Jannis niewohner talks about his new movies

Jannis niewohner talks about his new movies

To Jannis Niewohner There's no getting around it at the moment: Since the 2. September runs the Thomas Mann adaptation "Confessions of the impostor Felix Krull", in which he plays the title role. And today the political drama "Je suis Karl"for which Niewohner is nominated for the first time for a German Film Award as best actor. The two films could not be more different. That's what we talked to the 29-year-old about.

Mr. Niewohner, two major films in the space of two weeks. Is that great when you can show such a range? Or do the films take each other's attention?

Could you alsoen, it would certainly be nicer if there was more time between them. But so it is also okay. These are things that you can never influence anyway. It comes as it comes. And right now, yes, you're happy for any movie that comes to theaters after the lockdown.

For "Je suis Karl" you are nominated for best leading actor at the German Film Awards. What does this mean to you?

I am really happy about my and the other nominations for "Je suis Karl". This is a very special and important award, not only because it is awarded exclusively by filmmakers. And then "Je suis Karl" is also a very special and important film, which gets even more attention because of the nominations.

The two films could not be more different: One is a literary adaptation about the Belle Epoque, the other a hard-hitting political drama and a very contemporary commentary on the shift to the right in our country. What kind of cinema is closer to you?

What's just newer to me is the way Christian Schwochow narrates political ies. That was insanely interesting for me. Because it allowed me to learn more about the political situation and take a deeper look into things like the New Right. Also, in terms of acting, there was a lot there that I haven't done before. On the other hand, of course, a Thomas Mann adaptation is very appealing, because I had not yet been confronted with this form of language. There, too, I learned a lot.

In "Je suis Karl," you are demonic as a demagogue and right-wing pied piper. Is it true that you almost turned it down because you thought you couldn't play it, that people wouldn't believe you as a great orator??

I have not refused. But I have never played a role like that. I am not a man of language. That's why I was a bit afraid of it. But then that was the great thing. Christian just said: Get involved with the fears and confront them. That's what I did, and that was totally good, because I found a whole new self-confidence: that you can work things out and learn them anew. And sometimes
only learns while you do them.

"Je suis Karl" foreshadowed a lot of things that happened during and after the filming. In the film there is a coup that anticipated the storming of the Capitol. Gets scary itself when you've made a film like this?

That's kind of been in the movie ever since the script was developed. We had just shot a week when the attack in Halle took place. Then came Hanau. And then the Capitol. Each time I called Christian and said we have to get the movie out now. But Christian said: This film will always be topical for the next time. This is very scary. But it's all the more important to make a film like that and tell the story. Many people who have seen the film think that what we show is completely exaggerated. Only a few know about the New Right. And know that this already exists.

"Felix Krull, on the other hand, is high literature. Before that you did "Narziss und Goldmund" after Hesse and then "Der uberlaufer" after Siegfried Lenz. Are you the man for the great German literary adaptations?

I would never have seen myself like this. Because I was never a big reader. I have read "Felix Krull". At 18. My uncle gave me this. But otherwise I was never that familiar with literature. Therefore it surprises me, if I am occupied for it. I accept this with great pleasure.

"Felix Krull" was not only written by a Nobel laureate, there are already two film adaptations to be measured by. Are you afraid of possible comparisons, or do you have to let go of them??

I know this already also from me that I compare myself sometimes. But you have to get rid of that. And that works too. A feeling that doesn't get me anywhere, I have to turn off too. If I were the director, that would certainly be different again. And of course there might be reservations, people who have read the book might not always agree with what the film does. Of course Felix Krull is a Thomas Mann character, but the vision we're telling is that of Daniel Kehlmann and Detlev Buck.

Buck has already cast you in "Asphalt Gorillas" completely against your image.

Yes, and I'm very grateful to him for that too. Buck never approaches anything in a cramped way, he never wants to do anything perfectly. Many directors would certainly have approached this work differently. But the great thing about Buck is the liberties he takes and the risks he takes. Even the risk that not everything always works. But only when you approach something without tension can something new emerge.

What was your very first reaction to the offer to play Krull?? Did you also, like with "Karl", flinch at first??

The request came a long time ago. Producer Markus Zimmer wanted to make "Felix Krull" for a long time. I was only 21 at the time and was really excited about it. Also because my uncle is a great Thomas Mann lover and always saw me as Krull. And there are really a lot of parallels.

But now you have to explain that in more detail.

Compared to Felix Krull, I have a family and a place to which I return again and again – which is very important to me, otherwise I wouldn't be able to do my work. But what Krull himself describes as "great joy": going out into life, being inspired by new experiences and acquaintances, and then moving on, that's something I'm very familiar with, that's something I'm also. And the joy of playing.

Is a bit of imposture part of an actor's profession? Always pretend to be someone other than you are?

The parallel is definitely that you are an impostor in a certain way, but like the impostor you would never call yourself one. I am then the character, I believe in the reality of this character, and only in this way it becomes possible to sell it as real. After all, in the novel, Felix Krull simulates being sick, and then becomes really sick. You have to believe in something so much that you can relate to it. But the beauty of "Felix Krull," compared to many other impostors, is the endearing quality, the warmth, that the other person gets something back too.

It's also nice to see that Krull is always a projection figure and is literally pushed into imposture because others see something in him. Is that also a parallel?

Clear. Like directors who cast me and see something in me that I do not trust myself to do at first. But also otherwise we are all small impostors in the life. There is a real impostor syndrome: the feeling of being constantly exposed because you don't think you're that good at something. And impostors we are, too, because we all want to be loved and use our intelligence to achieve it. That is probably why such impostor characters are so appealing.

As fundamentally different as the films are, Karl and Krull are not that far apart. Both characters are impostors who seduce their environment, one very charming, the other cool and highly dangerous.

Absolutely, that are two sides of a coin. The fact that they are now coming so soon after each other is perplexing. Whereby I did not see this closeness during the filming. But I found both roles so exciting probably also for the reason: because they manipulate. And because both do not play their feelings. They are so good at seducing because they are really genuine in what they do.

Do you think cinema is coming back?? Or have even the last ones learned to stream through the pandemic?

I fear that the willingness to go to the movies has continued to decline. Nevertheless, I think that the desire will return. I like the romantic idea of it. Just as vinyl records have regained a charm because it is a special sound. And because it's a ritual you have to do something for. I want to believe in it, and I do.

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