German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck made a major splash with his 2006 drama “The Lives of Others.” The film, which garnered major international awards, including the Oscar for best foreign-language film, propelled Henckel von Donnersmarck into the upper echelons of Hollywood, where he made the 2010 thriller “The Tourist” with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp and went on to set up Allegory Films with Sam Raimi. He operates Pergamon Film in Munich with partner Jan Mojto. “Never Look Away,” his latest work, is a high-tension drama that spans three turbulent eras of German history as it follows the life of a young artist, the woman he loves and the man bent on destroying their relationship.
How are the themes of this film similar to those of “The Lives of Others”?
“The Lives of Others” explored how a person can be changed by art, how a person’s life can be impacted by art. In a way, this is a little bit of a companion piece and a mirror image in that it explores how all the terrible things that happen in our lives can somehow shape art and how we have this strange and our wonderful ability as humans to turn our suffering into something great. It’s almost like alchemy in a way, that we can turn the lead of our own trauma into the gold of art.
In what ways is the film inspired by German artist Gerhard Richter?
We used a few elements from Richter’s biography as a starting point, but it’s drama, it’s fiction. It’s not a biopic. I didn’t want to have to stick to facts because I really believe that good fiction is a lot more thrilling, a lot more exciting, a lot more satisfying and somehow even a lot truer than fact. It was an interesting starting point for a drama about family secrets, about how criminals and victims can live together in one family.
What made Tom Schilling ideal for this role?
It’s a very difficult role because he says almost nothing throughout the film. I needed someone who was magnetic and subtle enough to have a strong effect on the viewer, even without any dialogue, and he had that. This role of the artist is someone who mainly observes other people doing things. It’s very hard for an actor to make that interesting. Tom does it wonderfully.
Was Sebastian Koch your first choice for the role of the antagonist?
Absolutely. I think I would have made my agents at CAA happier if I’d made the film in English and had cast an English-speaking actor, but I really felt that this had to be done in German to be authentic. I immediately thought of Sebastian Koch for the role because he has the ability to make even an insanely villainous character so charming. He’s just an amazing actor. All the great directors who’ve worked with him, be it Paul Verhoeven, Steven Spielberg or Tom Hooper, have told me how amazing it was to work with him, and I feel the same way.
How did the collaboration with Caleb Deschanel come about?
The first time that I understood that cinematography is great art was as a child. I watched “The Black Stallion” at an open-air movie theater in New York. Every single image was like a painting and I understood: Wow, this really is art. Since we were making a film about art, I needed the greatest artist, so I called Caleb. I couldn’t imagine anyone else shooting this. I love so many of his films. I’m so happy that he was able to find such a thrilling visual language for our movie. Plus, he has a great understanding of and great love for actors. …In addition to creating incredible images, the actors feel so safe with him, and that was a complete and total joy.
[The adaptation of the Belgian fantasy comic “Thorgal”] is high up on the priority list for the next project. I have two other series concepts that I’ve developed quite far. I also have a feature film script, a dramatic thriller, ready to go.