It was anything but a matter of course, that award-winning Moroccan-Dutch actor Nasrdin Dchar would be where he is today – a well-respected performer and an important voice advocating for tolerance and equality. After twenty years of relentlessly chasing his dreams, we have taken a moment to look back and reflect with a collection that represents the man he is today.
His journey has not been a straightforward one. Going from the small town of Steenbergen, growing up in one of the few Moroccan families around through detours and setbacks to eventually finding his way in Rotterdam and becoming one of the most respected creators among his peers and an outspoken voice for those without one. Always in a pursuit to better himself and his crafts, while also having a positive impact on the world around him (and the Netherlands in particular).
Nasrdin’s rich, multifaceted career first rose to new heights when he starred in the critically-acclaimed Dutch film RABAT in 2011. The performance earned him the prestigious Dutch Film Festival Golden Calf for Best Actor, prompting a heartfelt and much-talked-about acceptance speech that remains relevant to this day. He has proven to be just at home on stage as on screen. Gathering even more acclaim for his personally-inspired monologues OUMI (‘Mother’) about the remarkable life of his mother, DAD about his father, and his latest show BREATH (o.t. ADEM), among others. However, it was television where he cemented his mainstream status with his role as gangster Pencil in the Golden Calf awarded series MOCRO MAFFIA and more recently, as the lead in hit series THE GOLDEN HOUR (2022).
To commemorate the man behind this stellar career, we curated four looks that explore his most important influences and inspirations: his Moroccan roots, the art of acting, his life in Rotterdam, and his role as a family man and father. We met on a familiar stage at the over 100-year-old Old Luxor Theatre in Rotterdam to capture Nasrdin in his new pieces and learn more about the man behind the actor – although the two often seem very intertwined.
Today at the old Luxor Theatre in Rotterdam, we explored with clothing that reflects you as a person. To begin, let’s go all the way back in time: what is your very first memory of clothing?
I guess that would bring me back to memories that have to do with what would eventually become my profession. As a child I was really not at all aware of my clothes, and what they can do to you. Except when I would “dress up”. That would often have to do with a certain movie I had seen, I would start imitating characters from that movie. For example, there was the movie AR-RISÂLAH, The Message in English. It tells the story of the birth of Islam – whenever I watched that movie, I would always pretend to be the character Hamza: wearing a jellaba, something around my head. The fact that I changed my clothes: I remember that consciously. That must have been one of the first moments that I was very aware of clothing.
Another moment I remember is carnival [as celebrated in the South of the Netherlands]. At that time, MIAMI VICE was a very popular series, and the characters Sonny and Rico were always dressed super tight. I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but there was a suit, and I could wear it. So, I dressed up as Sonny (or Rico) during carnival. I put on that suit and sunglasses, which turned me in one of those two guys from MIAMI VICE. The only problem was that no one recognized me as such. Everybody asked, “Who are you!?” That kind of had the opposite effect than I had hoped for. That’s probably where my aversion to carnival started back then.
Those two moments were the first time I was very conscious about clothes. I can also remember the moment I was given a t-shirt with a Fido Dido print that I really wanted, despite the fact my parents didn’t have much to spend at the time. Soon after, I proudly wore it while playing football and shot the ball on a roof. I had to climb it to fetch the ball, and while climbing my belly hit a rim of tar which completely fucked up the shirt. I will never forget that either. The absolute disappointment that I felt.
Later, I had that feeling again with a pair of Levi’s pants. My mother had gone all the way to Bergen op Zoom [regional city in the Southwestern Netherlands] by bus to get it for me. I was overjoyed with those pants and pretty soon after I got them, my mother was cleaning the kitchen with bleach, and I hit the counter she had just cleaned: it discolored ruthlessly. My mom went all the way back to that store, explained the sitaution, and actually got a new pair. That my mom was willing to do that: she is just the sweetest person on the planet. Not long after I had gotten the Levi’s, I started buying my own clothes with the money I earned from my side job.
Somehow, these are all moments that symbolize something aspirational at the time: becoming one of the great characters of a movie, looking cool for carnival, being part of the Fido Dido and Levi’s trend.
It also signals “becoming something other” than what you are. In “dressing up” or in having the “important” clothing of that time. Did you always feel “different”?
This was the case from a very young age. Make no mistake: children can just be very mean. Nasty comments like “go back to your own country”, that really started in my childhood. Usually during an argument or something similar, I would get that thrown in my face. I also remember comments like “your parents can’t afford that,” when it came to more expensive products. Those things meant I was confronted very early on with being seen as different. Even though I was not at all a boy who was bullied or anything like that.
Apart from these ugly things that were said: I was enrolled in a Catholic school in Steenbergen in the South of the Netherlands. That meant every day started with a Hail Mary and that was not something I would partake in. My faith makes me very concretely “different” in that particular context. My awareness of that difference became prominent from a young age. That somehow also made me more popular with girls for example, I think. So, you could say that the bad and the good sides of feeling different had a certain influence.
It sounds like you made “being different” your own, in a way.
