Moritz Bleibtreu

 

Carlo Cavagna's interview about the film "Das Experiment"(Los Angeles 28/08/2002)Harald Schmidt's interview(Die Harald-Schmidt-Show 30/08/2002)

 

Carlo Cavagna's interview about the film
"Das Experiment" (Los Angeles 28/08/2002)

AboutFilm: Welcome. Do you know the U.S. well? Is this your first time in Los Angeles?

Bleibtreu: Thank you. No, this is not my first time in L.A. This is--I don't know; I haven't counted. I think this is my fifth or sixth time. I did parts of my acting studies in New York City.

AboutFilm: Where in New York?

Bleibtreu: I did them privately. I worked [odd jobs] at The Actors Studio and took some classes at the HB Studio, but I was always trying to find teachers. I believe that you can only learn from people that you like and that you look up to. I don't believe in acting being a craft that everybody can learn from everybody, like, you know, cooking.

AboutFilm: It takes talent.

Bleibtreu: Yeah, and it takes also a personal relationship between two people. Otherwise, I think it's not going to work. So I tried to find private teachers that I can relate to.

AboutFilm: Did you have bad experiences in large classroom settings?

Bleibtreu: Not particularly. I just had this one experience I remember. I went to the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute--by this time I was 19 years old. They have this full time program that costs, I don't know, fourteen hundred dollars a month. I said, "How am I ever supposed to be able to pay this? There's no way for me," and then I said, "Listen, can I observe the class just once?" And they said, "No!"…"What do you mean, no? I can't pay fourteen hundred dollars not knowing what to expect." That was the first day. They said, "Okay, go in that room and Lee is going to talk to you." I'll never forget that. "Lee is going to talk to me? I thought Lee is dead." So then they put me in this room. There was a VCR and a TV in the room and they put a VCR tape inside, and then on the screen came Lee Strasberg. He says, "Dear future student, I'd like to address these words to you." I said, "Wow, this is kind of strange." So I said, no.

AboutFilm: Too strange for you?

Bleibtreu: Yeah, that was too strange for me. So I tried to find people that I respect as actors. And then I just went up to them and said, "Listen, are you giving classes?"

AboutFilm: For example?

Bleibtreu: For example, people like, ah…who did I ask? I think I asked Burt Young once, but he didn't want to do it. And other actors that were not so known. And I found someone. One of the teachers I worked with for a long time, her name was Susan Benson. She's also a member of the Actors Studio, and I did a lot of private classes with her.

AboutFilm: You're well known in Germany, but American audiences haven't known you as well, or at least not until Run Lola Run. What has the success of that movie here meant for your career?

Bleibtreu: It's so strange because I always kept just hearing about the success in the United States, but I could never believe. I was like, [dismissively] "Yeah, it's a success," but I couldn't believe. So I went over here and I saw it, and that was of course fascinating for me. I mean, it hasn't done anything for me except the fact that people here now somehow are interested in who I am. But, for me, the thing that is so beautiful is that we intended this movie to be a small, independent feature for some crazy people who might want to watch it, and it turned out to be this huge world box office hit.

AboutFilm: It exploded.

Bleibtreu: Absolutely. It's just fascinating. And now, I've got representation here in the United States, and let's see. Maybe there will be some strange European part for me to play, which would be great, which I would love to do, because Hollywood is the place where the best people in the world get together and do movies.

AboutFilm: Well, certainly your English is good enough to play in movies here.

Bleibtreu: Yes, but still-- I believe that, especially when it comes to parts that I could be playing--I'm young, so it's usually the leading parts.… Cinema has a lot to do with identification, and even if my English is good, I will never feel like an American. So I think the parts that I could be playing will always be parts that either are not American or the character--it's just not important where they're from. I will never play the big Brad Pitt parts. That's fine with me. A dream for me would be, I don't know, every couple of months, to come over here and play a nice decent part, and have fun with it. But I know that the center of my career will always be Germany, because I believe that mother tongue is a very important thing for an actor. So Germany is always going to be my center, but if anybody in this country would like to work with me, I would be there if it's a good part and a good script.

AboutFilm: So, Das Experiment--why this particular script?

Bleibtreu: When I said that I wanted to do the movie, Oliver had just sent me the novel. I just read the back cover and said, "I want to do it." I was sure that this was going to be a great script and a great story to tell. This is one of those parts where it's not so much the part that I thought was interesting, it's more the story itself. It's just one of those stories that I think needs to be told. It's a story about human nature--a very universal thing, and an important issue in this world and in the life of everybody. If people would take more responsibilities for their own actions, I think this whole world would look different. So I just thought that this is a story that needs to be told. That's also one of the reasons for the success of the movie, it's such a universal story.

AboutFilm: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

Bleibtreu: Well, what I really hope is that, well… If I speak to people, most people come up to me and they say, "Listen, toward the end, I had the feeling I just wanted to scream, 'Kill the guy! Kill the guy! Kill the guy!'" That, of course, is something that we intended, but what we hope is that if you get this feeling of saying, 'Kill the guy,' then I hope that something is going to snap your brain [snaps fingers], and you're going to say, "Wait a second, but... if that guy had been the guardian, and the other guy had been the prisoner, I would be yelling at the other one now." This is the thing that we intended in this movie. We wanted people to understand that it's not about these people. It's about the roles that you put them in, and it's about how these roles create their own energy, and an energy that cannot be stopped at a certain point. We wanted to get people very emotional, but then hopefully make them think about what happens. If you get aggressions towards the guardians, this is exactly what's not good. What would be good is to understand that this is a man-made conflict.

