The Many Lives of Simon Abkarian
Celebrating our board member Simon Abkarian’s most memorable roles
July 31, 2020 | by Maryam Israelyan
“Without artists, life would be deadly. And theatre is like original sin, it reproduces, and it will rise again,” said Simon Abkarian upon receiving three prestigious Molière awards for Elektra of the Underworld.
Staged at Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil, the performance received many praises and three Molières — the French equivalent of a Tony Award — becoming the most-talked-about play of the year. Simon received awards for best director and living French-speaking author, while the performance itself was deemed to be the best play in the public theatre.
From Hollywood blockbusters to French arthouse, the specter of Simon Abkarian is omnipresent. While he is an exceptional writer, director, and Creative Armenia board member, we celebrate here Simon Abkarian the actor in some of his most iconic roles on screen.
Directed by Atom Egoyan, Ararat is one of the most well-known movies about the horrors of the Armenian Genocide. In the movie, Simon Abkarian plays Arshile Gorky, a famous visual artist of Armenian origin. His portrayal of Gorky is haunting and powerful. Despite having relatively little screen time, Simon Abkarian breathes in a heroic spirit into the character, piercing him in the viewers’ memory.
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Casino Royale (2006)
Being a versatile artist, Simon Abkarian also has worked on some of the top Hollywood blockbusters. One of them is Casino Royale — another James Bond adaptation — directed by Martin Campbell. In the movie, Simon plays Alex Dimitrios, a contractor in the international terrorist underworld. He is evil and abusive. He is as unlikable as an antagonist should be. Yet it only hints on a genius of the actor who can masterfully pull it off.
The Army of Crime (2009)
In The Army of Crime by Robert Guédiguian, Simon Abkarian plays a real historical figure – Missak Manouchian. Based on a true story about the liberation movement in France against the Nazi occupation, it’s a complex but mesmerizing film. Simon Abkarian portrays a conflicted intellectual poet, whose family escaped the Genocide in 1915. He brilliantly portrays a character for whom a war is not only about a battle with the world but also an existential battle inside. The actor perfectly explores the seriousness, the idealistic intentions, and the duality of war through his morally uncompromising character.
Kaboul Kitchen (2012)
Simon Abkarian has successfully tried on not only serious roles but also comedic ones. His Colonel Amanullah from a popular French TV series Kaboul Kitchen is the best proof. Created by Marc Victor, Allan Mauduit, and Jean-Patrick Bene and based on a true story, the series is about the life of a French expatriate Jacky. He runs the popular restaurant Kaboul Kitchen in Kabul, Afghanistan and accepts a covert assignment from Colonel Amanullah, portrayed by a satirically self-serious Simon Abkarian, who we enjoy laughing at and with.
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)
Together with To Take a Wife and The Seven Days, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem completes the power film trilogy by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz. The film tells the story of Viviane and Elisha, the latter portrayed by Simon Abkarian. After 30 years of loveless marriage, Viviane decides to divorce her husband. Since Israel doesn’t recognize civil marriage or divorce, the Orthodox rabbinate has total control. And according to the rabbinate, a woman cannot divorce her husband without his consent. Naturally, the trial ends up taking not months but years. The movie tells a powerful story through its suffocating and claustrophobic moods, and compositions. Simon Abkarian delivers a masterful performance as a malevolent and even psychotic character, making the film feel like a documentary.
Simon Abkarian’s character in 1915, co-directed by Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian, is intense. Set in a theatre, Simon portrays a theatre director who makes a decision to stage a controversial play about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. In the role of Simon, he delivers a compelling performance, conveying the terrifying and mysterious premise of the story. The directors actually wrote the screenplay to 1915 with Simon in mind, even using his actual name for the lead character. So it was fortuitous that the renowned actor agreed to take up the role.
Cyrano, My Love (2019)
Simon Abkarian is the native son of drama. But, being a remarkable actor, he has pulled off more than one light-hearted role throughout his acting career. Cyrano, My Love, directed by Alexis Michalik, tells the story of the poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand and his struggles with writing Cyrano de Bergerac. In the movie, Simon Abkarian portrays Ange Floury, a producer of Rostand’s upcoming play. Comically serious and poignant, he perfectly represents the mannerism and spirit of the time period.
The Audition (2019)
In one of his latest movies, The Audition by Ina Weisse, Simon Abkarian portrays the luthier Philippe married to Anna, a violin teacher. They have a musically gifted son Jonas, who Anna has been trying to impose her lessons on. The story revolves around their family dynamic when Anna starts preparing a talented violinist Alexander for the end-of-the-year exam. She becomes obsessed with Alexander’s lessons, moving further away from her husband and son. With this role, Simon Abkarian expands his repertoire, portraying a calm and loving character, who primarily evokes empathy.