INT: Sebastian Koch
In his native homeland
Koch has a powerful, unassuming and intimidating on and off screen presence that is very enchanting. He is a compassionate, charming and handsome man who emanates a quiet air of mystery and allure.†† You canít help but envy his palpable romance with costar Carice van Houten who was justifiably and admittedly smitten by his magnetic appeal from the start. Having scored a part opposite Susan Sarandon in next years film ELEANOR & COLETTE indicates that we will hopefully be seeing much more of him. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Koch to talk about his film career, portraying a Nazi and working with Verhoeven on his soon to be released BLACK BOOK. Check out what the sexy German had to say.
How did you manage to get out of LA right after the Oscars and make it here the next morning for this interview?
We were completely drunk.†
We were getting picked up at 5:30 [a.m.] from our hotel so it
wasnít possible for us to sleep.†
How much research did
you have to do for your part in this film as a Nazi Officer?
Iíve played a lot of [roles like this one in previous films].† I started with STAUFFENBERG, which was the attempt to go against Hitler but it failed.† After that I played Albert Speer [in SPEER UND ER] who was the architect to Hitler and one of the most evil people in his crew.† Playing these roles, which were completely different, was such a big responsibility for me because everyone knows [of their existence] in Germany and in the world.† So I read everything about the Gestapo and know all the names [related] to Hitler.† I have to know it to play these parts so I was very well prepared this time.
How would you describe
Heís a very nice man.† He believed in the Nazi at the beginning of it and discovered probably very soon that there was something wrong.† I think that there were people like [him]; like Schindler.† There werenít a lot but there were a couple of people who tried to be human beings in that system.† He tried to avoid bloodshed, to avoid these horrible orders and in a way he saved a lot of people.† Then he fell in love with this Jewish girl and changed the times.† I think as an actor itís a great challenge to play such a man because in the beginning you have to be afraid of him because heís a Nazi and then slowly you see heís a good hearted man.††
In this film and in THE
LIVES OF OTHERS, you play characters that are almost 2 sides of the
same coin.† Itís
interesting how you bring out the interrelated elements within your
characters in both films.
I think every character has to be that way.† I think the most interesting characters are those in which you can see both sides.† Iím very picky when saying yes to a script.† I take a very long time to decide myself because I spend a lot of time with this and so Io take parts where I think I can take something from my life as well.† It must be interesting for me.† Most of these characters are not black and white.† They [have] more [depth].††
Were you a Verhoeven
fan before doing this film?
I knew the Hollywood Paul [with films like] BASIC INSTINCT.† I think he really changed the cinema landscape.† After BASIC INSTINCT for example, this type of film had a new name like erotic thriller, which didnít exist before.† STARSHIP TROOPERS had so many special effects.† I think heís a man who sets new tracks and is always [paving] the way.† Iím very similar in that way. I donít do things that Iíve already done.† Itís annoying.† I think as an artist you need to [accept] the possibility to fail and you need the risk.† If itís not there, then youíre senses arenít there.† Paul is definitely like that.† Heís always in search of something else.†
You were also in the
movie AMEN that is another interesting look at the war period.†
Having portrayed diverse characters in the different war
films, what did you learn about the Nazi period?
As a German, I feel that my country is still suffering because of this period.† The Germans are still having the problem of being self conscious when singing or waving German flags.† When I was younger it wasnít at all possible to do that.† A German felt too guilty [to wave a flag] because it meant Heil Hitler.† I was always interested in going back to this period to talk in a different way because after the war nobody talked about it.† Then in 1968 with the RAF bombings, the [younger generation] was begging [for information].† They were crying for help and begging their parents to tell them what they did during this war period.† The parents would reply ďnothingĒ.† My generation I think was able to talk about this period in a serious way because there was enough distance [from that time period].
Carice van Houten has
such a shocking presence in every scene.†
What was it like working with her?
First of all I have to agree with you.† She was wonderful and I love it so much that she doesnít suffer so much in this part.† You can play this part completely different because the whole suffering [and burden] is on her shoulders. She played it in a different way and Iím grateful for that otherwise you couldnít stand this movie.† When I met her, we immediately [shared] a [common] sense of humor between us.† With the sex scenes and the died pubic hair, we were lucky to build an immediate relationship where we kept talking and talking like an old couple. You need humor to play in these scenes otherwise itís ridiculous to take off all your clothes and pretend to make love.††
How did you prepare
mentally for the execution scene?
I tried to imagine how it would be and I didnít have to act
it out so much.
Were you shocked when
THE LIVES OF OTHERS won the Oscar award?
I was completely in another world because I thought Guillermo del Toro [would win.]† I was very moved by the trailer they showed for the foreign language category and then when they announced the Oscar for THE LIVES OF OTHERS, it was one of the better moments in my life.
Are there any American
actors or directors you are interested in working with?
Definitely but I donít believe in knocking on doors.† I never did that.† I donít believe in searching.† My life has been so rich that people have come to me after seeing me in a movie.† Until now it has worked perfectly and I believe in that.† I have tried to keep that belief and to do [projects] I believe in.† This [movie] was like a dream.† It was such a pleasure to meet [Verhoeven].† He made so many incredible movies and heís so wonderful as a director and [person].† You can learn a lot from people like that.
Were you sad to see
Muntze get executed or did you consider the alternative reality if
he had survived?
He never would have made it after the war.
Is there anything that
surprised you about Verhoeven while working with him?
I liked him when I met him because he is so full of good energyÖheís very pure [in his filmmaking].† Heís so authentic in his movies and theyíre [moving].† You will react to [his films]. †After BLACK BOOK, itís like coming out of a washing machine.† He tricks you and I like that.† Not only the actors but also the audience.† The adaptation of this pure energy into cinema is very rare.
Did you have any fears
in regards to the filmís reception by the Jewish community?
Iím very happy that the Jewish people love this movie because this is not clear.† We were in Los Angeles at the directorís guild and John Magnus was moderating the Q and A and he suddenly goes on a rampage yelling ďF**king Nazis!Ē† It was completely outrageous.† I was on stage and he was looking in my eyes.† I can feel there is so much emotion of course and anger; and they are all right.† But Iím sitting there and all I can feel is sorry for the situation because I had nothing to do with it.† On the contrary I try to talk about it and approach all point of views.† I understand it was horrible.
Are you interested in
staying in Berlin or would you consider moving?
Now Iím in Berlin and AmsterdamÖI mean [Carise and I] definitely want to do something together.† I have a daughter in Berlin and sheís eleven.† Probably she needs about one or two more years, and then I can go wherever I want.
What about going to
Iím ready for it to do a good script, why not.†
Iíve had it with the bad German right now.†
I donít want to play the bad Nazis here because
Iíve done it.† I wonít do that because I have a lot of good offers in Europe.
Did you find it different working in the French film industry as opposed to the German or American?
The French are definitely different.†
They start [filming] at 1:00 after lunch.†
Germans start at 6:00 in the morning when itís dark.†
You have to be ready at 7:00 am.†
[The French] are very relaxed which I like very much and they
make wonderful movies.† I
was always an admirer of French movies when I was young.†
(At this time, Carice van Houten reenters the room and
whispering to Koch asks for the room key.†
They both blush brightly looking like two teenagers in love.†
We all start to giggle.)†
We are both great blushers.
When we asked van
Houten about collaborating with you, her smile was so wide it lit up
the entire room.
We were shooting one scene when we were in love already and
she blushed in every take.† Even
in the [scene] at the railway station when were walking out and I
left with the suitcases, she [turned red] like a tomato.†
Which French directors
have you worked with?
[I worked with] Jean-Louis Bertucelli.†
I did it for the money to support my theatre and then there
was Rene Allio.† He was
very intellectual and heís been dead for 10 years. He did an
adaptation of the novel TRANSIT.†
Itís a very wonderfully written novel and he made the film
and [cast] me as the main actor.†
That was the first [realization] for me because I [thought]
it was something for me.† Allio
took me to every rushes every night Ė 75 plays probably Ė so I
got a tremendous feeling for the frame for example because of that
and few directors did that. That was very important for me for my
first experience.† He was
so fine and sensitive with things and I loved it. And I thought this
was definitely something for me.†
Then the theatre in Germany went really downhill so I left
and started to do films.†