Tom Schilling is one of Germany’s biggest stars. A former child actor who has seen much success in his adult career, he gave strong turns in Before the Fall – winning an award that garnered him a scholarship to go study at the Strasburg Institute in New York – and 2008’s Oscar-nominated The Baader Meinhof Complex. Quite fluent in English, the actor will soon be seen in North America in the big-screen adaptation of Suite Française, the dramedy Posthumous starring Brit Marling, and the historical drama The Woman in Gold, starring Ryan Reynolds, Tatiana Maslany and Helen Mirren.
Back in his native Germany, however, Schilling received much acclaim for the 2012 film Oh Boy!, winning a German Film Award and a Bambi Award for his portrayal of aimless slacker Niko Fischer. Now, audiences in North America can check out his award-winning performance as well, although the film has a new title: A Coffee in Berlin.
Recently, we sat down for an exclusive interview with Schilling. He spoke about the famous actor who introduced him to A Coffee in Berlin’s writer/director, mastering the English language and what he loves the most about Berlin.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
How did you get offered the role of Niko Fischer?
Tom Schilling: I applied for it. I applied with a personal, hand-written letter. The director, Jan Ole Gerster, is an old, dear friend of mine. He once gave me the script for this and he wanted me to read it and to give him an opinion. I thought it was one of the best scripts I had ever read. I said, “yeah, I would like to act in it.” But said no. He said I was not supposed to act in this movie. He thought I was far too young for the part. But the years went by, and I still thought it was a very good script. It was a very good part for me. I somehow just felt connected to the character and to how he feels about certain things.
Why do you think that audiences have responded to the character in such a strong way?
Tom Schilling: Well, because he’s an outlaw. It’s not an action movie, but for what he is doing, he is considered partly as an anarchist. He is doing nothing, which we are not supposed to do at that age. We are supposed to work, have a job and make kids. He’s just drifting around, and some people ask why is he allowed to do it. Some people really like this character and they defend him very strongly, and others are kind of almost scared of him. It’s what you allow yourself to think.
How do you personally connect to Niko? Does it remind you of a younger version of yourself?
Tom Schilling: No. I’m completely the opposite in terms of how I pursue what I want to do. I’m quite focused in a way. I always have to prove myself, to get better. It doesn’t matter if it’s in my job or on a tennis court, I am very competitive – totally the opposite of this character. Nevertheless, there are certain things about how he is very perceptive, which I consider myself to be. I think I’m also observing what’s going on around me. I sometimes think too much and have some kind of melancholic sides to me. That’s maybe the similarity.
The film is reminiscent of the French New Wave and the German New Cinema. It’s aimless, but it is also full of youth and energy. Did you watch any classics to prepare yourself for the part?
Tom Schilling: Well, not particularly for this movie, since I’ve seen some things before and I think [Gerster] and I share the same taste. It was quite clear that we both like Salinger and especially [François] Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films like Les Quatre Cents Coups [or The 400 Blows]. We’ve seen that and we knew that we have the same idea about the character and about the mood of the film.