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Louis Hofmann has had an unusual route to stardom. The German actor got his first big break, aged 13, playing an American icon: Tom Sawyer in Hermine Huntgeburth’s 2011 German-language adaptation of the Mark Twain classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
In 2015, he won a Bodil Award, Denmark’s top cinema honor, for his empathic performance in Martin Zandvliet’s Oscar-nominated Land of Mine, as a German prisoner of war forced to clear land mines along the Danish coast. But fans worldwide know Hofmann, 24, as Jonas Kahnwald, the central character in Dark, Netflix’s phenomenally popular — and notoriously cryptic — sci-fi mystery series created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, which wrapped up its third, and final, season in 2020.
The Forger, which boasts Hofmann’s first major role post-Dark, marks another departure. Director Maggie Peren’s drama, which premieres as a Berlinale Special Gala presentation Feb. 13 and is being sold worldwide by Beta Cinema, follows the true story of Samson “Cioma” Schönhaus. The Jewish graphic artist hid in plain sight in 1940s Berlin, moving freely about the city using fake documents he forged for himself, while secretly forging IDs to help hundreds of other Jews. What sets Schönhaus apart, in Hofmann’s depiction, is his indomitable optimism and zest for life, a determination, even in the darkest moments, to focus on the light.
Hofmann spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what makes The Forger different from other films about this period, how Schönhaus’ attitude helped him, Hofmann, get through the COVID-19 pandemic and why even he doesn’t fully understand the plot of Dark.
What drew you to this character of Cioma Schönhaus and to the story of The Forger?
It was something I didn’t think I’d seen before, or heard before. Of course, there have been hundreds of films about this time period and hundreds of different stories. But when I read the script — I read it before I read or had heard about [Schönhaus’] autobiography — I just fell in love with this character. Because he’s so unique. That a person like this could exist in that time: Someone who seems to shine, to have such a lightness about them, this cheekiness, this chutzpah. Usually, in films about the Third Reich, you get the perspective from outside, the broad historic look. This film shows things from the inside, the microcosm of interpersonal relationships and everyday life. From that, you understand this world and the bigger picture.
I found it so beautiful that this film was about these characters and the small details of their lives. What struck me about Schönhaus is how upbeat and positive he is, even in the darkest times.
How would you describe him?
Radiant, life-affirming, cheeky. Someone who seems so sure of who he is. The other characters around him are trying to survive, trying to find their place in the system. He seems to stand outside it, he’s totally confident and self-secure. It’s enviable and admirable, especially at that time, in that place.
How do you explain his unshakable optimism?
What fascinates me is that I can’t explain it. Where does this unshakable optimism, this endurably positive attitude, come from? At one point in the book, something that isn’t in the film, he describes his escape to Switzerland by bicycle, and he mentions how, because all the men are at war, the apple trees were all so full of fruit. “So I always pluck an apple on my way.” It was such a special way of seeing the world, of always seeing the good in it. Not being able to explain it is what makes it so intriguing.
It’s a very different role for you. Most of your characters, like Jonas in Dark, are more reserved, introverted. How did it feel to play a full-on extrovert?
It was great. I really take my characters home with me. I fall in love with them, they become part of me. So to be able to take Cioma home, to spend time with him, was great fun. We actually planned to shoot the film in 2020, but because of corona we delayed it for 10 months, so I had an extra 10 months of preparation, to live with this character, let him grow within me. It was a lot of fun, letting this zest for life into my private life, to discover that in myself.
I’ve always had it in me, but most of the other characters I’ve played have been more downers, more about exploring the pain and suffering in me. It was nice to have something positive to carry around.
Did that positive attitude help during the pandemic and the lockdown?
You know, I think it did. If I’m honest, it was a good time for me. I took the opportunity to do things I’d always wanted to do but never had the time for. I went skateboarding, I took a trip around Europe. I really enjoyed myself. This attitude really made the shoot special. We started in early 2021 when we had the second lockdown [in Germany], and we could have all sunk into this depressing mood that seemed to be in the world around us. But, somehow, we took on Cioma’s attitude, and that brought a lightness, ease, to the work. It’s also what I think makes this story so timely.
This is your first major role since Dark wrapped. How did the global success of that show change you? Is there a life before and a life after Dark?
In a way, yes. The show was such a constant, a fixed institution, in my life. I don’t know how much it changed me, actually, except that I got to know an incredible number of people from an incredible number of places in the world, people come up to me on the street, and suddenly I’m talking to someone from India or Argentina or whatever about their theories about the show. It also gave me an easier path to an international career, it made things smoother. I’m really happy I did it, and I had a fantastic time. But it’s great that it’s finished now, and I can take on new challenges.
Can you explain the third season to me?
We’d need a whole other interview for that. But no. Except for the showrunners [Baran] Bo [Odar] and Jantje [Friese], I haven’t met anyone who can fully explain what’s going on. If I’m honest, I didn’t understand it all myself.
Interview edited for length and clarity
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