Til Schweiger on The Risks And Rewards Of Making Emotional Action-Drama 'The Guardians' (Exclusive)

The Guardians Still - H 2012

The Guardians Still - H 2012

"Germans aren't action fans," the star told THR on the set of his latest film. "But I love action films. It’s my favorite genre."

BERLIN – Til Schweiger never stops moving. The German star is setting up the next shot in his new film: the action drama Schutzengeln (The Guardians) in an apartment loft in Berlin.

Like most of his German films, Schweiger co-wrote, directs and stars in The Guardians, described as an “emotional action drama.” Schweiger plays Max Fischer, an ex-special forces solider assigned to protect an orphan girl until she can testify in court against a notorious weapons dealer. Schweiger’s own 15-year-old daughter Luna plays the girl.

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As he blocks out the scene for the crew, Schweiger speaks in short, staccato-like sentences. As soon as they get it, the actor/director is out the door and down the stairs at a rapid clip. It’ll take at least a half hour to light the scene and Schweiger doesn’t want to waste any time. Hitting the bottom of the stairs, he jogs across the courtyard and hops in a ground floor window, where his editor is waiting to cut a scene they shot last night.

“I hate sitting around and waiting, that’s why I always have an editing suite on set,” Schweiger tells The Hollywood Reporter.  “It lets me work faster. A lot of directors, they don’t go into the editing room during the shoot. When they come back, they’ve forgotten what they’ve shot,” he adds, drawing on a cigarette. “That’s why their films come out a year after they shoot them.”

It’s day 15 on the Schutzengeln shoot. Schweiger plans to shoot till April. The film comes out in Germany this September.  This time next year, Schweiger plans to shoot the whole film again, with an international cast, in what will mark his English-language directorial debut.

“That was always the plan, to do it twice,” he says, “In Germany with me as the lead and then internationally with me directing but not playing the lead role.”

As an actor, Til Schweiger is hardly unknown in Hollywood. He played the knife sharpening, Nazi-balls-shooting Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He had supporting roles in Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve and This Means War from McG.

But in Germany, Schweiger is a super-star. In addition to being the country’s biggest box office draw he is one of its most successful directors. His last film, Kokowääh, which he also wrote and starred in (with another daughter, the 9-year-old Emma Tiger Schweiger) made more than $40 million in Germany alone. Since his breakthrough as a director with Barefoot in 2005, Schweiger’s films have earned upwards of $150 million for Warner Bros in Germany, which co-produces and distributes all his movies here.

Warners is on board the German Schutzengeln and is believed to be circling the English-language remake. While his editor tweaks a scene in the film, Schweiger pulls out his smart phone and shows THR an email from Richard Fox, Warner Bros. EVP of international. It’s a rave for the footage of The Guardians shot so far, for Schweiger’s directing and for Luna Schweiger’s performance.

“You’re like the 100th person to read that mail,” Schweiger says, chuckling proudly.

Schweiger has a lot riding on The Guardians. Budgeted at $10 million (€7.5 million), this isn’t his most expensive film but it is arguably his riskiest. Nearly all of Schweiger’s German movies as a director – and all of his recent successes – have been romantic comedies. Moving to action is a big gamble.

“We haven’t done action movies in Germany. We had some attempts in the 90s but they failed,” Schweiger tells THR.

Homemade action movies have a spotty record in Germany. Thomas Jahn’s Tarantino-inspired action comedy Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1996) – which Schweiger co-wrote and starred in - was a huge hit, earning some $25 million locally.

But Schweiger’s action-fueled follow up, the professional assassin thriller The Polar Bear (1998), which he also directed, earned around $5 million. And more recent efforts, such as the Reto Salimbeni-helmed One Way (2006), bombed taking just $1.5 million at the German box office.

“Germans aren’t action fans,” Schweiger says.  “The only kind of action that really works is Bond. And I’ve never done this before, so it’s a risk. But I love action films. It’s my favorite genre.”

Schweiger’s producer Tom Zickler, however, argues that the time is right for a German action movie.

“The market for romantic comedies is getting saturated, we’ve seen that the sequels to hit German rom-coms aren’t performing as well,” says Zickler. “If there was a time to try action here, this is it.”

And while Germany might be an untested market for home grown thrillers, one territory certain to welcome Til Schweiger as an action star is Russia. Russia is the only market outside of German-speaking Europe where Schweiger is a box office draw. He has been a star in Moscow since Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door aired on Russian TV in the late 90s – and drew an audience of 84 million viewers.

“The Russians are going to go crazy for this film,” Schweiger says of Schutzengeln. “The Russian male audience, they loved Knockin' on Heaven’s Door and they like my comedies but the Russian male audience is action, action, action. They are going to love this.”

Indeed, Zickler and Schweiger’s shingle Barefoot Films has already sold Russia rights to Schutzengeln on the action premise and Schweiger’s name alone.

As inspiration for his action thriller, Schweiger oddly doesn’t mention Tarantino (“he’s a genius but that’s not my style”) but instead singles out Clint Eastwood and, particularly, Ben Affleck. ?

“My main inspiration for Schutzengeln was watching (Affleck’s heist thriller) The Town, which for me is the best American film in years,” Schweiger says. “I’m saying this guy with just two films is the legitimate successor to Clint Eastwood. Affleck is the new Clint Eastwood.”

Like Affleck, Schweiger’s The Guardians hopes to combine full-on action sequences (one rough cut scene screened for THR resembled a Luc Besson OTT shoot-out) with a heart-on-sleeve storyline. Schutzengeln, he points out, is actually an emotional drama about a man and a young girl who learn to trust and love each other. With a lot of bullets thrown in.

“It’s my most ambitious film.  And it’s going to be my best,” Schweiger says.

The crew has finished setting up the next shot. Schweiger jumps out the ground floor window and hoofs it up the stairs. After wrapping Schutzengeln, the tireless mulit-hyphanate will begin shooting Kokowääh 2, the sequel to his rom com hit this Fall for a Feb. 2013 release.  By then – with or without Warner Bros. - Schweiger plans to have begun shooting the English version of The Guardians.