On the heels of his acclaimed stage performance at London’s National Theater for “Phaedra,” Assaad Bouab (“Call My Agent!,” “Bad Sisters”) is set to team with filmmaker Benjamin Ross (“The Frankenstein Chronicles”) and European production banner Asacha Media Group on “Voyager.”
“Voyager” will star Bouab as legendary Medieval explorer and philosopher Ibn Battuta who went on pilgrimage to Mecca and ended up travelling for over twenty years and over 76000 miles across Africa, India and Eurasia, more than anyone in pre-modern history. Battuta logged his experiences of the people, places and cultures he encountered along the way, writing one of the world’s earliest and most famous travelogues, The Rilah, and earning himself legendary status in history. The project is being developed as a series.
Bouab, who is half Moroccan, said “Ibn Battuta is one of the greatest explorers of all time and I would have loved to have had his life.”
“For many years, his name was associated with a boat in my mind – the boat that I and my family used to travel on between Tangier and Algeciras in Spain, that marked the beginning of my discovery of a new world I now have the chance to live in his shoes for a while,” Bouab continued.
Ross, who will be showrunning “Voyager,” said “Ibn Battuta’s ‘Rilah’ is one of the most fascinating documents in history and a privileged window onto a vanished world.”
“In our hands it’s also the scaffold for an epic, multi-series adventure of intrigue, ambition, global politics, romance, and spiritual quest that will entertain and enthrall audiences around the world.”
Asacha Media group, the fast-expanding European production banner, owns several outfits, including the U.K.’s Red Planet Pictures, Picomedia in Italy and Kabo Family in France. The company is backing the series project and is seeking potential production and broadcast partners.
“In such a saturated market, it’s hard to find distinctive and important stories to tell, this one is both, and I am thrilled to be working with Ben and Assaad in telling it,” said Maria Ishak, head of international content and co-productions at Asacha Media.
“This project further cements our our place as one of the most exciting and successful destinations for talent and original and established IP,” Ishak continued.
Speaking to Variety ahead of Cannes, Bouab spoke about his recent experience on stage in London, as well as starring as French philosopher Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, opposite Michael Douglas, in the upcoming AppleTV+ series “Franklin,” based on the life of Benjamin Franklin.
“It was so moving. Michael Douglas has smiling eyes and such a magnetic presence. Seeing him play Benjamin Franklin was almost hypnotic,” said Bouab.
The actor reveled about the role of Beaumarchais, whom he said had “an incredible life” and was a “very complex, multi-layered character.”
“People are familiar with Beaumarchais for his plays, like the ‘Le Mariage de Figaro’ and ‘Le Barbier de Séville,’ but they don’t know that he was a clockmaker, an inventor, he taught music to the daughters of Louis XV, then he was a weapon salesman, and at some point he became a spy for the French king,” said Bouab. The series also stars Thibault de Montalembert, who had a recurrent role in “Call My Agent!”
While a “Call My Agent!” spinoff movie is currently in development, Bouab, who broke through playing the entrepreneur Hicham Janowski in the hit show, said he won’t reprise his role. “I feel a need to turn the page,” the actor admitted.
He said he was grateful for Fanny Herrero (the co-creator and showrunner of the series) who “created this character whom we dislike at the beginning and seems only preoccupied by his business, but then we see his humanity, and he ends up being touching, especially in the third season.”
Landing the leading role in “Phaedra,” Simon Stone’s reimagining of the Greek tragedy, of the National Theater in London certainly ranks as Bouab’s biggest acting accomplishment — he’s the first French actor to have played there.
Bouab had worked with Stone on a previous play, “Three Sisters,” but that was in French and at the Odeon Theater in Paris. “Simon has a unique way of working, he keeps writing during the rehearsals and adapting them to the actors, so his plays are very personal,” said Bouab, who pointed out Stone’s modern treatment of “Phaedra” still boasts all the ingredients of a “Greek tragedy.” While the British critics tend to be unforgiving, Bouab’s performance earned a warm welcome. “We got so much love during the performance we did with the press, I was so moved that I cried,” he said.
“It was terrifying at times, especially because I was acting in English, but I learned so much and it opened a new world for me,” said Bouab.