Interview with Matthias Schoenaerts – FRERES ENNEMIS (Close Enemies) by David Oelhoffen (France/Belgium, 111 min).

FRERES ENNEMIS (Close Enemies) – Synopsis

Born and raised in a suburb ridden by drug trafficking, Driss and Manuel were like brothers. As adults, they have gone down exactly the opposite path: Manuel chose to embrace this thug life, while Driss completely rejected it and became a cop. When Manuel’s biggest deal goes terribly wrong, the two men meet again and come to realize they both need each other to survive in their worlds. Between betrayals and resentments, and despite their hatred, they renew deep ties around the one thing they have left in common: their visceral commitment to the place of their childhood.

Interview Matthias Schoenaerts

What did you like in this project?

There are several things: the universe, the actors and the director. FRÈRES ENNEMIS is a story that needed to be told quickly and that is suitable for genre films, like crime fiction.

How would you define your character, Manuel?

I try to do the opposite: not to define Manuel. I don’t want to put the character in a box, but to put him outside the box. He is a living human being who is organic, who embodies contrasts. To define him is to limit him. David Oelhoffen brings complexity to this man that others often reduce to a cliché: the drug dealer or an insult such as “scum”. Before being what he represents on a social level, this character is somebody who needs to give and receive love. The reality of his job has built his way of life, but it doesn’t say anything about his personality. When one defines something, one is very close to being judgmental. My definition of Manuel is that he’s the sweetest boy in the world.

We know very little about Manuel’s past. Did you seek to reconstruct it?

Of course, I created my own story. But it is not the past that determines his present. He is a man of action. First and foremost, I worked with bits from the script: his former friendship with Driss (the one who became a cop), his bond with Imrane (his partner), and the relationship with the mother of his son. I liked that she still loves him but not to the point of supporting his way of life, that could endanger their son.

What did you change in yourself to become Manuel?

Inevitably, I adopted another verbal as well as body language. I looked for a certain musicality in the flow of words, in the rhythm, without exaggerating it either. I was involved in the costume choices. I tried to apply thorough characterizations, but it’s part of the private process of an actor. I hope it isn’t too obvious on the screen. If the methods I applied to play this role are visible, well it means I failed. I don’t like it when the effort is seen, I want to stay accurate in what’s real and credible. It’s also scary because people sometimes mistake me for my characters!

Were you aware to be the two sides of a same coin with Driss’ character played by Reda Kateb? Did it influence your performance?

Yes, this is the way David developed the movie. In a way, Driss and Manuel share the same destiny. Each on a side of the fence. One is a cop, the other a drug dealer. This is how sad this reality is. They couldn’t break the vicious circle. Reda and I adopted a certain language, a certain way of being, connected to the environment our characters grew up in. Oddly enough, we ended up – without realizing it – creating roles conveying a sense of mimicry