Yes, I think so, too. I always took a certain pride in being different from most people around me at the time. The fact that I have Moroccan blood and am Islamic or that my parents spoke the Dutch language less well, for example – I was never ashamed of that. On the contrary. I thought it was cool that we were one of the Moroccan families in Steenbergen that could be counted on one hand.
What role did your parents play in the fact that you felt nothing to be ashamed of and embraced that difference?
Partly because my parents spent quite a long time thinking about going back, I grew up with strong Moroccan values in our home. Outside of our home, in turn, my parents felt it was very important to “participate”. And they were quite strict about that. I just had to behave in their eyes. They did impose a certain humility. Being humble in life is something very valuable, of course. But now that I have children of my own, I feel that my children are allowed to “occupy a lot more space” than I did myself.
I try to instill in my children that they don’t have to be afraid to make themselves heard and be visible. They are allowed to be very firm. The humility I inherited from my parents was precisely about being as unobtrusive as possible. But also: being very consistent in showing respect to elders, for instance. Everything to avoid standing out in a negative way.
As I got older, I also began to observe more and more stigma about “the Moroccan”. In a way, that made me even more humble in my behavior: just to prove that I was behaving “well”. In that respect, even when I was young, I was consistently concerned with my background and how I related to it.
I always took a certain pride in being different from most people around me at the time. The fact that I have Moroccan blood and am Islamic or that my parents spoke the Dutch language less well, for example – I was never ashamed of that. On the contrary. I thought it was cool that we were one of the Moroccan families in Steenbergen that could be counted on one hand.
How was Morocco a part of your life when you were growing up in Steenbergen in the rural South of the Netherlands?
Morocco was very present, but unfortunately in a way where it was also often a desire in my life instead of actually being there. My parents were not particularly well off, they had four children and no driver’s license. And flying was very expensive at that time. I remember sometimes it could be four years before we could go to Morocco again. Now, when I think back and realize sometimes it took up to four years before my parents saw their own parents again, I can hardly imagine that. That must have been very painful for them.
Even though sometimes it took longer to get back there: I found Morocco extraordinary as a child. Because of the places we visited, but mostly because of my family there. I am a big family man. And I was that way already at a young age. Anytime I got to see my grandparents again, I felt an enormous connection with them. Despite the distance between us most of the time. The moment I felt the heat when the airplane doors opened: I felt at home. That still happens when I go to Morocco now. I had a very strong connection with my grandfather, my father’s father. For months before a visit, I would fantasize about the moments we would share together: going to the market, just sitting outside, listening to his stories. Just being together, doing whatever.
And then on every visit there were the goodbyes. I will never forget that either. The goodbyes were the hardest part. My grandparents always said to my parents, “Look us in the eyes carefully, because we don’t know if we will still be here next year.” I still get emotional when I think back on that. And of course, unfortunately, at some point those moments came.
You clearly felt at home, did you feel like a guest at the same time?
Yes, that too. Just as I felt that in the Netherlands from a young age. You were always a “foreigner” to the people there, too. Somehow you were approached there, the same. In my performance OUMI, I mention the example of the cab rides in Morocco: my father wouldn’t ever let me say anything in Arabic, otherwise the fare would double.
So even though I felt very connected to it, it was also impossible to see it as “my country”. It was and is my parents’ country. There we have a house, in the Netherlands I have my home. That was already the case when I was younger.
Your parents taught you not to stand out too much. Then again, choosing to act was something totally outside the box for a young man like yourself. There was hardly anyone you could emulate in the Dutch acting world when you started pursuing it.
That’s right, that fascination really came from within at a very young age. In elementary school, actually. I remember the Bollywood movies I would re-enact. I also remember word for word the monologue I had during the 8th grade musical. I was so captivated by playing it on stage, which is probably why I never forgot it. Those first moments of contact with acting stirred something in me. That fire never went out again. Even though it did take a detour to actually end up acting.
The enormous fascination with acting is undeniable. Was it also appealing to think of yourself “being” an actor?
It took me quite a long time before I actually dared to call myself an actor, even as I was active as an actor. That also had to do with that detour, of course. I was rejected from drama school. And then I went from rejection to the next rejection, until I eventually ended up with my first roles. I ended up studying business economics in Rotterdam and then the first turning point in my detour presented itself when I was allowed to join Theatergroep Rotjong.
I was able to do that after school, which was an important step in the right direction. Because of that performance, I was asked to join Rotterdams Lef. Step by step I entered the professional circuit. At one point, I could slowly recognize myself in the idea of being an actor. Although I think even in the early professional years it was still difficult for me.
What kind of person is the Nasrdin who ends up in Rotterdam and begins to shape his own life there?
In Rotterdam, those contrasts that define my identity more or less came together. Rotterdam was a melting pot of cultures. And I loved that. I was very comfortable with the diversity. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that in Rotterdam I was also still very much searching. I am a doubter at heart, and at that time nothing was certain for me. I knew acting was something special, but an acting career seemed a bridge too far in those first years.