AboutFilm: So, you could have switched the people around, or taken a completely different group of people, and in your view, the outcome would have been the same.

Bleibtreu: Of course. If you have somebody like Tarek in this group-- and that's a very important point that a lot of people keep forgetting. This gets out of control because this guy deliberately pushes this situation. He does things in order to get this whole thing out of control.

AboutFilm: In order to get a good story.

Bleibtreu: Absolutely. Maybe if Tarek would have not done it, and he had been just like everybody else, easy and trying to get these two weeks over, then nothing would have happened. On the other hand, in every school class there is one guy that cannot keep his mouth shut, and that's Tarek.

AboutFilm: Group dynamics can cast somebody in that role even though that person might not be there at first.

Bleibtreu: Absolutely. In this kind of situation, maybe if you don't have a guy like Tarek, it would have not gotten as far, but still... some conflicts are not avoidable. Some bullshit is going to happen in a situation like this, because if you put a person that never had any power in his life--maybe not even the power to control his own life--if you put him in a situation where he has power for the first time, it's just a question of time when he's going to start to misuse this power. That's plain logic. It's sure that some bullshit is going to happen, if you play these games. That's also why I think that doing those kinds of experiments in real life is something that is just not necessary.

AboutFilm: Of course, this is based on a real experiment.

Bleibtreu: Yes, although we have always to underline that what we do in this movie has nothing to do with the Stanford Prison Experiment. The idea is the same, but the way we've been playing around with the story has nothing to do with the real events of the Stanford Prison Experiment. But, if you want to get information about the Stanford Prison Experiment, you can do that on the internet. You will see that stuff did not go as far as in our movie, but yet... people did not have a nice time in this original experiment. A lot of bad things happened there, too.

AboutFilm: This is a bit of a delicate topic, but, in the movie, one of the prisoners finally accuses Berus of being a Nazi. Does it bother you that, this being a German film, foreign audiences may see Nazism as a subtext of this movie? Do you think that gets in the way of the film, do you think that enhances the film--how do you see it?

Bleibtreu: From my point of view, I'm very happy about that. It's think it's great, especially that this movie comes particularly out of Germany. It might make people understand that people in Germany evolved enough after those terrible events fifty years ago to be able to think about this, and also to be able to tell a story. I think that, as we are a completely different country now, people also learned a lot from what happened fifty years ago. It is something that influences all our lives in Germany. It's something that is like a big weight that we carry on our shoulders everywhere we go in the world. So I think the only way to deal with it is to deal with it. And to make movies about it and let the world know that we--my generation of people--know that what happened back then is the most horrible nightmare that could ever happen to mankind. So I think it's good that particularly this movie comes out of Germany.

AboutFilm: Do you think that this topic has not been dealt with enough in the past in Germany?

Bleibtreu: Let's say not that it has not been dealt with enough--it has not been dealt with right, I think. This is the biggest problem. What happened in the generation of our moms and dads is a big denial of what happened, because people still had something to do with it. They were still directly connected to it, because their parents and grandparents were still some Nazi guys. So, what first happened was denial. And now my generation of people, the younger people, they have a different approach to it. I think the approach now is much more intelligent, because we are not just trying to deny it. We are saying, "Yes, this is something that infects our life, and we need to do something about it, and we need to show the world that we are a different country now, that has reflected, and has also learned something from these incredible, horrible events." That's why I think these kind of movies help a lot. They help a lot in dealing with this bad history. We need to make the world understand that the people living now in Germany, my generation of people, has nothing with this stuff anymore. We are different now.

AboutFilm: Obviously the movie suggests that we are all not too removed from our savage, animal selves. Is this something that you've felt in your life at any time? And if so, in what way?

Bleibtreu: For me… I just think about jealousy. Just think about you having a girlfriend and another guy comes in and touches her, or even looks at her. It makes you sometimes be like an animal. It can be such a small thing that can make this animal, as you say, come out of you. So, yeah, I think in everyday situations people become crazy. Driving a car in Los Angeles, you find people that literally would kill somebody over a stop sign. So, it's just something that's deep inside our nature. Everybody wants to live, and everybody wants to survive. And you wanna keep your stuff! If anybody wants to take your stuff away or threatens your life, you want to defend yourself. And, if necessary, you're going to become an animal. If necessary, you might even be ready to kill…
I don't know how I would react. This is one of those questions that is always being asked. How would you react, if in real life you were in this kind of situation? I always answer, "I don't know." People are very quick with the answer and say, "Oh, this could never happen to me! I would stay human, and I would never do this kind of stuff!" I think it's very arrogant and dumb. I always say, "You're the first one to react like that." Because you don't know. If somebody puts a gun to your head, you don't know what you're going to do. You just don't know. There are certain situations in life that you will never know what you are going to do unless and until you are in that situation.

AboutFilm: What was the most difficult thing about this role?

Bleibtreu: Well, the most difficult thing, I think, was the development--to have a character that, in fact, does very bad things in the beginning, but yet not…transporting the feeling of a bad guy. We wanted to start with a guy that's of course not the hero. You know how it is, sometimes you have to be very careful with what the character has to do in order to make him believable, not a hero, but yet not the crazy devil, or the guy that nobody likes. So I think the biggest work was to find a good development. When does the bell start ringing in Tarek's head, and when is he going to understand that what he did was just going too far? A lot of times in movies you have a guy who's a certain way, and something happens, and the next morning he wakes up and he's a different person. We tried to create a development that's very slight and subtle, so you don't have this hard break, and to give the audience the possibility to go through this movie with him, and work as a mirror for the emotions that the audience goes through. That was, I think, the most difficult thing.

Interview found at aboutfilm.com