Visiting German actor and star of Krabat, Robert Stadlober, talks to Susanna Guerocak of German Films.
Transcribed by Alida Tomaszewski
SG: Please welcome Robert Stadlober
RS: Hello. I am here on behalf of all the crew, all the actors, the director of photography…because none of them could come they sent me [laughs]. So I’m kind of the diplomat tonight.
SG: As you know Robert played Lyschko tonight, the rather evil character at the beginning of the movie…
RS: Yeah I guess that has to be said because a lot of people in foreign countries don’t really realize that I’m the guy with long, blonde hair.
SG: So how was it for you to play Lyschko in this film?
RS: Well. Quite nice [laughs]. I can give you some background information on this film. It is probably one of the most expensive productions in recent German film history. We shot most of it (especially the exterior stuff) in Romania. We were supposed to shoot for about 50 days, but Romania wasn’t quite as easy as we thought so we got stuck there for I think 3 months, even though we were only supposed to be there for 6 weeks, because Romanian productions are really, well… they promise a lot but they don’t really hold their promises. So most of the time we were just sitting around waiting for some people. Especially, you probably noticed all the snow in the film, they promised us that it would snow all winter in Romania. It didn’t at all. Not one day. So they had to have all this artificial snow and we had a crew from Bucharest doing that, and it took them 6 or 7 hours to do the whole area, and after they were finished, they were at the other end of the set and walked back through all the artificial snow to the catering truck. And we were like “ah, we’ve got footprints in the snow now…that’s not really what we wanted”, and they were like “oh sorry we forgot about that”, okay so we have to dress again. So, it took us another 3 hours to get rid of the footprints. Things like that happened all the time, which meant we ended up shooting for 94 days overall, which is really unusual for a German film. We ran out of money twice during the process. It’s quite a bit of luck that this film is on this screen, we all thought that it would never happen but it finally did. And it was very successful in Germany, we’ve had 1.6 million people watching it up to now which is, for a German film, very good.
SG: Did you get a chance to see some of the Romanian culture?
RS: Well we were in a kind of German style area in Romania – and they don’t have really that much culture there [laughs]. There are a lot of old German churches and apart from that, only strip clubs and bars. We’ve seen a lot of them! But I don’t know if that’s real, original Romanian culture [laughs].
SG: How did you get involved with the film Krabat?
RS: I’ve known the production company for more than 10 years now, and I’ve known since 1998 about the project because it had been the producer’s dream to bring this novel (his favourite as a teenager) onto screen. So I’ve known about it for a long time, and I’ve experienced with him all the struggles that he’s had in financing it, because it’s really not that usual to make genre fantasy movies in Germany, so it was quite a fight. So then, in the summer of 2006 he said he finally has the money together and he wants to start shooting in a month! I was like “What!?” I said “well I’m too old play Krabat”, and he said “yeah, you are”. “Okay, can I be somebody else?”, and he said “yeah just pick someone”, and so I said “I want to be Lyschko”, because I wanted to have long hair [laughs], no no because I wanted to be the villain.
SG: And it suited you really well!
RS: It wasn’t my hair, it was actually a wig. No hair extensions. I could grow hair that long, but it would take up to 3 years or something, and well, I don’t have the time for that [laughs].
SG: What were some of the differences between the book and the film?
RS: Well I must say that Krabat is a really popular novel in Germany, especially for young people, between the ages of 11 and 17/18. I read it when I was 12 and it really had a big impact on me. It was probably the turning point in my “reading career”. Up until 12 I was reading all these fantasy-adventure novels that boys read. After 12 I started reading stuff like J. D. Salinger and Hunter Thompson. The book that was in between the fantasy adventure and all those poets and serious grown-up adult literature was Krabat. So, it had quite an important place in my heart and still has.
The novel is a lot longer and it’s really difficult to put something like that on screen. The novel is 3 years (the length of time that Krabat is on the mill), the film only shows 2 years. Basically, what makes the novel really fascinating is repetition, that all this stuff is happening again and again, and every year one of the boys from the mill dies. We tried to do this in the film at first, but it didn’t really work, because repetition on film isn’t as interesting as it is in literature. That’s the main difference. Apart from the fact the Lyschko is a straight bad guy in the novel and here I’m actually the one who saves everyone in the end. Kind of. [Laughs].
People always ask if we did this because we want to be like a Hollywood movie, but I don’t think that’s the reason. The reason why we made this kind of ending and changed the character of Lyschko is that we believe that people aren’t wholly bad or wholly good. We wanted to have a real human being. As you go on in life things can happen to you that make you either bad or good in certain situations, I don’t think that anyone’s character is just purely bad. So that’s what we tried to do here. Lyschko is kind of the prince of the mill until Krabat arrives, and when Krabat arrives he tries to push him out of the way, and then he realizes that Krabat is stronger than him he has to form new alliances with Krabat and the others.
SG: You’ve been an actor for quite a long time now, did you want to tell us how you got into it. Did you need to take acting classes or…?
RS: …Well I might have needed to, but I never took them [laughs]. I started when I was 12, and that’s nearly 15 years now, so more than half my life I’ve been an actor. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but it’s a fact. A casting agent came to our school looking for a young boy to act in a television movie. I just acted from then on, mainly in a lot of bad television stuff, up to the age of 16. That’s when I quit school, and I needed to find a way to make a living, and I thought well I’ve always done this television crap, I can maybe go on doing that. But then fortunately I got a role in a feature film, and that was the first time I realized acting isn’t just reading lines and making easy money but that it’s really work and that it can be a really exciting and fruitful work that makes you think. You have to deal with a lot of psychological issues and philosophy…So it was when I was 16 that I decided to become a really serious actor, and I’m still struggling to become one at 26.
SG: For the students here, do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to become an actor.
RS: Oh, well, go through life with open eyes, that’s all I can give. I mean there are different kinds of ways to learn. There are people who learn in acting school, and there are people who don’t learn anything in acting school, they just get really messed up there. It depends. For me it’s just really important to experience stuff, I travel a lot, talk to everyone about everything, and try to remember as much as I can to use it for the next films. So, I’m exploiting humanity really [laughs].
SG: Ok unfortunately that’s all we have time for. Thank you for coming, and please thank Robert Stadlober.