Once I ended up at Theatergroep Rotjong, by the pure coincidence of having had a flyer pressed into my hands, it all became a little more realistic. How I was to succeed in my dreams remained unclear for a long time, but that I could take steps in the right direction by ‘doing’ became increasingly clear. I had to learn about acting and the world around it by immersing myself in it. Because of this approach I also met a lot of new people in various companies and projects, who represented a completely different way of life.
Were there also people with Moroccan roots?
No, not really. Surinamese, Antillean, Cape Verdean, Egyptian is what I can remember. But no one with Moroccan roots. Once I immersed myself completely in theater, I also quickly discovered that there was hardly anyone with the same background as me. Nevertheless, I surrounded myself with actors and artists with a migration background, which were miles away from the almost exclusively white theater world. I could definitely identify with that, and I drew a lot of inspiration from my new surroundings. At one point I came to realize that a lot of these people’s stories are not yet being told in the arts.
My new surroundings also sparked change in how I looked. These new friends were all super confident people who had found “a look” for themselves. They expressed how they felt on the outside, through their clothing, as well. At that time, I started wearing hats, for instance. Something I didn’t dare do before, but it was totally natural in this context.
With these people around me, the ambition to tell my own story also grew. Those kinds of stories were not yet being told in the Netherlands. This was also reinforced by the shift in tone after 9/11. From then on, “being Muslim” also became a much bigger issue. That was another impactful phenomenon I had to set myself apart with when I was younger.
At that time, in that new diverse theater and art world, there were still very few Muslims around you?
Right, virtually none. It inspired me tremendously, and I did feel I belonged, but I still couldn’t identify well with this new world in certain ways. And that kind of became the story of my life. To this day. To some people I am still too much of a “cheesehead”, while for others I am far too Moroccan.
In Rotterdam, those contrasts that define my identity more or less came together. Rotterdam was a melting pot of cultures. And I loved that. I was very comfortable with the diversity. [...] My new surroundings also sparked change in how I looked. These new friends were all super confident people who had found “a look” for themselves. They expressed how they felt on the outside, through their clothing as well.
Eventually you become a prominent part of a generation of creatives who did want to tell those untold stories.
At one point, Jim Taihuttu and Victor Ponten, of Habbekrats, came to see one of my plays. That meeting eventually created a new phase with a new group of people around me. Indeed, they wanted to tell the same kind of stories as I did, and they were in Amsterdam, where I increasingly enjoyed coming at the time. There was a kind of energy, which in a way I was also part of, that would again open new doors.
Everyone in that circle was very ambitious which raised the bar higher and higher. I found in it a lot of what I was looking for and we were able to take important steps together. That was also the only way to individually keep developing and not end up quitting. I also started to see that people stopped acting and said goodbye to their dreams. Because my bar remained high, I could continue to deal with the rejections.
Denzel Washington once described it very aptly: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” I have always been able to hold onto that in my own life.
The dot on your horizon kept evolving.
Absolutely, it started with stage acting. Then it was becoming a professional actor, to big theaters, television, movies. To eventually telling and shaping my own stories on different kinds of platforms. Even on certain societal platforms. That was a dream that I had early on, but that I had to develop for many years. It has proven to be super important that I found people who had similarly big ambitions and with whom I could find inspiration and create things to eventually make manifest certain long kept dreams. I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without people granting me things in life. And I will always continue to do the same for others, I am convinced of that.
[At this point in my life] I feel a kind of urge to make some things less explicit. I think you can see that in the clothes we have created together for this portrait. They refer very nicely to super important things that make me the person I am, but in a modest way. You don't immediately see it, they are elegant looks that fit my age, and upon closer inspection they represent more: my Moroccan roots, Rotterdam, acting and parenthood.
In addition to the developments in your professional life, you’ve also become a father in recent years. How do those things come together in the new dots you place on the horizon for yourself?
For a very long time I had a tremendous urge to speak out, because I felt it was important for people to hear certain things that don’t get much of a stage in the Netherlands. At this point, I am in a phase where I am still very aware of what is happening in the Netherlands and the world around me, but I feel that urge less and less. I still speak out about things, but no longer in the way I did. And that gives me a lot of peace. In the past, my outspokenness caused a lot of unrest and a lot of stress. The outside world always had a certain role in my consciousness. And there is much less of that now because I aspire to be less in the front seat.
For many years I very consciously formulated what I stand for and what my vision is on certain important issues. Now, I mainly want to accommodate those insights into my work – and I still reach a large group of people with that. I am content with that at this moment in place and time, and probably will be in the future. I feel a kind of urge to make some things less explicit. I think you can see that in the clothes we have created together for this portrait. They refer very nicely to super important things that make me the person I am, but in a modest way. You don’t immediately see it, they are elegant looks that fit my age, and upon closer inspection they represent more: my Moroccan roots, Rotterdam, acting, and parenthood.
These insights nicely illustrate how I currently want to shape my dots on the horizon. I have worked very hard for twenty years, and now I very much feel the urge to take time to enjoy where I am now. Enjoy my family and the opportunities I have to independently develop new things as a creator. I am currently enjoying my dreams instead of chasing new ones with everything I have.
Get inspired by Nasrdin’s collection based on his greatest inspirations and influences.