Stateside, German actor Till Schweiger is “that guy” of action thrillers, a supporting player. Atomic blonde, King Arthur Or Inglourious Basterds – for the memorable line (“say auf Wiedersehen To your Nazi balls!”) or some high-energy action scene.
Parts offered by Schweiger – of the Middle Ages, Highland Film Group’s new period action screening at the AFM, in which he co-stars with Ben Foster and Sophie Lowe – hunky heavies and tough guys. In a string of German box office hits he directed – in parts he would write himself barefoot (2005), Rabbit without ears (2007) and Cocoa (2011) – Schweiger takes on a stern, cynical outsider whose heart eventually melts with charms.
The love of a smart-alecky child or a careful woman.
Occasionally, Schweiger also dips into darker territory. His 2014 drama success A head full of honey About a family dealing with a grandfather’s descent into Alzheimer’s. His latest, literary adaptation Dear KurtAt AFM the company is introducing to international buyers, the story of a family whose child dies in a tragic accident.
Schweiger spoke The Hollywood Reporter About her “primal fear” of losing a child, her talent for casting strong female leads and the future of films in a post-Covid world.
Dear Kurt A story of a couple who loses a child is a different kind of film for you. How did you adapt Sarah Kutner’s book?
A friend of mine gave me a book. This is the first novel I’ve read in years, and it really cast a spell on me, it pulled me in. I knew I had to turn it into a movie.
What was it about the story that drew you in?
This is my primal fear as a father of four, a fear I experienced for the first time when my eldest, my son, was born. That infinite love comes into your life and at the same time, the infinite fear that something might happen to them. It comes with every child. And it never goes away. And I’ve seen this happen with friends who have lost a child. What it does to them and what they go through. This made me want to make this film.
Tragedy, the death of a child, happens very early in the film. It was a risky move as a director.
Sure, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But A head full of honey At its core was a tough subject. It’s still tough, but I needed to make the film and I think I got the balance right. Compared to the book, the film is much funnier. The book doesn’t have the same kind of humor.
Flashbacks, where we see the boy live throughout the movie, are not in the book. But I thought it was incredibly important to have them, or the thing would hammer you.
How did you find your role – Lead Franziska Machens, better known for theater than film, is the inimitable Peter Simonischek.
I saw Simonischek first Toni Erdmann And he thought it was wonderful. I directly offered him the role. Franziska Machens was my colleague’s suggestion. When she came to the audition, I knew immediately. She is amazing.
You seem to have a knack for casting strong female leads – Johanna Vokalek barefootNora Schirner In Rabbit without ears — often steal the show from characters you wrote for yourself.
Well, I don’t know if they steal the show…
I mean that as a compliment.
What I do know is that Franziska is amazing. And whenever I cast roles, not just the female characters but all the characters in the film, I only cast those who I think are great. When I invite someone to an audition, I tell them: “You’re not here because I want to see if you can do this, I know you’re a great actor, or I wouldn’t have invited you.” I want to see who best fits my vision for the film. And to test the chemistry between the actors, how the ensemble fits together. Franziska is incredible. I have already selected her for my next film, The best is yet to come [an adaptation of the 2019 French film]. Also Peter Simonischek.
Do you think German audiences see you as an actor differently than international, especially American, audiences? Internationally, you are best known for action films, but in Germany, you are the king of romantic comedies.
Definitely. I did a few comedies in America, but none of them really worked. Most didn’t make it to theaters or just barely. I don’t know if you have seen the movie SLC Punk! ? I have a big, really funny role in it. And I was in director James Merendino’s next film, magicians . But as a European, you have to accept it. The Americans won’t cast me in a role written for Tom Hanks. I won’t take a role written for me in a German film and cast a big star from Poland who nobody knows here.
In Germany, I only really did one proper action movie: Schutzengel , which sold 780,000 tickets in Germany. Most American action movies don’t manage that. The second and third entries in The Bourne Identity The franchise did not reach 1 million admissions. Generally, German audiences watch their action and crime on television, not in the cinema. I’ve seen studies showing that Germany is the most difficult country in the world for action movies. I’m not talking about Marvel films, but your classic action flicks. He was not only appreciated in Germany. And when German viewers choose an action film, they usually choose an American one, because they have 20 or 50 times the budget.
Is that why you mainly make comedies in Germany? German humor does not sell easily internationally.
Yes, to the rest of the world, “German humor” is an oxymoron. A German comedy will never get a US release, because US audiences don’t read subtitles, at least not for comedy. But jokes are tough anyway. There are very few exceptions, however [French comedy hit] The untouchables That journey. People want to watch local content or big Hollywood movies. When I was young, French actors like Alain Delon and Jean Paul Belmondo were big stars in Germany, big action stars. You don’t have it anymore.
are you happy Dear KurtPerformance in Germany?
To be honest, no. It did not work as per our expectations. We knew we had tough stuff but when we screened the film in Berlin, we got a standing ovation! I never had it. Premieres in Hamburg, Vienna were great. We’ve done pre-shows and the reaction is always “Wow!” – It’s a very emotional but really beautiful film.
But now is a tough time for theaters. People are really afraid of the future. Energy crisis, war in Ukraine. If people go to the theater, they just want to be entertained. But generally the box office figures are weak.
Most of the films released in Germany after the end of the COVID lockdown did not really perform at the box office. Do you think this is the new normal?
Usually the numbers are low, very low. And with inflation and the cost of living I think it could get worse as people get scared of what’s happening and start saving more.
Does that mean you make movies directly for streamers? You’ve always been a movie guy.
True, but I think there are certain types of formats that are better for streamers. I also like the concept of making a series. We are doing some thinking in that direction. I want to do both dramatic films and serials.
We developed the series in 2019 shrink It had the premise that there would be a power outage across Europe. It is a good series, we have done scripts in English with English writers. And when we shopped it around, people said it was very dystopian. It was 2019 and it was fiction. Now, in 2022, it looks like it’s becoming a reality, as the lights could go out across Europe this winter. And I don’t think you can do a series like that now.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 4 daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter on American Film Market.