Portraying a young Black rapper in Italy, over three stages of life in the new Amazon Prime film Autumn Beat, 20-year-old Hamed Seydou discusses his own motivations for acting and the significance that the all-Black cast has had upon his development as an actor in Italy. Finding emotional support and encouragement from his peers, and inspiration from American stars, he acknowledges the hindrance of the Italian film industry and its lack of accurate representation of what it truly means to be Black, but hopes to harness this experience to propel his career, and to realise his own dreams of embracing the industry from every angle.
First off, please tell us a little bit about yourself, and give us a bit of background about your debut role in the film Autumn Beat.
I’m Hamed Seydou, and I play the role of Tito in the new movie Autumn Beat. Tito is the brother of Paco, Paco is the brother that has the ability to make music, as my character suffered a tragic incident that led to a stammer that stopped him from performing.
Obviously, the film covers a lot of ground in regard to the representation of Black culture and music in Europe, which isn’t often seen. Was there any specific message you wanted to convey through your character, Tito?
The message of the movie is to tell a story, to tell the reality of Italy, of something that is kind of starting, which is telling the story of Black culture without directly touching on the theme of racism, but still adventuring into a story of a movement that is starting to progress in Italy. The movie is also about representation, as in comparison to The States and France, there aren’t any famous Black Italian rappers or people of African Italian origins. But it’s starting to grow and develop, and it shows the musical development within our culture.
Do you think this representation has the purpose to inspire others?
Absolutely, the author and director lived this life, ultimately he always worked in music, and has had the ability to portray his experience which could inspire others to do the same.
What motivated you to audition for the role? Were there any qualities within the character that you saw in yourself? Or was it more about providing this representation?
I initially had an audition for another series by the same author that came out 2 years ago, Zero. I auditioned for that, but my invitation to play Tito came as a consequence of my previous application to work with the director. I didn’t get the role initially, but it was early in my career, and I would have been happy with any role, it’s been a blessing really.
Considering there isn’t a lot of representation of Black, European youth culture in cinema, or media more generally, and obviously being a young person yourself, do you feel as though the film represented Italian youth culture accurately?
Definitely yes. It’s a reality that the author has lived in his own skin and lots of people are beginning to wonder why there aren't Italian movies with characters of Black origins. It represents three different eras, 1999, 2010 and 2019. It kind of goes through three different areas in the movie, cut into different parts of the characters' lives. It reflects the attitudes and experiences of both the author who lived through these eras and the characters retelling the story.
The film's central focus seems to actually be on the relationships of the characters rather than the rap music itself. What role do you think rap plays in developing these relationships and driving the plot?
The genius side of the author was to leave on the surface the idea that rap was the protagonist's main focus of the movie. But ultimately the dynamics and the emotions are very thin and subtle, but I would say that they lay at the core of the movie, and create depth within the plot.
Do you think your relationship with your fellow cast members played a part in portraying these strong, emotional bonds on screen?
Yes, definitely. It's been very important, as I was able to connect with other black Italians, as I come from a small town and I’ve never really had those kinds of relationships or been able to connect with my own identity. I was on set for 3 months, and it gave me the opportunity to bond not only professionally, but as human beings, as we were hustling, trying to reach goals and fulfil our dreams mutually – it became deeper than a superficial, professional relationship.
It’s really impressive that you were talented enough to land yourself a starring role in the film so early in your career, how did you prepare yourself to take it on?
Over those 3 months, I spent my time studying, preparing and trying to become the character. I basically took over the real life of Tito or maybe he took over my life, and I felt as if I were waking up as him rather than myself, which ultimately prepared me.
Have you always wanted to be an actor? What drew you to the film industry?
Initially, I dreamed of being a professional footballer. When I was about 16, I played in a junior league of one of the biggest teams in Italy, but I realised that in order to really make a successful career, I would have to make huge sacrifices that I wasn’t mentally ready for at such a young age, so I decided to leave that path behind. I had a year where I was feeling very down, and a bit depressed, it was a time of trauma and transition. It changed when I saw Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness I felt the joy, the strength and the determination of his character, and I wanted to create this same feeling in others that I had felt watching him. Through the movie, I was able to feel this joy and this hope, and everything just changed for me, I knew what I wanted to be.
You have talked so much about him but what was it like to work with the director, Antonio Diekele Distefano? Did he have any advice for you when you took on the role?
Working with Antonio has been very deep, and very personal as well. He was there every day, giving advice from the professional side, full of new ideas and approaches, but also on a personal level, creating friendships not only for the movie but also preparing me for what happened after the movie, in case new opportunities arose, and how to continue on my journey. Now that the movie has come out, I've been doing auditions and studying, and he’s helped me so much.
Where do you hope to go with your acting career in the future? Is there an ideal sort of character you’d like to take on, or anyone in the industry you would want to work with?
Italy is still behind, so I’ve decided that my real dream is to continue with acting and to keep studying and getting prepared for this. But I’d like to become an author, and a movie director as well, so I could embrace this side of life from every angle. I’d like to create a role that would be ideal for me, so I can be able to carry out these roles to the best of my ability, to ultimately experience and go into new directions.
Obviously, as I mentioned, Will Smith has played an important role in my life alongside Denzel Washington, their talents show through their abilities to adapt and play diverse roles, which is something I take inspiration from, so I’d love to work with them.