First Look: Constantin and Amazon Reveal Cast for ‘We Children From Bahnhof Zoo’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Constantin and Amazon Reveal Cast for 'We Children From Bahnhof Zoo'
Courtesy of Constantin Television/Amazon/ Mike Kraus

Constantin Television and Amazon Studios have revealed the lead cast – and have released the first photo of them on location – for their coproduction “We Children From Bahnhof Zoo.” The high-end series, inspired by the 1978 non-fiction book about teenage drug users in Berlin that was previously adapted as the shocking 1981 film “Christiane F.,” is being distributed internationally by Fremantle.

The series presents “a picture of the drugs and club scene in Berlin” that is “provocative” and “controversial,” according to a statement from the producers.

The Bahnhof Zoo clique at the heart of the show will be played by Jana McKinnon (Christiane), Michelangelo Fortuzzi (Benno), Lena Urzendowsky (Stella), Bruno Alexander (Michi), Jeremias Meyer (Axel) and Lea Drinda (Babsi).

As previously reported, Philipp Kadelbach is directing the eight-episode series. His credits include “Generation War,” about a group of young German friends going through World War II, BBC series “SS-GB,” based on Len Deighton’s novel, and Constantin’s crime drama series “Perfume,” inspired by the Patrick Süskind novel.

Annette Hess (“Weissensee,” “Ku’damm 56,” “Ku’damm 59”) is the head writer and creative producer of the series, which is produced by Oliver Berben (“The Typist,” “Perfume,” “Shadowhunters”) and Sophie von Uslar (“NSU: German History X,” “Tannbach – Line of Separation”). Principal photography is underway in Berlin and Prague, and continues until March.

The casting of the central role of Christiane went down to the wire, and the discovery of the actress came about almost by happenstance. Around four weeks before the series started to shoot, the role hadn’t been cast, Berben tells Variety. They had two strong candidates, but Berben told Kadelbach, “We’re not there yet… Let’s continue looking for someone to play Christiane. We have two people we really like, but I have a gut feeling there is something more.” Then, when looking at a video of some new candidates, in the background of one video was another girl, McKinnon, sitting waiting for a casting session for another production. Berben encouraged the creative team to cast her. “It was amazing and it was so the right choice,” he says.

It was a certain look that McKinnon had in one test shot that convinced Berben they’d chosen correctly. “It was a look… she was looking into the camera, and I said ‘that’s her’ [Christiane],” he says. “She has this sadness, she has this pure, very emotional deep look. It was just her.”

It was very important that the central cast of youngsters were capable of winning the hearts of the audience as the kids engage in their battle with drugs and their nefarious effects. “What you need to do to create a show like this is to have characters that you would want to follow, who you would want to survive and succeed in their battle against drugs. If you take people who are not sympathetic, you don’t care [what happens to them].”

One consideration when crafting the series was to focus on the whole group of six young friends – three girls and three boys – rather than Christiane alone, as was largely the case with the film. They come from a broad spectrum of social backgrounds, rather than focusing simply on those with problematic families.

Constantin decided to look for actors who weren’t well-known, but could use the show to launch their careers. “We wanted to find new people, new faces, new talent in front of the camera,” Berben says. “We were looking everywhere.”

The casting process took nine months, and involved looking at more than a thousand candidates. In total there were almost 300 significant roles to cast. Employing three casting agencies – in Germany, Austria and Switzerland – Constantin pursued three avenues in the process. First, was to approach professional actors represented by agencies; second, was looking at actors at acting schools and college theater groups; and third, non-professionals were encouraged to send in e-casting videos.

Whereas “Christiane F.” had a gritty documentary feel, firmly rooted in 1970s Berlin, the series will create its “own world,” set in an indefinite time, Berben says, in the same way that a show like “Stranger Things” does. The creative team didn’t want to make a historical show. “Obviously it is not present day – we don’t have cellphones, we don’t have computers – but it’s not important. After watching a few minutes you won’t think about the time issue any more. It just sucks you into its own world,” Berben says. Although fashion and music will be important elements they won’t be drawn from a particular era.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the series will be available exclusively on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. Wilma Film and Cattleya are coproducing the show.

On Monday, Berben will attend Mipcom TV market and conference in Cannes for a session titled “Funding Creativity: In Conversation With…” at 2.30 p.m. in Esterel at Palais des Festivals.

Pictured from left to right: Lena Urzendowsky (Stella), Jeremias Meyer (Axel), Jana McKinnon (Christiane), Michelangelo Fortuzzi (Benno), Lea Drinda (Babsi) and Bruno Alexander (Michi).