Portrait of Matthias Schweighöfer

Cool Angel

copyright: Warner Bros Entertainment GmbHcopyright: Warner Bros Entertainment GmbH
Matthias Schweighöfer has already experienced many of the peaks and troughs that are part and parcel of an actor’s career. He started off playing historical figures - from Friedrich Schiller to Rainer Langhans – until suddenly in 2007 the much-lauded up-and-coming star found himself without work. Since then Schweighöfer has got back into the swing of things, though he is aiming to be less dependent on offers of German roles in the future – yet another reason for him to put his feelers out towards the USA.

Matthias Schweighöfer is not afraid of historical material. Over recent years the youthful actor with the face of an angel and untamed, with vaguely windswept blond curls, has taken on roles that leave some fellow actors weak at the knees. In 2005 he took on the role of Friedrich Schiller, whom he played unflinchingly and full of élan; in 2007 in Das wilde Leben he played the communard, Rainer Langhans, a veteran of the 1968 student revolution. He likes great historical material and feels that the Germans still have not found a relaxed approach to their own history.

Passion is not something that Schweighöfer applies only to playing great men – the sort of passion that enables them to dare the extreme and find the courage to surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles. He often plays characters full of longing, around whom lingers an aura of loneliness – such as the paramedic from Cologne in Kammerflimmen (2005), known to all and sundry simply as Crash, who wanders around like a sleepwalker through a hellhole of unhappiness and misery and tries to raise those in despair back on their feet. It is impossible to imitate him in this role. Supremely charming, he nonchalantly throws down his jacket and a couple of cigarette butts as he ensnares a girl in conversation, who wants to throw herself out of an apartment block and commit suicide. The décor makes you want to weep: nothing but grey concrete, a cold wind; the eyes of the girl are puffed up and her hair is lank, whilst Schweighöfer looks like some gangly, extremely cool guardian angel as comments laconically, 'Nothing ever really happens to me.'

Abandoning drama school

Acting has been in Matthias Schweighöfer’s blood from the cradle as both of his parents are actors. Yet their son, who was born in 1981 in Anklam, Mecklenburg, did not follow in the classical theatrical footsteps of his parents. He left the famous Ernst Busch drama school after only one year and initially chose to work in television. From there things went uphill at speed, there was a time when it appeared Matthias Schweighöfer was never off German cinema and television screens. In 2005 he received best Newcomer Award for the film Kammerflimmern and only two years later, the jury of the Bavarian Film Prize felt the 26-year old actor was mature enough to receive the prize for Best National Actor in a Leading Role – just before he was forced to take a creative break.

'I know what it's like when the hype is over,' commented Schweighöfer in an interview with stern.de in 2008, looking back over his fifteen months of unemployment. 'Perhaps people had had enough of looking at me,' he suggested to the Welt newspaper, 'Perhaps I was too complicated. I’m unbelievably demanding when it comes to offers. I’d much prefer to be unemployed.' His dissatisfaction and his aversion to accept compromise eventually led him to take on another challenge. With his own money he produced Nikolai Müllerschön’s screenplay, Der rote Baron, which Müllerschön also directed. Schweighöfer plays the lead role of the legendary and not uncontroversial German fighter pilot, who was honoured as a hero in the First World War. Even before the premiere Schweighöfer had some suspicion 'that this film might well lead to a slap in the face.' The budget was 18 million euros and Joseph Fiennes played Richthofen’s adversary, which enabled the production to be marketed internationally. In his homeland, however, the film was not only ripped apart by critics from the cultural pages – the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper thought it had seen a 'film version of a clothes catalogue' – Der rote Baron also failed at the German box office, disappearing from the list of top 10 films after only three weeks.

The desire for independence

Despite this sobering experience, Schweighöfer appears to be delighted with his idea of developing his own independence and finding new creative paths. 'At the end of 2009 I want to make my first film,' he informed the dpa (German Press Agency). He is working on a screenplay together with Anita Decker, the co-author of the hit film Keinohrhasen. And yet Schweighöfer is also in front of the cameras a lot of the time. Together with the Bavarian cult actor Joseph Bierbichler and an actress adored by the critics, Sandra Hüller, he has a role in the film Rigor Mortis, which is due out in cinemas in 2009. Then there is the TV film biography of Marcel Reich-Ranickis, Mein Leben, of which critics have high hopes when it appears on the small screen in spring 2009. In this film Schweighöfer plays the godfather of literature as a young man aged 20 to 40. Schweighöfer views even the task of playing a living legend with his usual light-heartedness: the blonde-haired boy is looking forward to playing the intellectual heavyweight 'with the black hair and bald head.'

In 2007, whilst he was playing a German soldier in the Stauffenberg drama Walküre, he met Tom Cruise and got on well with him. They are both very appreciative of each other. Schweighöfer attests to Cruise being 'a really cool guy'. And the German, whose home in is Berlin-Mitte, has even more contacts in the States: in 2009 Schweighöfer can be seen in another American film, Night Train. However in an interview with the Welt newspaper, Schweighöfer put a stop to speculation that his career was about to take him to Hollywood and instead affirmed European cinema: 'There are hundreds of versions of me over there who don’t have a German accent. As long as films are being produced in English over here, that will be shown over there, then I am quite happy.'

Lasse Ole Hempel (born in 1969) is a cultural commentator and journalist. He works as an editor and editorial journalist in Berlin.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

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September 2008
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