16. September 2022
Germany’s cinema star Til Schweiger plays what is probably his saddest role in “Dear Kurt” – that of a father whose little child dies. The film adaptation of a novel by Sarah Kuttner can be seen in cinemas from today, Friday. On this occasion, the 58-year-old spoke to the APA about thoughts on the screen, his primal fear and the question of why you can’t plan box office hits.
APA: Mr. Schweiger, in “Dear Kurt” you address what the death of a child does to the surviving family – which is rarely seen on the screen. Was the role of grieving father Kurt your toughest role to date?
Til Schweiger: Every role is difficult – and in general it always applies: what looks easy is often the most difficult. And vice versa. But you just get more kudos for a dramatic role than you do for a comedy. Light comedy is extremely heavy. With “Dear Kurt”, on the other hand, the big challenge for me was that the grief dominates over such a long stretch of the film, which makes a big difference to “Honig im Kopf”, for example.
APA: Did you have to approach this role differently than a Nick Tschiller in “Tatort”?
Schweiger: As an actor, I am always in the role that I am currently playing. I draw what I want to express in the role, but not from my own life, which is the idea with method acting. There are certainly actors for whom this works. But I play very differently, I play with my imagination. Which allows you to say: I’m Kurt now. And I don’t have to prepare for that – because I already have the idea.
APA: For an action game, you go to boot camp before shooting. But how do you prepare for the role of a mourner?
Schweiger: It wasn’t the classic Robert De Niro story, who drove a taxi for three weeks before “Taxi Driver”. But I know really close friends who have lost a child. And I myself am a father of four. There is always a primal fear in me anyway. You carry four times as much love, but also four times as much fear. In this respect, I kept thinking about this idea – which was also the reason why the novel by Sarah Kuttner occupied and shook me so much. After I wrote the screenplay together with Vanessa Walder, I knew what to expect.
APA: And you never had any concerns about facing this primal fear of infant death during the process?
Schweiger: I never had any concerns. I took a deep breath after reading the book and then immediately asked myself: How can this be filmed? I actually didn’t expect the rights to be free – but they were.
APA: Kuttner creates language images for grief with words. How to create film images for grief?
Schweiger: After the boy’s death, the novel consists practically only of thoughts of the partner of the great Kurt. And thoughts cannot be filmed. So I had to create something new. The hardest thing of all is converting thoughts into dialogue.
APA: At the same time, was it always clear to you that the material would work as a film?
Schweiger: No, I didn’t realize that. But we wanted to try it. I’ve written many screenplays that I found in the process that I couldn’t make a film, so I just threw them away. In the case of “Dear Kurt”, Vanessa Walder wrote the first version, which was great but so sad that I just cried. So it was clear to me that we had to change something. I then came up with the idea of letting the boy live on in the form of flashbacks.
APA: And did Sarah Kuttner approve of the changes?
Schweiger: I was already excited when we sent Sarah the script. After all, I wasn’t sure how she would react. And how would I have reacted if she had refused? Then I probably wouldn’t have made the film.
APA: “Dear Kurt” can be found in your oeuvre alongside dramas like “Honig im Kopf” or “Saving the world we know”. And on the other hand, there are romcoms and comedies. Do you see that as two separate tracks in your overall work?
Schweiger: I don’t make that distinction at all. Due to the success of the “easier” films, only the others are somewhat forgotten. But my first film, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, is about two terminally ill people who want to see the sea again. I would also do five comedies in a row if I had a run there. And if I was offered five great dramas, I would do them too. I don’t have a master plan for that.
APA: So you don’t finance supposedly heavier projects that you want to realize with box office hits?
Schweiger: Unfortunately, you can’t plan box office hits. There is no magic formula. For a blockbuster you need a lot of luck. You have to hit the zeitgeist perfectly – and that can’t be planned.
APA: What unites your films in any case is the characteristic Til Schweiger aesthetic. Grainy handheld not an option for you?
Schweiger: “Dear Kurt” was shot practically entirely by hand! What unites my films is that I try to make them look as good as possible. In the art house I use short focal lengths, flat light, and then Berlin looks like I see it with my own eyes every day. I, on the other hand, carried all my money to the cinema as a teenager and asked myself why German films usually look the way they do, while Hollywood productions look really great. And another similarity is that my films across all genres are about love, family and friendship.
(The interview was conducted by Martin Fichter-Wöß/APA)