Alexander Fehling

Alexander Fehling

Darsteller, Drehbuch, Produzent
*29.03.1981 Berlin (Ost)

Germany’s Shooting Star

Portrait of actor Alexander Fehling in "German Films Quarterly"

It was after playing the donkey at the age of 12 in a children’s theatre production of "The Bremen Town Musicians" that  Alexander Fehling first caught the acting bug.

"I wasn’t even consciously following acting for a profession as a goal," recalls Alexander, who then played in many productions in Berlin’s vibrant 'off theater' scene after that first appearance in the suburb of Pankow. "I discovered very slowly what it could all be to become an actor," he continues. "It was like I was playing without a ball – it’s there, but you just can’t see it."

After completing his alternative to military service as an orderly in a psychiatric clinic, Alexander decided to take the plunge and apply for a place at the prestigious "Ernst Busch" acting academy, whose past graduates include such colleagues as August Diehl, Devid Striesow and Julia Jentsch.

Convinced of his own potential, he was bitterly disappointed at not being accepted and spent a year traveling to apply to study at other drama schools in Austria and Germany before he successfully applied a second time to "Ernst Busch" in 2003.

In retrospect, Alexander says that this year of traveling and self-questioning was "a very important process for me which continues to influence me right up to the present day."

His studies were focused on acting for the stage, something which did not overly concern him at the time since he hadn’t seen himself working in the cinema. That developed later. "They don’t really prepare you for specific things," he says about his time at "Ernst Busch". "You shouldn’t have those expectations, you just have lots of possibilities to make use of."

It was during his third year of studies that he had his first professional engagement in the production of Robert Walser’s "Schneewittchen" in Berlin’s Sophiensäle appearing opposite veteran German actor Matthias Habich. His role as the Prince earned him the Academy of Arts’ O.E. Hasse Prize for Talented Young Actors in 2006. Another theater engagement came with the role Max Piccolomini in Peter Stein’s staging of Schiller’s  "Wallensteins Tod" before the world of cinema knocked on his door. "Robert [Thalheim] had been looking for someone to play the role of Sven for around a year," Alexander recalls how he came to be cast in one of the main parts for Thalheim’s second feature  "Am Ende kommen Touristen" ("And Along Come Tourists"). "They were going through people in the drama schools and my name was on that list. At the time, I was living a rather chaotic life with no telephone and no real place to live, so they almost didn’t get to me! I was lucky enough to be the last one at the casting session."

This first role for the cinema saw him going to Cannes in 2007 when the film was invited to screen in the Un Certain Regard sidebar and he was subsequently awarded the Young German Cinema Award as Best Actor during the Munich Film Festival that year.

Interestingly, he didn’t return to the theater – after a four year absence, he is appearing in a contemporary re-working of Flaubert’s "Madame Bovary" for Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater starting February 19th – but concentrated on working for the big screen.

"I just knew one thing," he explains. "That I wanted to stay and be able to look for projects in the theater or film. It took a long time before the interesting things came along, but I had to be patient because I feel a certain sense of responsibility when I am playing a part." Thus, in the following years, he took small parts which he found "interesting or were for films by directors I admired."

First up was Heinrich Breloer’s adaptation of the Thomas Mann novel "Buddenbrooks"  where he was cast as Morten Schwarzkopf and which aired in its two-part TV version on German television over Christmas 2010. He then followed this with the part of Patrick Färber in Hans-Christian Schmid’s English-language thriller "Sturm" ("Storm") which premiered in competition at the Berlinale in 2009 before gaining his first experiences of working on a big-budget international production in the role of Master Sergeant Wilhelm in Quentin Tarantino’s inimitable take on the Second World War in "Inglourious Basterds".

Recalling working with Tarantino, Alexander says that the approach was different from the moment of the casting session held together with producer Lawrence Bender: "Quentin was just very interested in everyone who was coming into the room. It wasn’t about what I had been doing before or what I know, but what I was doing at this particular point in time and in this room."

His next project, the student comedy "13 Semester" ("13 Semesters") by feature debutant Frieder Wittich, couldn’t be further away from Tarantino’s epic – and stars a former "Shooting Star" colleague, Max Riemelt, in the lead.

While Alexander had been quietly building up a track record of appearances in an eclectic range of projects, he was destined for a higher profile after being chosen by Philipp Stölzl to play the lead part of Germany’s most famous man of letters in "Goethe!".

"There were great opportunities for me as an actor," he says. "I had space to fill. I am very grateful for that after being so patient all those years. I think it’s good that I hadn’t been playing lead roles before I appeared in "Goethe!". People didn’t already have a certain picture of me. What fascinated me was that the character of Goethe is very active, something quite unusual for German films. I can’t recall another character in German cinema who is both active, courageous and sensitive."

Fast forward almost two centuries and Alexander has been cast in another key figure from German history: as Andreas Baader in Andres Veiel’s fiction feature debut  "Wer wenn nicht wir" ("If Not Us, Who?"), which is premiering in this year’s Berlinale competition.

He describes working on this film as "very intense" and explains that he "didn’t have a picture of Baader in mind and that was very important. I hadn’t seen 'Der Baader Meinhof Komplex' ['The Baader Meinhof Complex'] and only part of Baader with Frank Giering. That’s what being an actor is all about: noticing things and then forgetting things."

He did some background reading on the historical figure of Baader, but not as much as was needed for Goethe. "We spent more time talking about what is happening in the scenes and where the character is coming from and what does he want," he notes. "As well as what the conflict might be in there."

In the meantime, Alexander has another two projects currently in post-production. One of these, Jan Zabeil’s debut feature "The Art of Dying" (working title), was co-written by the young actor who stars in the story of a young German exploring a huge swamp delta in Botswana.

"Four of us went to Africa after I had finished 'Goethe!' [in 2009] to make a film without a script," he says. "It was a bit like an expedition as we searched for our story there, so we spent three months working on the story of a young German guy who gets lost in the wilderness. The film is about life and death and what happens when you come to a place where every rule you have learned is changed."

Alexander admits that the "hands-on" experience of making a film certainly appealed to him and he could imagine getting more involved 'behind the camera' at a later stage in his career. While he doesn’t have any immediate plans in this direction, he is nevertheless developing some projects with director friends he knows on an informal basis.

The second project in post-production is another feature debut, Student Oscar®-winner Toke Constantin Hebbeln’s "Wir wollten aufs Meer", which wrapped shortly before Christmas and is his second lead role.
While the time around the Berlinale will be busy enough for Alexander this year, what with his preparations for the premiere of "Madame Bovary" and the presentation of  "Wer wenn nicht wir" in the festival’s competition, he is also sure to be much in demand as one of the ten young European acting talents selected as 'Shooting Stars'. Along with colleagues from countries as far apart as Albania, Ireland, Spain, the UK and Sweden, he will be thrust into the spotlight for a busy three days on the festival’s first weekend as part of an initiative staged by the European Film Promotion.

After his experiences of acting in such films as "Inglourious Basterds" and "Sturm", Alexander is open to doing more international productions "because I am interested in working with inspiring people, people I can learn from or who are on the same wavelength as me." He is looking forward to expanding his network of contacts through the exposure from Shooting Stars as well as getting another perspective from outside of his work and life in general. "I’ve always been interested in working on 'unsafe' terrain," he notes, "and acting in another language means that I am discovering new things."

Author: Martin Blaney

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH