With his chiselled jawline, striking blue eyes and a prominent scar on his cheek, the camera certainly loves German actor Clemens Schick, who made his cinematic debut in Daniel Craig’s Bond debut Casino Royale, but before catching the movie bug, he spent a decade forging a celebrated stage career.
“We’re very lucky that we have a very special system in Germany whereby every city has at least one state theatre with high budgets and you can make a really good living,” he says.
The 44-year-old enjoyed meaty roles in Richard III, Don Carlos and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but a sudden crisis left him feeling like he had to try out film before he got too old. Casino Royale changed everything.
“The part was really small, but to be part of one of the biggest productions in the whole world, where everybody is one of the best in the business, from costumes to make up, the actors to the stuntmen, was incredible,” he says. “I spent six months on the road with those people and it thrilled me. Watching Daniel Craig, his first Bond when nobody believed in him and he was bashed all round the world in every magazine, he had an attitude you could not believe, friendly, precise, on point every time. I learned a lot from that.”
Schick is in Australia to promote his star turn in two slightly more modest budget films screening as part of this year’s 15th annual German Film Fest, organised by the Goethe-Institut, Hidden Reserves (Stille Reserven), a slick dystopia with shades of Blade Runner and 1984, and teen drama 4 Kings (4 Könige).
An acting coach on the side, Schick admits his first lesson to all students is that what works for him might not work for them. He’s the strong, silent type on set, never watching the rushes but listening to the comments of his director and DOP as they do, and prefers to keep talk between takes to a minimum. It’s an approach that fit well with Hidden Reserves writer/director Valentin Hitz. “Sometimes he came to me and almost when I saw his look, I understood what he meant,” Schick says.
The intriguing film posits a stark future where the bodies of the uninsured are harvested after death and plugged into mainframe that harnesses their brainpower for a century or more by a fascist-like militarised corporation. The unusual twist being that death, something we all wish to put off as long as possible, is the desirable option here.
Schick plays Vincent Bauman, a man happy as part of the machinery, putting aside all emotion as undesirable and seeking promotion within the company as his relaxation. That purposefully mindless devotion begins to crumble when he meets Lisa (Lena Lauzemis) a club singer living on the outskirts of society who’s plotting to bring down the system.
“The challenge was to play a character who doesn’t want to feel anything, but there is something going on underneath,” Schick says. “It was a strange challenge which really got me from the first moment I first read the script.”
Lauzemis (recently seen in TV drama Deutschland 83) was an excellent sparring partner, Schick says. “Lena asks a lot from you in the best way. We connected very strongly, which was very important, because we carry most of the film together. She’s reserved in a way, but she gives you so much with her eyes. She’s not easy to get, which I like.”
In an almost Bond-like country-hop, Schick completed filming on the big budget Point Break remake on Mont Blanc, 4,808.73 metres above sea level, at 2pm one afternoon before jumping in a helicopter and then a plane to Hamburg to start filming on the infinitely more modest 4 Kings that same evening. Luckily he made it intact, if a little weary.
The debut feature of Theresa von Eltz, co-written with Esther Bernstorff, they had considerably less money to play with, largely shooting in one location over a five-week period and often having to nail a scene in three takes tops. “That’s lot of pressure for an actor for a difficult scene and there’s almost only difficult scenes in this movie,” Schick laughs.
He plays Dr Wolff, a psychiatrist in an emergency residence that’s all but deserted before Christmas. An ensemble piece, he’s joined by four strong young cast members: Paul Beer, with whom he starred previously in Andreas Prochaska’s Austrian western The Dark Valley (Das Finstere Tal), Jella Haase (also a guest of the festival), Jannis Niewöhner and Moritz Leu.
“They had this incredible energy and they were so well prepared,” Schick says. “I was shocked, because I thought compared to them I’m an old man and where do they get their fearlessness from? I hope I get to work with all of them again, and Theresa is absolutely one of the best directors I’ve worked with. She’s gonna have a future. We’ll hear a lot from her.”