Winning In More Ways Than One: A Few Minutes with Nabil Rajo; Star of the Canadian Screen Award Winner ‘Boost’

Winning In More Ways Than One: A Few Minutes with Nabil Rajo; Star of the Canadian Screen Award Winner ‘Boost’

The news cycle in this business is just so damn fast sometimes, that things can get overlooked and passed by since the flow of information and events out there even in the entertainment industry runs at a blinding speed…that is until they circle back on you.

A couple of weeks ago before this past weekend’s Canadian Screen Awards I got the unique please to sit down with Nabil Rajo who was nominated for Best Actor in his role in the film Boost; which is the story of Hakeem (Nabil Rajo) and A-Mac (Jahmil French) who are Montreal teenagers with very little interest in academic pursuits. Working part-time at Hakeem’s uncle’s car wash, they pick up a little extra dough by casing expensive sports cars that come in for a wash and turning over that information to more seasoned criminals. Eager to get a leg up in the game, they boost a car on their own, leading them down a path from instant gratification to life-threatening consequences.

Boost is a powerful and unique Canadian film (that will be hitting all major VOD platforms and DVD this spring); the kind that we regularly try to champion here at In The Seats as we do love our vibrant Canadian industry and support it as best as we possibly can.

As much as I personally enjoyed the film, sometimes a lot of these films do have a huge uphill battle and you just can’t get on your soapbox for every single one, even though you really wish could.  We felt it was destined to be a very solid Canadian feature film effort that would fly under a few too many radars, with 10 + years in this business we’ve seen it before and sadly enough we’ll see it again as leaving stories by the way side is something that happens daily in this business, that is until something unexpected happened.

This young man in his first leading role in a feature film actually took home the prize for best actor in a leading role at the Canadian Screen Awards…and quite frankly we couldn’t be happier.

We talked at length with Nabil about the pressures of being a leading man for the first time, how important he feels it is to tell stories like this and representing the multiculturalism that truly embodies our great nation of Canada.

Dave Voigt: Obviously congratulations on everything, and I’m dying to know because if you look through your credits, you’ve got a lot of smaller roles but now for the first time you are thrust into the leading man role.  Walk me through the audition process for Boost, discovering the role and finally have that moment hit you of, oh wait…I’m carrying an entire film.

Nabil Rajo: The whole process started for me in 2013-2014 and it was actually one of the first auditions that I went on with my agent.  I just put myself on tape for this movie called Boost and about two weeks later I got the call that the director wanted to see me and one other actor together in person.  We put something together because I think that he wanted to have some sort of little clip that he could use in his pitch so that he could get the right funding to make the film, then after that I didn’t hear a thing for basically two years!  That’s how long it takes sometimes and really this was one of the first times that I had read a script and I knew that I just had to be a part of this project.

It triggered something in me that really made me want to be involved with this but it was two years of silence and I was in Saudi when I got an e-mail from a friend of mine telling me that they were doing auditions for Boost.  At that time the characters were of south Asian decent and it was about that community and I started to feel uncertain because it wasn’t making sense to me like it did, but I knew how strong the material was so I just decided to audition again and have faith that it would all get figured out.  I went in yet again, the director remembered me and then about two weeks later I find out that I booked the lead in the film.  I wasn’t even audition for that part!  I was going for the ‘best friend’ role you know? (Laughs)  Then when I found out I’ve got to admit that it was pretty surreal because I just didn’t what kind of reaction to have.  When you are an actor, working your way up the business you just don’t know how to act at that moment, so I found out and kind of let it sit for a minute.  I told a handful of people and just gave myself time to process the whole thing.

Before I know it, I’m in Montreal making a movie and it was nerve wracking in the beginning because I was so aware that everything was revolving around me.  I had to come to grips with the fact that I’m “The Guy”, I’m the one that a lot of other people are relying on for many different reasons but I’ve got to say that in spite of the pressure everyone around me really made my first time as a leading man on a feature film incredibly easy.  The crew, the cast…it just took a day and I really felt like I belonged and I could do the material justice.

DV: It’s such a gripping and powerful film and while we’ve seen stories like this before, we’ve never seen a Canadian take on a story like this before.  Was that the hook for you going in?  Because we’ve had aboriginal stories and a variety of other stories but never a story of colour like this with a genuinely Canadian perspective.

NR: This story is definitely a part of Canada and a part of the Canadian existence but it really has never been on screen before like this and I really feel strongly that representation is key and that people deserve to see themselves like this, and this was such an authentic story and I was excited to see the reactions it would get.  It is such a raw and truly such an authentic story because these kids are real, plain and simple.  That really jumped out at me and I am an immigrant myself so I saw myself in the character that I am playing and I knew that it would be important for people to see this film.  I knew it had to get made and it wasn’t a question of that you needed to be an immigrant to relate to these characters but you know people like them and you know that they exist.  I really felt like it would be a refreshing take on reality.

DV: And especially from the industry side of things in Canada because there are always those films and shows that tell quote/unquote Canadian stories, but more importantly this is a human story and it’s more important to tell these kinds of stories as a nation rather than trying to fit into a mold of maybe how we are perceived to be and just showing the world what and who we truly are.

NB: Oh exactly man, and the cool thing is that when you see these kids in Boost, you instantly have an idea of who they are without really knowing them, just from what we get to see on the exterior.  You see these two kids and you just have your own judgements on them for some reason.  I feel like that what the truly beautiful thing that this movie does is just take you in deeper in the humanity of these characters.  They do things that might not necessarily be right, there’s a reason for it to be sure but it’s never justified either.  Right or wrong, these kids are human and the film lets us break through the exterior of all that and see their vulnerabilities and insecurities…straight past any facades that they may put up.

DV: Did it take a lot of work on set to sort of find that core, because like you say he is this character with these barriers up but you have to slowly let the audience see through them as well. 

NR: For that I have to give all kudos to Darren Curtis our director because I never got to see a single playback or anything like that but it was just about this ongoing conversation that we were always having and when he did see me put up a wall or take the character in a direction that maybe wasn’t the right way he’d just bring me in and let me know what was going on and where I need to take it and what we need to see from him at this particular moment.  It really was a journey filled with a lot of vulnerable moments that speak to who these characters are.

DV: Regardless of how well the film does or how many awards it wins, how important do you feel it is to have a story like this out there, just for the next generation of actors and storytellers who will come up and maybe end up looking at something like Boost as an example for them to strive to?

NR: I mean it’s our reality really when you think about it.  As a country we are just so rich in diversity and so multi cultural that everywhere you turn there is just a story that is waiting to be told, and while you don’t necessarily have to look like me…

DV: But it’s also important to not be afraid to tell those stories either…

HR: Oh yeah, yeah for sure.  You can’t be afraid to write it, you can’t be afraid to get behind it and push it forward.  It’s so important to be able to go through the entire process of trying to get a movie like this made and never waver in your belief of the material.  This is a great example of story that is looking inside a different culture then your own but still managing to speak to audiences outside of that specific culture.

Boost is coming to a variety of different VOD platforms and DVD this spring and congratulations again to Nabil for his big win at the Canadian Screen Awards.  We at In The Seats look forward to a bigger and brighter future ahead  for Nabil as he puts in some genuinely good work doing his part towards making the Canadian industry as diverse and fascinating as our great country is.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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