Til Schweiger is one of Germany’s foremost directors and movie stars. Now starring in his first big Hollywood flick, Driven, Schweiger loves being more anonymous, as he discusses life and movies with Paul Fischer.
Question: What did you learn from real drivers in preparing for this film?
Answer: I talked to Michael Schumacher in Germany a little bit. What I learned from him is that he’s totally relaxed before the race, or at least he makes you think that. I got to feel his pulse and he was 60. There was nothing, so I was more nervous asking him than he was before going in like three minutes before the race. Other than that, I just had small talks with the drivers. I got my knowledge about drivers more from Renny and Sly.
Question: Were you a racing fan?
Answer: Not at all. I was not interested in racing at all but once I found out that I was going to do this movie, I went to Barcelona to the Formula One Grand Prix and then I went to Monte Carlo and got hooked.
Question: So what was your attraction to this? Was it because it was a big film?
Answer: Of course one was that it’s such a big film, but that wasn’t the main issue. The main issue was that I thought this was a rare chance of a German character that is not the typical evil Nazi guy. He’s set up like the cold, typical German stereotype guy but he has an arc in the movie and I like that. Also, I like the script; I like the writing of Sylvester Stallone. Even though it’s totally an entertainment movie, there are some really smart lines in the movie. I love the idea to work with Sly.
Question: What did you learn working with him?
Answer: It’s so hard to say what did I learn. I’m sure that I learned so many things from him and I love just to sit there and let him talk. You learn a lot because he’s seen so much and he’s such a smart man. Basically, the movie is about his own story and is about being number one and going down and seeing new people come and dealing with this and realizing that it’s not the most important thing. I think he made the decision for himself that it’s not the most important thing to be number one and maybe that’s what I learned.
Question: Tell me about the tough rescue scene.
Answer: I did a lot of lifting and it was really a pain in the ass that scene. There was nobody that didn’t get sick because we spent a week. Even though we had those neoprene suits, after four or five hours in the water, they don’t help anymore. This is acting. Then the helicopter on top, like five meters, 15 feet above. That helicopter was standing there for minutes and you know those stories where a helicopter crashes. But Renny was cool. He said, “Here, look. We’re gonna do this and if you’re scared we’re gonna replace you with a double”. And everybody said, “No, no, we don’t need a double. and then you can’t say. I was thinking of using a double but then everybody said no so I had to go. I didn’t feel very comfortable. It’s really powerful if you see those things. Then another one came and two helicopters were over you. They had this other helicopter to shoot the helicopter circling above us. You wonder if they touch and go down, good-bye. That’s scary.
Question: Was this your first big action movie?
Answer: No, I did an action movie here but it was a small part in The Replacement Killers. Title role but small part. I was the Replacement Killer. I came in and got shot.
Question: What about more directing?
Answer: Two years ago I bought a script that I want to direct one day here. I wanted to direct it this year. Now, I pushed it to next year because directing is very time consuming. As a producer you can direct and still produce a movie and as director you can’t do that. It’s called “The Legendary Jimmy Jarrs. and it’s about a young, skinny white guy who thinks he’s the reincarnation of a big old black jazz legend. It’s a great story, a great script.
Question: Would you act in it?
Answer: No, no. Just directing.
Question: What about future acting roles?
Answer: Yeah, I’m just preparing to play a heavyweight boxer. I’m playing Max Schmelling, you ever heard about him? It’s the story about Max Schmelling and Joe Lewis.
Question: Did you get any boxing tips from Sly?
Answer: No. I thought he would give me a lot of working out tips but he keeps his secrets.
Question: What about training for Driven?
Answer: Not for Driven but for the new one they want me to build up muscle so I have to eat all this protein and creatine stuff and it’s disgusting.
Question: How do you stay in shape in general?
Answer: I eat what I like basically. Not hamburgers, but I like healthy food. I like fish and vegetables and stuff.
Question: Do you wk out?
Answer: Yeah, when I have time I work out, yeah.
Question: Is it difficult to act in English?
Answer: Yeah, of course. It’s a whole different deal. It’s tough to act in a different language. You need much more preparation because you can’t act and think of the language at the same time because then you’re lost. It’s tough.
Question: No improv?
Answer: No, improvisation is tough but you have to really prepare. It’s really tough. That’s normal because it’s not your native language. Even I talk to British actors and for them it’s even tough trying to do an American accent. Even though it’s the same language they have to focus on an accent that is not their own. For me it’s even harder because it’s not my native language.
Question: Will you continue to work in Germany?
Answer: Yeah, of course.
Question: Is the German industry huge?
Answer: No, it’s not actually.
Question: Compared to Spain?
Answer: If you compare it to Spain then yeah, it’s big, but if you compare it to America it’s small, or England or in Italy. Italy had a good comeback. German film industry struggles like every other European film industry because of the American superpower.
Question: What do your German Fans think of you being in a Sly movie?
Answer: Oh, my fans I think are going to really like because my first movie, my breakout movie in Germany I did ten years ago was a racing movie. I still have, even though I made movies that were at the box office bigger, this movie still, that’s the character that people still call me. The name of the character, they call me this name, Axel. Like Sylvester Stallone they call him Rocky. They call me this name even though it’s not the best movie I ever made and it wasn’t even the biggest box office, but for those people it’s just their favourite movie.
Question: Tell me about the recognition factor in Germany?
