AlloCiné: What immediately impressed you about La Promesse when TF1 proposed the project to you?
Sofia Essaïdi : The plot first of all, obviously. I chained the 6 episodes at once while reading. I was completely caught up in the story. And then, beyond the investigation, what I liked is also the angle adopted by this series. The fact that she dwells much more on the psychological aspect of the characters, on the devastation that investigations can have on the police, on the suspects, on all the people who are involved in them. I found it very interesting. Also the fact that my character has real wounds to deal with. All those things that prevent him from being truly free in his present.
The series was created by Anne Landois, who worked on Engrenages for a long time. Was that, too, a real motivation for you when accepting the role of Sarah Castaing?
Ah yes, completely. I didn’t know Anne, but when I was told she was one of the writers in Gears, that obviously tipped the scales (laughs). I haven’t seen all seasons of Gears, but what I’ve seen of it is quite remarkable. There was a real quality of writing and production on this series. So, obviously, knowing that Anne was also at the origin of the script for The Promise, that was one more reason to say yes.
How would you describe Sarah, your character?
I would say Sarah is a young woman who puts all her energy into her investigations because, in my opinion, she doesn’t really want, consciously or unconsciously, to be in her life and sort out her personal issues. She’s a very good investigator, but she’s a woman who has put her injuries and her personal life aside. And who tries, painfully, to move forward in his life. But she struggles with commitment and with freedom. She struggles to be herself. And what I find great about this series is that we follow a real personal liberation journey for Sarah.
Do you think Sarah is embarking on this investigation just to mend the past and honor the memory of her father, or does she also feel some guilt in it?
There has to be some guilt, but I can’t say too much about it, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. But what is certain is that she hides a real wound. And she feels guilty about a lot of things. Guilt is a part of her life, whether it is in relation to her family, her former boyfriend, or her current boyfriend, because she feels guilty that she is not completely there, with him, in this relationship.
Do you always put a bit of yourself in your characters? And in this case, was it obvious to find similarities between Sarah and you?
Yes I always put personal things in the roles. Let’s say the work is personal, and that’s what makes me accept a role or not. It’s because, all of a sudden, the story will speak to me, will awaken emotions that are there, buried. It’s not easy because it’s never easy to dig into intimate things, to understand wounds. But it’s very saving, in a personal way, and it allows to offer a certain truth to the camera. Instead of fabricating emotions, we find ourselves looking deep within ourselves for real intimate emotions. And for me, on that set, at that point, it was pretty radical. Because Sarah is facing a bereavement that she has never really managed to do. But she has to succeed to be completely in her present. This is one of the challenges of this story. And I, at that time, was going through a very similar story. So the script resonated with me a lot. It wasn’t easy, but I think it was lucky too. The opportunity to sort out some very personal things while giving the character some truth.
The Promise will inevitably speak to viewers because it evokes many various facts, and we know that the French are fascinated by this kind of business. We think in particular of the disappearance of Estelle Mouzin while watching the series. What is your relation to the various facts? And do you understand that it fascinates people so much?
Yes, I understand very well. It fascinates me too, I admit (laughs). For a very long time I wondered if that was not a little unhealthy, and then I finally think I found an answer. I think that we are especially fascinated by the behavior of the other. I speak for myself, anyway, because I like to watch some news shows. And what fascinates me is trying to understand how someone who looks like us, who has a pretty mundane life, can end up doing completely awful and inexplicable things. There is this desire to understand the other. More than a fascination for horror or for drama. It is human psychology that fascinates. And then, in a little lighter way, I think we all have a little cop soul in us. That’s why I love thrillers or detective series. We like to put ourselves in the investigator’s shoes and try to find the bad guy, the culprit. And that I do not find it to be unhealthy at all.
You are surrounded by a very beautiful cast, but the plot of The Promise means that you have very few scenes with Olivier Marchal since your characters evolve in two distinct temporalities. Wasn’t that too frustrating?
Yes, of course, it was extremely frustrating. But I was so happy to meet Olivier that I was still delighted in the end. Afterwards, what is certain is that we quickly said to ourselves that we had to find another common project to enjoy each other a little more in front of the camera.
The Promise is also one of Laure de Butler’s first series as a director. How was the work with this young director who already has a real universe?
It went very well, Laure has a lot of talent. We have the same way of looking at work. In a serious, deep, and deep way. We had the same desires, quite similar sensibilities. There was a real understanding, a real sharing on this series. Afterwards, of course, all was not easy because there were a lot of constraints during the recovery, after the interruption due to the Covid. But we were lucky to have a great team, whether in terms of technicians, actors, or production. And that contributed to lots of beautiful moments which made these three months of filming, despite the constraints, a real happiness.
Is there a scene, among the six episodes of the series, that you particularly remember?
One of the scenes that I remember the most is the scene in which Sarah goes to her father’s grave. I was not yet completely over the grief that I was going through at that time and I projected myself a lot. I found myself at that time in very personal and very painful emotions.
Between La Promesse, Insoupçonnable, and Kepler (s), in recent years you have played roles in rather dark thrillers. Do you now want to return to brighter roles, like what you were able to do on Aïcha ten years ago?
I want to explore very different worlds so, yes, I would love to be in a great comedy. But I really choose my roles based on what it evokes about me. And lately I’ve been through some pretty tough things in my life, so maybe I needed those roles to be able to bring out all the emotions that I had inside and to be able to sort out all of them. the things I had to sort out. Who weren’t very solar. The roles I choose and what I go through in my personal life are very closely related. And that’s why I often say that what interests me the most is not the importance of the role, it’s the role itself. I was offered during this period leading roles that did not resonate with me. And, on the contrary, I was able to accept supporting roles that spoke to me, in relation to my personal history. For now that’s how I see my work as an actress anyway.
And a recurring role in a series, over several seasons, could that interest you?
To be honest, I don’t necessarily want that today. I had a few recurring role proposals and I turned them down. For fear of locking me up, in part. I have had the chance to participate in projects that mark a lot and I know that sometimes it is difficult to come out of them, to detach from them. And then, telling myself that for a year, two years, or three years, I’m going to shoot the same thing, unless it’s an extraordinary project, I would kind of feel like I’m going to the office (laughs). If I do this job, it’s because I want to explore totally different things. But you should never say never. It all depends on the proposal, the role, or the director. For a long time, I stopped on the roles, but I realize more and more how important meeting with a director is.
What are your plans after La Promesse?
I will soon be seen on France 2 in Les Héritiers, a TV movie by Jean-Marc Brondolo. And I shot this fall in Cyprus an independent film for cinema called Tel Aviv-Beirut. This is Michale Boganim’s next feature film, which chronicles part of the war between Lebanon and Israel. It’s a wonderful project that I loved shooting. The freedom offered by this director and this kind of films, that overwhelmed me. I can’t wait to be able to shoot other projects like this.
And a return to music, is it planned? Whether on stage, like with Chicago in 2018, or with a studio album?
I would love. I miss music a lot. The studio is not for now, but in any case I never really stopped working on music. I just did it differently. Alone, or with people I really wanted to try things with. But it’s a long process. It took a long time before I could refocus myself on that and have things to say. It is done slowly. And the scene, I obviously want to do it again, yes. I loved playing in Chicago. But it was such an extraordinary show that it’s not easy to find behind a project that could suit me and correspond to me so much. But I want to and I am very open to considering it soon.
Interview on January 5, 2021 by phone.
The trailer for La Promesse, which continues this evening at 9:05 p.m. on TF1: