There was a point when filming for Netflix All quiet on the western front When Felix Kammerer begins to question his life choices.
“We were in a field, knee-deep in mud, and it was raining,” recalls the young Austrian actor of the experience in Eduard Berger’s World War I drama, an adaptation of Eric Maria Remarque’s classic 1928 anti-war novel. It is a German Best International Film Oscar contender. “We have these costumes, these woolen uniforms, that absorb moisture. After a day of shooting, we weigh them and they’re 100 pounds! Running through mud for 14 hours a day with 100 pounds on your back. Over and over again.”
Every night, he says, he collapses in bed, sleeps for four hours and wakes up, sore and in pain. Only to wake up at 3am to do it all again. “It was three and a half months of the most intense, physically demanding work I’ve ever done.”
Kammerer is no rookie: he has spent his career on stage, most recently as an ensemble member of Vienna’s acclaimed Bergtheater. “The theater is my home,” he says. “My parents were both opera singers, so I basically grew up under the lights.”
But before he acted All is quiet To play gung-ho recruit Paul Bowmer, whose romantic notions of war don’t save lives in the trenches, the 27-year-old has never stepped in front of a camera. Then he got the role All is quiet Producer Malte Grunert took the advice of his partner, a playwright at the Burgtheater, to check out this young Austrian who had everyone in Vienna talking. Over the course of the film, Kammerer transforms Baumer from a fresh-faced naff to a war-hardened cynic, unable to deny the brutal reality of war and its utter pointlessness.
“I don’t think a lot of people today remember the Great War,” he says. “World War II is more relevant, especially in the movies. But World War I is more relevant than ever, because it was the first machine-driven war. They used tanks, flamethrowers, gas, machine guns for the first time. It was the first time that the almost factory-like mechanized killing that was adopted, people really butchered meat. Thrown into the machine.
Adapting to the mechanics of filmmaking was a challenge. “In theater, you tell a story from beginning to end, you always know where you are in the arc of the story,” he says. “The film is completely cut: you shoot the end of the scene and take the beginning three weeks later. I was terrified that my performance wouldn’t make sense when cut together. For the shoot, Kammerer created his own battle plan in the form of an Excel spreadsheet that tracked and assigned “energy levels” to each scene.
“It looks like a tax return with a cost-benefit calculation,” he says with a laugh. “But it really helps me because I can say: ‘In the scene we’re doing tomorrow, I need to be at energy 75 and go up, the next scene will be 112 and then down to 26.’ This makes it much easier to adjust my performance.
But even as his film career took off, Kammerer had no plans to leave the theatre. “Making films made me realize how comfortable I am on stage,” he says. “No matter how intense things are on stage, an hour later, you’re back outside and it’s warm and it’s dry.”
This story first appeared in the November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.