MCN Columnists
Leonard Klady

By Leonard Klady

Reap What You Til

Til Schweiger is probably the biggest star in the German film industry today. He recalls the rugged masculinity of the likes of William Holden. Schweiger became a star with the release of the social comedy Der Bewegte Mann (Maybe … Maybe Not in the U.S.) in 1994 and has managed a career that has encompassed high and low brow fare that has earned him critical kudos and popular success.

Additionally he’s had tremendous success as a writer-director that began with Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Rabbit Without Ears (the top grossing German release of 2007). And if you still can’t place him, he was the menacing ex-Nazi Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz recruited by the Inglourious Basterds to fight his former brethren.

Schweiger’s most recent American release is The Red Baron (distributed by Monterey Media), about First World War flying ace Manfred von Richtofen. He plays another pilot; a mentoring influence.

“When the director approached me, I asked him why he wasn’t casting me as the Baron,” says Schweiger with sufficient glint to suggest he may be joking. “You’re 20 years too old he said.” (Close enough, Scheiger is 46 years old and von Richtofen died when he was 24)

The hyphenate describes the experience as “being on holiday.” Just acting was considerably less taxing than his recent multiple roles as writer, director, producer and performer.

“But you don’t turn off,” he adds. “I’m always saying on set ‘what if we did it this way?’ Some filmmakers listen; others don’t want to be bothered. That’s their choice. The same when you’re working with another actor – there’s give and take.” (Matthias Schweighofer who plays the Baron co-starred in Schweiger’s Rabbit Without Ears)

As with most German actors, Schweiger’s early career included stints in the theater and on television. He’d only made a couple of films prior to Der Bewegte Mann and that film opened the floodgates for opportunities in Germany as well as roles in international productions.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the tale of two terminally ill men in a cancer ward who go on a final spree, began out of frustration of being type cast.

“I wrote it without any idea that if it was going to be made, I’d have to do a lot of the work,” he says. “Suddenly I was raising money and hiring crew and getting a lot of ‘this is never going to work’ responses. German films tend to be historical or intellectual and we (co-conspirator Thomas Jahn) were making a movie that was influenced by American road movies. It was much more controversial than we ever imagined.”

Schweiger decided not to take a co-directing credit figuring that as co-writer, actor and producer allowed critics an ample target. He’s still kicking himself about that decision.

“(Producer) Bernt Eichenger told me to enjoy the success because somewhere down the line I’d get raked over the coals for another movie,” he recalls. “I appreciated it at the time but I really didn’t get it until it actually happened.”

He called his first production company Mr. Brown, an homage to Reservoir Dogs. Years later he jumped at the opportunity to work with Tarantino despite the fact that he was cast as a Nazi, albeit a reformed one. He had turned down another Nazi role in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

It had been reported that Schweiger had ambitions to be a star of American movies and he lived in Malibu for seven years beginning in the late 1990s. There were movie and television roles that followed but his greatest successes and opportunities continued to be in Germany and Europe.

“The press invented ‘he’s gone Hollywood,’” insisted Schweiger. “I never, never said it – you will never find it in print. What happened was that my wife is American and she was homesick. She’s from Seattle and when I got the offer for The Replacement Killers I made the compromise that we’d live in Los Angeles. But I wasn’t blind to the fact that as a German my opportunities were limited. Think about it, even British actors wind up having Hollywood careers based on how well they can play Americans. Hugh Grant is a rare exception … but name someone else.”

During his residence he tried to get his agent to acquire remake rights of Green Card, a role that made sense for a non-American. But he always sense that he would move back to Berlin and the scripts he was writing were set there.

“As a filmmaker I’m not interested in working in front of a green screen,” he says. “It’s an interesting change if you’re an actor but they’re generally technical not emotional challenges. Right now I have the opportunity in Germany to realize a lot of things creatively. Can you write a better scenario?”
March 27 , 2010

– by Leonard Klady

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

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~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon