Raindance Interview: Marwan Kenzari + Nasrdin Dcahr (Wolf)

Actors Marwan Kenzari and Nasrdin Dchar have frequently collaborated with filmmaker Jim Taihuttu on short films and a feature Rabat. Their recent film Wolf, which critics have drawn comparisons with La Haine and Raging Bull, doesn’t show any sign of this relationship stopping. Prior to its screening as Raindance Film Festival’s closing film, we at Critics Associated met the two actors to discuss their experience making this film.

ML: Having worked with Jim Taihuttu previously on his 2011 film Rabat, what made you want to work with him on wolf? What was the idea behind this film that made you want to do it?

MK: First of all we started as friends. He [Jim] was going his own work like music videos, Nas was in theatre and I was still [training] in the academy of dramatic arts. So when it came to our first film, it was quite organic for us to think after the first film we were to do a second one.

ND: [Wolf] started as a short movie called ‘Wolken’ about 3 friends before Rabat. And in that short movie it was like, ‘Hey, you can see there’s some great chemistry between these guys.’

ML: So Rabat was Taihuttu’s first feature length as a co-collaborating with Victor Ponten. What was it like working with Taihuttu on his first solo project?

MK: It was actually quite similar. Jim did most, maybe 75-80% of the directing, and Victor was kind of assisting. He was involved in pretty much all the post-production and art work afterwards. It really wasn’t that La Haine different.

ML: The film Wolf has been described as a kind of La Haine meets Raging Bull, Were you aware of this on set it and if so did it affect your performance?

MK: No, obviously we all grew up with Raging Bull and when I was 18 years old I saw for the first time. Those films are so iconic and they’re an example, but that’s not the story you want to tell. You want to make your own. Influences, in my opinion, come in all different directions and these films are certainly one of the strong directions. [Wolf] is a Dutch story.

ND: And besides that, it’s a great compliment to be compared to those films.

ML: During production you spent 3 months on location. And, you Marwan, you spend 12-18 months training for the role of Majid, as well as spending time in some bars. How was that preparation for you?

MK: I was watching Inside the Actor’s Studio and someone, it could’ve been Sean Penn, said, “Preparation is the biggest part of your work.” Obviously the character [Majid] is a muscular guy and you had to believe if he threw a punch he’d knock you out. I had the luxury to train for 18 months to get into character. At that time we didn’t even know whether we had the funding for the film but I just started anyway because I truly believed that we were going make it anyway. We rented this apartment on location and visiting the bars, and all these things helped to become one with the story one with the story. That’s basically what you try to do.

ND: For me I have 5 scenes in the movie, which we shot in 2 days. My preparation was to actually lose weight, because I play his [Majid] sick brother. I remember while we were shooting Rabat, they were already thinking about this movie. Jim had already told me, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be in this movie, because there’s no part for you.’ But I wanted to be in every movie by Jim because I love his work. Then he was in America with his wife and he sent me a text message, in which he says, ‘I think you’re going to have to lose weight.’ He didn’t even say what part it was, but I immediately knew it was going to be the brother of Majid, and it was.

MK: I don’t even know this story..

ND: Oh, really? I mean, I just had to be in this movie. Jim told me that my character had to be completely different from Majid, but it was important to tell us [the audience] something different about Majid’s character. He’s a tough guy but when he comes to visit his brother, it’s kind of his soft side.

ML: They’re quiet intimate scenes between the characters.

MK: The scenes for Majid were like getting out of the train; when he visits his brother in the hospital, those moments are calm and peaceful. But he’s still in a bad environment because he’s [Hamza] still going to die.

ND: The funny thing is we didn’t really rehearse those scenes.

MK: We did, we shot a trailer to get funding for the film a year and a half prior to the first day of [Wolf’s] production. Me and Jim were struck by the impact in seeing him having lost the weight.

ND: And we improvised those scenes.

MK: And Jim wrote those moments that made their way into the script.

ML: Were there any scenes later on in the film where Jim took some lines you guys were saying and used them in the script?

MK: Yeah. I mean, maybe not so much with Majid and his brother, but definitely in those scenes with Majid and his friends. They have quite a difficult way of communicating for it’s like a street language/slang. We would be standing; smoking and waiting for the prep/lighting to be set and, when you’re relaxed and all that preparation, you throw out a couple of lines. Sometimes Jim might be listening and think, ‘Oh yeah, use that line,’ because they’d sound more natural. I think Jim is very script with the script unless you can give him another line that works more organically that the one that he wrote down. That’s how he works.

ML: Those kickboxing scenes; how much was choreographed and how much was real? The impact looks real.

MK: (chuckles) Not to brag. I’m certainly not a kickboxer, and these guys live for this sport, but fighting scenes and body shots were real. There was a sort of choreography, but because of the intensity and the speed, we’d get fatigued. The first take it’d be a 30% impact hit, then we’d do a take at a 60% impact hit, and then would end a couple of takes at 80% impact hit. We’d spend hours in their gym, training with them, but they were real; except from the facial shots. I struggled to bend my arms downwards after 12 hours of fighting. These guys pay with their and fights, and even one of the guys said [after a long day], ‘Wow, this is quite heavy!’ It was the only way to really do it.

ML: Now Marawn you’ve recently wrapped ‘Autobahn’, which is to also star Nicholas Hoult, Felicity Jones and Anthony Hopkins. Would you care to talk a little about that?

MK: Well, we only finished a two months ago, so I find it difficult to talk about a project I’ve just wrapped. I had a lot of fun working with that special team in making an interesting and strong film, and I am excited to see the results. I became close friends with Nick. The vibe on set from the director Eran [Creevy] was very good.

ML: Finally, how is your first time at Raindance Film Festival?

MK: We arrived yesterday. It’s a festival that supports artistic film and film is all about the love for storytelling, so we give our love and support – oh, that sounds heavy (chuckles). We are very proud of this film.

Read our review of the film here.

Wolf is out on DVD, November 3.

Matthew Lee is an undergraduate student in the field of Film Studies at King's College London and a freelance film critic with keen interests in World Cinema, Cult Cinema and Silent Cinema.