Answer: It’s nice because it depends. If I go in Berlin in a restaurant where I know other actors hang out, nobody bothers me but if I go in the main shopping section in daylight I have problems, so I don’t do that anymore. If I go to events like a race or so, I don’t do this. Here, it’s great because I feel – and this is only a short amount of my time in my life because I got really famous when I was 28 and before that I was never famous. Now, I’m not famous here. Nobody knows me and so it’s like I’m back at the same situation like I was before I became famous in Germany.
Question: Is a lack of fame in Hollywood a humbling experience?
Answer: It’s not pressure of fame. I think there are worse things. It’s not humbling also because I think I was always humble. It’s cool because I live a normal life. In Germany I don’t go to supermarkets and I like to go shopping. I love to go in the supermarket, especially in those big supermarkets here. They are open 24 hours and I go and I say, “What do I buy? What do I cook tonight?. And I spend sometimes an hour in a supermarket.
Question: Would you like to continue working in the U.S.?
Answer: That’s beyond my control. I hope that I can do some more movies, but I can’t go to Warner Bothers and say, “Hey, give me another movie”.
Question: Do you spend time equally in both countries?
Answer: It depends. I go back and forth a lot.
Question: Do you have family in Germany?
Answer: My parents and my brothers live in Germany, but my family, my wife and my kids live here.
Question: They are all German?
Answer: No, my wife is American and my kids are all American citizens because when you’re born, if the mother is American, no matter where the kid is born you are automatically American citizen. If the father is American and your kid is born, let’s say in Singapore, you’re not automatically American citizen. This is not fair I think, but my kids are all born in Berlin and they all have American passports.
Question: What was it like working with Renny?
Answer: Great, because Renny is very enthusiastic. I always say he’s like a little boy. He gets so excited and that pumps you up. And he knows what he does and I think he did a pretty terrific job.
Question: Are there any U.S. directors you dream of working with?
Answer: Oh, there are a lot of them. I don’t lay in bed and dream about it, but I’d love to work with Steven Soderbergh once. There are a lot of them.
Question: Talk about the film Investigating sex?
Answer: Investigating Sex is an ensemble piece about – it’s based on the original transcripts of the surrealists that met at the end of the 20s in Paris. There was like Max Ernst from Germany and the rest were mostly French. They met and they discussed sex. They wanted to investigate sex. They wanted to find out what sex is about. The original transcripts were found 30 years later and they’re available, you can buy the book. If you read the book, you’ll laugh so hard. It’s not intended to be funny.
Question: True to the transcripts?
Answer: Yeah, yeah, but Alan Rudolph went ahead and went on top of it. It’s really funny and it’s a comedy.
Question: What is your character’s position on sex?
Answer: My character is pretty funny because he’s only joining these discussions because he knows that the guy who is organizing it always invites very beautiful girls. So, I’m only interested, hoping that I can score.
Question: How would you describe Alan Rudolph as a director?
Answer: He is a wonderful human being. He says, “I can’t pay anything because my movies never make a dime. but he still gets every actor he wants and they want to work with him. Once you work with him, you know why because he’s so sweet and he makes you so comfortable and he’s so good. He doesn’t yell and he’s always in a good mood and at night we all watch the dailies together and he’s organizing wine and we sit there. It’s so un-studio. It’s so fantastic. I always thought Nick Nolte just improvises but he’s so well prepared, everything that looks like an improvisation is so planned. He asked me what I do afterwards and I said I’m doing this racing movie with Sylvester Stallone, he said, “Well, Sly is a terrific actor, he’s so good”. I had this conversation years ago about Sylvester Stallone. Critics like to say that Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo-action-star, not an actor but I think he’s a fantastic actor.
Question: Do you like L.A.
Answer: Yes. I like – actually, I like Malibu because it’s like living in the country. Where we live it’s really out there, so I like that a lot. I like the people in Los Angeles and I like the weather. It’s not the most beautiful city in the world, but we shot in Chicago and it was my first time in Chicago and I really fell in love with Chicago. I love it; it was the summer in Chicago, the architecture and the people.
Question: What are some of your favourite U.S. films?
Answer: My favourite this year was Traffic. That was the first movie since a long time that really blew me away. And I was a big fan of Out of Sight. I loved Three Kings. That was last year and totally overlooked I think. Even though I didn’t like the beginning, I thought, “Oh, what is this, Pulp Fiction in the desert?. But then it got so good.
Question: Who were your heroes?
Answer: I was always a big fan of Sylvester Stallone, him just as a movie star. I’m a big fan of Bruce Willis and Paul Newman.
Question: So what’s it like working with someone you admire?
Answer: I was nervous like hell before I met him. After I met him I wasn’t nervous. That was him giving me this feeling that I shouldn’t be nervous because he was so open and so helpful and he tried to make you feel comfortable. Before I met him I was nervous like crazy, but afterwards – If you don’t go to the set and think every day, “Oh my God, I am working with Sylvester Stallone”. Then he becomes Sly and he becomes a colleague and which is great and that also speaks for him. He’s not going to the set and saying, “Hey, I’m Sylvester Stallone, I deserve this and I was number one in the world so you better look up to me”. He’s not at all like this. He’s a giving colleague and that’s great. I mean, friends have to tell me, “You did a movie with Sylvester Stallone, how cool is this?. Because you don’t see it that way anymore, because after a while it becomes normal. You go to work and you work with Sylvester Stallone.