Defying the clichés


May 12, 2023 · Albrecht Schuch plays one of the roles in the Oscar-winning anti-war epic "Nothing New in the West". We photographed the actor in Hollywood – and met him for an interview in Berlin.

Black soft leather blouson by Brioni, pure wool workwear trousers by Ermenegildo Zegna, Chelsea boots in polished calfskin by Dior Men

Café Einstein in Berlin is an atypical place to meet Albrecht Schuch. The actor likes to suggest walks, brings cake, sometimes speaks barefoot. Today, however, Unter den Linden, in the café of politicians and media people. The waiters throw starched blankets over the tables, and everyone is about to arrive for lunch. On the walls hang black-and-white photos of German politicians on one side, of actresses and artists on the other. In between, Schuch. Dishes rattle loudly. "Maybe to the Tiergarten?" He only drinks his coffee.

This Friday, the German Film Award will be awarded. The thirty-seven-year-old is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Nothing New in the West." It is one of many award ceremonies for the film. In March, the production was represented at the most famous, the Academy Awards – and won four Oscars. No contribution from Germany has ever been more successful.

Wool turtleneck sweater with jacquard logo lettering, calfskin trousers in the style of the classic Tyrolean leather trousers with double zipper by Prada Top in calfskin with vintage finish by Prada

Albrecht Schuch plays the infantry soldier Stanislaus Katczinsky, who, as in the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, takes the young recruits under his wing. How have the last two months been for him? He laughs briefly. "There were a lot of firsts. And encounters with people I adore." Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Brendan Gleeson, Paul Mescal. But such awards are like films themselves: "We come up with a prize and pump it up with illusions and dreams." He had tried to see the award as a whole. In addition to the stars: a policewoman, the technician, the fans. He seems to want to ground himself, to stay on the ground, away from the carpet.

Waxed cardigan by Ermenegildo Zegna, linen tank top in powder pink and Bermuda cotton shorts by Hermès, half-length stockings and Chelsea boots in brushed leather by Prada

Can he explain the success of the film in the USA? "I can see that films from Germany with a war theme are popular there. It is not so much a German as a human perspective that is taken. Remarque's statement is incorruptible in this." In the US, however, it is not necessarily recognized: "War is seen there as a possibility, weapons as arguments. I don't want to offend anyone, but dealing with veterans is so wrong: on the one hand, you don't give a shit about the soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic disorders. On the other hand, they are glorified, appreciated everywhere, so that they are given the feeling that they are at the center of society." He thinks it's hypocritical.

"The cliché roles were already on the table."

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The lessons to be learned from the horrors of war are the subject of the novel. Remarque himself pointed out that "it is impossible to grasp the horror of the world with words." Is film the right medium to tell the story of war? "There are many art forms that come together in film. Camera, music, costumes, they stand for themselves outside of the film. After all, you are the best art apparatus yourself. There will be no better film than your own, which you experience while reading." But how do you play a soldier? A person who has "forgotten everything except marching," as Remarque writes? Schuch – who himself did community service – often tries to find out how his characters move in the world through his shoes. He approached Katczinsky through the profession: "He's a shoemaker, someone who mends shoes. He comes from the countryside, where the two cows were still taken care of back then." A friend of his, Schuch says, is a farmer. He has now given him Katczinsky's vest because he influenced the character. His great-grandmother's diary with peasant sayings also impressed him. "Phrases that help you grasp the world when it goes off the rails." One or two of them can be heard in the film.

Saddle bag with CD diamond motif in calfskin and organic cotton canvas by Dior Men

Schuch puts a lot of effort into his roles. He reads a lot, combs through archives, looks for people's experiences. He played the SS man Böhm by Stefan Zweig, the lawyer's son Labude by Erich Kästner, the pimp Reinhold by Alfred Döblin. He also read a lot of history for "Nothing New in the West". But that's not all. One key for him was "They Shall Not Grow Old". For the 2018 film, director Peter Jackson had re-edited propaganda material. Images, moving or not, help Schuch in general: "In my small apartment for the shoot in Prague, my wall was plastered all over with pictures. I'm good at extracting emotions from images."

Does the elaborate research serve his curiosity? Or are they a need for security? "I believe in uncertainty. If I prepare too much, it won't work." He pushes his empty cup aside. He had learned from old mistakes. In his role as Alexander Humboldt for "Measuring the World", he is said to have sat in the jungle with a file folder. "At some point you have to stop and get involved in the game with the other person." Out? He puts on the backpack. "Yes!"

Casual jacket by Ermenegildo Zegna, black blouson in soft leather by Brioni

It's warm and sunny outside, we go to the zoo. He puts on sunglasses, his "desert boots" are dusting on the gravel. In his hand he holds a bread box made of aluminum. Is he upset about Friday night? He has already won the prize three times. "Totally." Don't you get used to it? "Nope! I hate being on stage without someone else's text." He doesn't get to sleep properly before that, and has breathing problems.

"I guess we've just gotten used to certain theaters of war."

Opposite the Russian Embassy, a Ukrainian song resounds softly from a small loudspeaker, images of the war lie on the floor, a blue and yellow flag blows in the wind. The filming of "Nothing New in the West" began a year before the war of aggression. Since its release, the theme has accompanied the film. Schuch is bothered by this: "I thought it was a bit too short-sighted. There are always wars. I don't want to make it that big. It's just that we've probably just gotten used to certain theaters of war."

We walk under the Quadriga towards the green front of the deciduous trees. In the shade of the leaves, he takes off his sunglasses. He has lived in Berlin, in Neukölln, for 13 years. He was born in Jena, the son of a doctor and a psychiatrist. Like his sister Karoline, he pursued acting, learned the subject in Leipzig, played theater in Berlin and Vienna. He learned from his parents to call his roles "patients". "You can't judge or distinguish who is in front of you. For me, it's all about the process: taking care of that person and then bringing information together." Only when it comes to the solution, the comparison is limping: they don't need every one of his figures. Rather, stereotypes are being examined. After the international success, is he worried about offers from overseas that have cliché roles ready for German actors? "The clichés were already on the table." Was it easy to cancel? "It's easier for me to say no than to accept."

The roles he chose show how changeable he is: soldier, scientist, policeman, social worker, drug dealer, writer, banker. Not all of them were equally challenging. When he played Uwe Mundlos, in his early 30s, his performance earned him praise as well as criticism: Some did not like the fact that he showed the NSU terrorist as a human being. "With him, I had to get rid of my personal opinion, my political stance." How do you do that? "You have to keep talking about the reasons and show that these are people sitting next to you. We must not keep them at bay. That's the only way to find ways to prevent this from happening again."

The seats on the benches are occupied or too sunny. We go further. On the water in partial shade a free bench. "Does it bother me if I eat my cereal?" He had to go to the next appointment in a moment. He spoons the purple porridge out of the can. What was the challenge at Katczinsky? "The day of shooting, when he tells the joke from his school days. I find laughter the heaviest emotion. To reproduce a laugh 30, 40 times, that seems wrong to me." Is that why he plays so few humorous roles? "I always try to inject some comedy into it that isn't in the script." In any case, he only likes comedies if they are based on the tragic.

Photos: Lottermann and Fuentes
Styling: Leonie Volk
Styling Assistant: Mariah Alcantar
Photographed on March 14, 2023 in the corridors of the Pendry Hotel and in front of the former Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, Los Angeles German ESC hopeful: "Charles loved our red and gold stage outfit" Salone del Mobile I Tedeschi