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“Everything has been said before, but not yet from everyone”, actor Albrecht Schuch discusses All Quiet On The Western Front
05 May 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Albrecht Schuch
Albrecht Schuch talks with us about embodying his character, being open in his performance, and why he values authenticity in his craft.

At the 95th Academy Awards, All Quiet On The Western Front won in four of the nine categories it was nominated for: Best International Feature Film, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score. This ties it with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, and Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander for most awards won by a foreign-language film at the Academy Awards.

Earlier this year, Albrecht Schuch was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor, and most recently was nominated for Best International Actor at the 20th Anniversary IFTAs.

Schuch's approach to his craft is fascinating, using a wide variety of “entry points” to inhabit the character of Kat, all of which he gives extensive detail on.

Stanislaus Katczinsky, or Kat, is a seasoned veteran of the war who takes Paul (Felix Kammerer) under his wing. The book upon which the film is based, Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues, was Schuch’s first entry point into understanding this character and the world that has moulded him.

“It was completely new to me. We didn't read it at school. Although this novel is very important and well known. My parents read it in school and some of my friends who did not go to my school, they had also read it.”

“It was a joy to dive into Remarque’s remarkable novel.”

There was one particular passage in the novel that helped Schuch understand Kat’s psychology. He describes a scene from the novel, which does not appear in the film, in which teenage soldier Paul returns to his parent’s house during home leave, a time in which soldiers would come home between terms spent in the battlefield.

“After a year being dehumanised, he's standing there at the house of his parents, just 10 more steps to go. And then the little one, his sister, looks around the corner and says ‘Mom, mom, Paul's back!’. And just by the voice of his sister, he’s broken to pieces. Because he was not able to stand this lovely heartwarming stuff anymore.”

“To me that defines what is tragic about Kat. He does not allow himself to love anymore. Of course he loves his wife, and a part of him wants to go back. But in reality, this is not possible anymore. After what he has done, after what he witnessed, it is not possible to purely enjoy love anymore.”

Schuch is also fascinated by the quietness of Kat, determined to communicate this character to the audience without words. He pulls from a number of different sources that inform his performance.

“I really liked this. I prefer that both as an actor and as being part of the audience. When I'm sitting in the cinema and watching a movie. It is better, to me, not to be over-precise in what the character is feeling.”

“I find bits and pieces from the real world and from other characters in the novel. I always need a personal connection. My grandmother used to write down different sayings. They were like  daily dogmatic prayers, I'd say. Almost like a mantra.”

“This helps Kat survive. This is just a little corner within himself somewhere, where he allows himself to have a bridge back to home, to what he left behind.”

Internalising these mantras allow Schuch to build a performance from the inside out, shedding any presupposed ideas he may have had going into this project about who Kat should be, making every effort not to pigeonhole him.

“For a certain amount of time, during my preparation work, I tried to forget what I feel, if that makes sense? Because I, as many of us do, tend to be too fast in creating an opinion. We have these boxes, a way of thinking about people.”

Schuch also cites Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old as an entry point. The documentary combined colourised First World War footage with additional sound effects and voice acting to inform an impression of what British soldiers experienced. For Schuch, however, the fact that the soldiers in the film are British is arbitrary when it comes to his preparation to portray a German soldier.

“It got to the core of what Remarque is telling with his story: It could have been anyone. It is not about a German or French perspective, or in that case an English one, it is a human perspective.”

His detail-orientated approach also extends to the props and costumes of his character. Working with the prop department, he decided to carry around a small matchbox adorned with french text that reads ‘Going home’, indicating that the character has taken this from a soldier he has killed. He praises Lisy Christl, the film’s costume designer who he worked with closely. The costume includes a necklace that contains a lock of Kat’s deceased son’s hair, which is not revealed to the camera at any point in the film. This detail only exists to inform Schuch’s performance.

Ultimately, Schuch then has to shed all of this preparation - the personal mantras, the analysis of the novel, the hidden details of Kat’s costume - in favour of his own intuition in the pursuit of an authentic performance.

“I try to forget about all my preparation. I truly believe in the subconscious. This subconscious state will decide what’s really necessary from all those things I threw in the pot.”

Schuh is then bringing all of this to a set in which hundreds of cast and crew members have to coordinate stunts and explosions, knowing that each individual shot has so many moving parts it could take up to an hour to reset for just one of those.

“It was the first time, for me, that when the director calls action it travels through three or four assistants… Action, action, action… you almost hear the echo of actions going around. And then 400 people would start to work.”

He speaks highly of director Edward Berger, describing him as a “wonderful leader”, who was able to keep the machinations of this production moving forward. 

Meeting Berger early on when he first got the offer to play Kat was important to Schuch, as he wanted to understand his vision for the film and make sure it avoided any possible glorification of war, which the film does deftly.

“When it comes to a project like that, I need to trust the people. When it comes to dealing with emotions, and allowing yourself to be in that moment. It's very vulnerable.”

“There are so many war movies that, to me, do not use the right way of telling those stories. It becomes a glorification of the topic.”

Berger and Schuch saw eye to eye on the project, which Schuch had already suspected would be the case before meeting the director, having seen one of Berger’s previous films, Jack. The documentary-like film follows two young brothers searching for their missing mother. 

Schuh speaks to the authenticity of this film, a theme that permeated throughout the entirety of our conversation. It is the thing he most values in his performance, and recalls a phrase that fellow German actor August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds, A Hidden Life) shared with him:

“Everything has been said before, but not yet from everyone.”

This loose translation of a German phrase almost condenses the entirety of Schuh’s approach to acting: A prioritisation of truth above all else. 


The 20th anniversary of the IFTA Awards Ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 7th.





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