Interview: Rising Young ‘Mosul’ Star Adam Bessa Talks War & Dior
Mosul, the Netflix feature film by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo (directors/producers of the likes of Captain America: Winter Solider and Avengers: Endgame), directed by Matthew Carnahan (World War Z), has enraptured critics and viewers alike with its vivid account of a SWAT team waging a savage battle against ISIS in the waning days of the Iraqi civil war. One of the big reasons is the handsome and talented young Adam Bessa, a French actor of Tunisian extraction, whose skillful immersion into the life of the movie’s protagonist, Kawa, belies his age and experience.
Although fluent in Arabic, in addition to French, English and Italian, Bessa had to learn an entirely new Arabic dialect and adapt his accent in order to secure the role. Yet though his considerable talent and Hollywood looks portend a long and successful career on the screen, he certainly didn’t start out with that intention.
Having grown up in Nice, Bessa moved to Paris after high school for his undergraduate studies, followed by evening classes at the Sorbonne to secure his law degree. Over time, his curiosity for the arts led him to pursue small parts in short films, until his breakout role in The Blessed (by Sofia Djama), which follows the lives of several characters in the wake of the Algerian Civil War. That role ultimately led him to Mosul, which will surely have the industry knocking on his door.
We had the pleasure of video chatting with the rising star from our respective quarantine locations.
Congratulations on your lead role in Mosul.
Thank you very much.
Many actors work for years to be cast in roles like this. To call it competitive is an understatement. How were you discovered by the Russo brothers?
I had no formal education around either acting or how the industry works, but I had this idea in my head that I should try it. So, I started hanging out with people, young actors and performers, and I asked them “How do you do it?” They told me about castings on the internet and how to search for gigs. I started auditioning and was cast in a couple of short movies. Then I looked for an agent – I literally knocked on doors, and asked them to give me a chance. Most said no, but one said yes…and it evolved from there.
What did you do to prepare for this role?
It’s pretty instinctive, as I see it. It’s about the relationship with the director, where he tells me what he wants and I internalize it. It’s what I feel from the script – how I interpret the script to achieve the emotion required of the part. That is how I bring it to life.
Tell me about your character Kawa. What motivates him and what was it like for you to be him?
It was intense. It was a long journey – three months. It’s a heartbreaking story. This guy has been through so much, so to be him, it was first of all an honor, and a bigger responsibility to try to be accurate in the performance.
Were there any scenes that you found to be especially challenging?
Physically it was demanding, carrying all the military gear plus the weapon. We were shooting every day for hours. That was really physically hard. We often had to reshoot a scene, but everyone was always so passionate and willing to do it over to get it right.
Did you consult with military experts or go through some sort of boot camp?
First of all, I had to learn the specific Arabic dialect from that region for several weeks. I’m not Iraqi, so for me speaking Iraqi Arabic would be like being an American from New York learning to speak with an Irish accent. So I had to learn the accent and unique parts of the local dialect. And yes, we did have a boot camp for three weeks just to learn all the military stuff. So that was three weeks. Once you do that, you can then turn to researching the character to better understand him.
So did you become Kawa in your mind?
Yes. To a certain point, absolutely. The day we finished shooting I went to my trailer to take my costume off and got really sad to say goodbye to the character. So that’s how I realized that we were together – that he was a part of me.
This is an action movie at its core, but there are important messages for the audience also. What do you want the people to take away from it?
That in the end there’s no difference between us. We often hear that people are different because they come from different backgrounds or parts of the world. At the end of the day, we are human and we care about and fight for the same things. I think we all need to open our minds.
Can you tell me more about other projects that you have coming up?
Yes, I have a feature film coming up about Dior. It’s a French film with Nathalie Baye and Lyna Khoudri on the Dior Atelier, really focusing on the dressmakers, not really about the fashion, but how they make the dress in the atelier and how it’s all crafted. And I play a young dressmaker who starts at Dior, and wants to someday create his own brand. It’s a beautiful film and will debut in February.
How has your life changed since Mosul? Do people recognize you in the streets?
Some people do, but not too many. It is a global release though, so I guess it’s going to be a little bit different for me. I see it already on social networks, the messages and everything.