially since the TF1 audience does not necessarily know the original series or your English counterpart …
Exactly. It is a series which was broadcast for some time on Canal +, it seems to me. A subscription channel, an English series … So, indeed, I think that for the most part this series is not really known, except if you are really keen on series. So it’s going to be a real discovery for TF1 viewers.
Exactly, is there a work, a fiction or even an actor that made you want to do this job? What was the trigger?
That’s a very good question, I’ll tell you my little story so … (laughs) When I was in high school, I was a top athlete in athletics, I was in the French team. I went to a high school with a sports option, where I met two amazing teachers, a literature teacher and a sports teacher. Their idea was to offer us activities that combined their two disciplines.
We started by creating poems about sport and then she offered to stage us. At that moment, I realized that I had as much pleasure to be on an athletics track as on a theater set. I felt really similar things in terms of emotions.
When I left high school, I asked myself questions, but I preferred to save my back a little by staying in sport, a field I knew, telling myself that if one day the desire returned, there will always be time for me to branch off. I graduated as a sports educator, I worked for two years but during this period I seriously injured my knee and my career came to a complete halt. Before that, sport was my whole life, I just did that.
During my convalescence which lasted almost two years, I discovered other things: I tried to fill my time by going out, the cinema, the theater precisely … And when it was necessary to return to training every day, making all these concessions when I was in my twenties, I felt like I didn’t know anything about life. I did not manage to go back.
Besides that, I had to find an activity that is as strong and intense for me. And following a meeting with an actress, I said to myself “let’s go, I’m going”. Following that, I left everything in 2011. I entered a theater school in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, and there I met people who are now my little family, friends with whom we made the four hundred hits, the Avignon Festival, short films … And a year after leaving school, I had the chance to meet Arthur Jugnot, who made me play in the first play where I was paid in fee, and I had my first intermittent status a year later. Since then, I haven’t stopped! I touch wood… (laughs)
Luther is your first lead role. What made the difference during your casting tests? Why were you chosen?
Honestly, I don’t know at all. It was a long process, about a month and a half. I did five or six castings – normal, because the challenge was important. The production, TF1 or the director should not be mistaken. Throughout the process, I felt that I was supported by Joanna Delon, the casting director on Luther, by the executive production and by director David Morlet, who in the meantime came to see me play in the theater. They went to get me, maybe to reassure themselves, but this support gave me confidence. I was serene on my last tests, and I was able to give everything. This is where they chose me.
How did you appropriate the character of Theo Luther? What did you bring him?
For me, Theo Luther is really the archetype of the hero. He is a fanatic vigilante; he has a lot of charisma, he is very lively, passionate about his work. And what he loves most of all is to dismantle the psychological mechanisms of criminals. He’s a cerebral, who uses his intellect as a sixth sense.
At the same time, and this is what makes him borderline, he is haunted by his demons and filled with traumas that sometimes push him to make not very academic choices when he seeks to solve investigations, not to say totally reprehensible. That’s what I find very interesting in this character: despite this power, he’s someone who has a lot of empathy, who is ultimately very sensitive.
To me, he’s a kind of superhero, and all superheroes have very specific psychological characteristics. I really helped myself with the original work because I really wanted to see the character, to see Luther. I looked for the links that I could have with this character, I pulled the strings to try to make it my own.
I looked at what looked like me, made my choices and worked on it. What touches me a lot about this character is his commitment, the fact that he gives himself one hundred percent. He’s always two, three moves ahead, and will always do everything possible to resolve his inquiries. It was this commitment that really touched me.
Even if his impulsiveness sometimes costs him dear …
That’s it. It is his borderline side that takes over, and the fact that he is greatly affected by his past. Without revealing everything, we see from the start of the first episode that he experienced some rather disturbing things. He has this hero syndrome who wants to get there at all costs, and that gives him an energy that sometimes overflows and makes him explosive. We chose another angle, trying to keep a little what there was in the original version but we made this choice in the adaptation to be a little more attenuated in its temperament.
In front of him, the character of Alice Morgan is in a way his nemesis. Funny detail, you are once again reunited in a series with its interpreter, Chloé Jouannet, after both being in the cast of the Unfaithful series …
Indeed, we played in Unfaithful but we didn’t have any scenes in common. So this was my first time playing with Chloe, and her character is beautiful. He’s totally related to Luther. Very quickly, he has an intimate conviction about Alice Morgan, both victim and suspect in a double murder case. He thinks that it will be resolved in two steps, three movements and finally, we realize that in front of him, he almost has his alter ego, his evil double. He is faced with an extremely intelligent woman, who has a lot of eloquence and response, who is very sure of herself and sure of her superiority.
And finally, that’s kind of what will please him about her. She also has this somewhat manipulative side, a bit like him when he tries to get into the brains of criminals. All of this is going to touch him, and he’s going to be very attracted to this woman. Between them two is going to be created a kind of game of chess. It’s going to be who gets the best shot.
How did you develop your working relationship on the set?
As these are two characters who are very opposed, we did not want to see each other too much upstream to precisely, when arriving on the set, let ourselves be surprised. Do not discuss the sequences too much beforehand so that our scenes reproduce the impression of these two blocks which meet, which are discovered at the time. It helped us not to be too close during the work.
Police series on TF1 are legion; what would like this series to convey? What do you hope the public will take away or appreciate when they discover Luther?
Already as a spectator, what I appreciate in this series is that it is very raw, very angry. We enter into investigations with complicated subjects, but unfortunately, the latest information shows us, it is part of our daily life. There are people who give themselves body and soul to try to protect us, it’s a truth.
On HPI, another series of TF1 in which I have a small role, I had the chance to have lunch with a commissioner of the Lille criminal brigade, through Mehdi Nebbou. He intervened during the Bataclan killings. He told us about his professional and psychological journey, and it is this side of the police that we sometimes forget: people who are very committed, and when they return home, they only think about their investigation. . This is what I would like the public to see: when you are at the heart of the matter, it is always difficult to make the best choice, if there is one.
Finally, do you have any other upcoming or ongoing projects after Luther?
During Luther, I shot in another series called J’ai Menti for France Télévisions, with Camille Lou and Thierry Neuvic in particular. And then also, this summer, I’m going to shoot in a movie called The Rooster on an emergency staircase, directed by a woman called Guetty Felin. She had made a film a few years ago, Zombi Child, which was the first Haitian film proposed for the Oscars. With this aura, she has done a lot of festivals in France and around the world, and she is embarking on her second feature film, in which we will follow a Haitian family in the 1960s, who fled the dictatorship in place and who will take refuge in the United States. It’s going to be very strong.