Interview: Francis Benhamou on Her 'Self-Exploratory Journey' in PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC on Broadway

Benhamou discusses her Broadway debut and personal connection to the role of Elodie.

By: Jan. 22, 2024
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Interview: Francis Benhamou on Her 'Self-Exploratory Journey' in PRAYER FOR THE FRENCH REPUBLIC on Broadway
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Francis Benhamou is currently making her Broadway debut as Elodie in MTC's Prayer for the French Republic, written by Joshua Harmon and directed by David Cromer

Benhamou originated the role Off-Broadway, winning the Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk Awards for Best Featured Actress. She was also nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance. Benhamou's Off-Broadway credits include Selling Kabul, The Profane, the Obie award winning Invasion!, I Call My Brothers, and Motel Cherry. Her Film and TV credits include Arranged, Neal Cassady, Breaking Upwards, Listen up Phillip, Inside Amy Schumer, Daredevil, Life & Beth and Dear Edward.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Benhamou about her personal connection to the play, what she remembers most from opening night, and more. 

Read the full interview and check out photography by BroadwayWorld's own Jennifer Broski below!

You originated the role of Elodie in the Off-Broadway production of Prayer for the French Republic. How does it feel to be able to bring this show to Broadway?

It’s super exciting, being that the first time around it was a play that really felt like a role for me that I was delighted to be doing. So, being able to bring it back, and now on a Broadway stage, is kind of unreal.

How meaningful is it for you that this is the show you are making your Broadway debut in?

It’s very meaningful, it’s kind of surreal that I have so many similarities with Elodie, including my last name. It brought me so much closer to my own roots, digging and unearthing so much of my history that I didn’t even know about. So, it’s been kind of a self-exploratory journey. And that in its own right has been super powerful for me, calling my 95 year-old grandma and really asking her these questions of, “Why did you leave Morocco? What happened in ’56 when you left?” surprisingly, not having had those conversations before. So, it’s been a pretty deep experience for me.

Prayer for the French Republic

That’s amazing to be able to explore not only this character further, but yourself in the process.

Exactly. Which I’m guilty of realizing that I hadn’t done it before. And that in its own right made me look into myself and ask those questions of, “Why didn’t I?” Usually when I’m working on something, that’s what makes me go deep into anything, so it’s interesting that this parallel happened, that the thing that I had to go into was actually my own self, and my own history, and my own people. And that’s all thanks to Joshua Harmon, because he’s the one that wrote this play. And then, Kelly Gillespie, who cast it, I’m totally indebted to her, because she was the first one to bring this to me. I was doing all of the workshops before there was even a director. So, it’s been really exciting.

And how has it been working with the company, with the cast and creative team?

Oh my god, I know people say this all the time, ‘Oh, it’s a dream cast,' but this is, for me, on another level. The amount of love in this cast… First of all, it happened the first time around, so there must be something about this play that just really bonds and glues us, because I’m still friends with the people from the last cast, it’s unbreakable. And this time around, I’ve just made my family bigger. They’re so talented, they’re so kind, and again, I think it speaks to Joshua and David Cromer that they have surrounded themselves with really good people, and I am just so honored to be in that circle.

What do you remember most from opening night on Broadway?

Well, I was exhausted! [laughs], but I knew the audience was filled with supportive, loving people, and being held by that felt really comforting. But, other than that, part of why I love acting is because every day, every moment, is the only moment that you have. And so, being present in that moment was just like it is every time, only completely different as well, because every time is completely different! So, I think that, for me, I’m so focused on the work, and the work is the most exciting for me, that the only difference was knowing that everyone there was there to support and love us. And that’s a beautiful thing to have that.

Prayer for the French Republic

What do you hope that audiences take away from Prayer for the French Republic?  

There are two things I would love people to take from this. If you’re someone who hears these words and they ring true to you, that you feel heard, and held, and in a room full of supportive people. And if these are words that feel new to you, that you have the capacity to open your ears and your heart to it, and really learn something from what you’re hearing, instead of immediately jumping to a conclusion or judgment. It takes an open heart to do that. So, my wish is that people come with an open heart, and I think that makes a huge difference in how one would interpret what they’re watching.

I’ve had friends come who said, “I felt like it was very educational. As a non-Jew, I felt that I learned a lot.” And that to me is so wonderful to hear. If just one more person feels like they learned something, that for me is the true gift.