An Interview with Jonas Nay
Jonas Nay is an actor and musician known for his role as Martin Rauch in the Deutschland series, as well as acclaimed films including The Accidental Rebel, We Are Young. We Are Strong, and Homevideo. I spoke with Jonas about landing his first acting role, his work on the Deutschland series, and his upcoming film Persian Lessons.
As well as an actor you´re also a musician. Did you always want to pursue a career in both fields?
I started my musical career pretty early by learning how to play the piano and singing in a traditional boys’ choir in my hometown. Throughout school and during my studies in film-music composition and jazz piano I always combined both creative worlds because they inspire me differently. Making music has always been my passion, my acting career began later and by coincidence. I’m grateful though that I got thrown into the acting world because I enjoy acting enormously.
How did you land your first acting role?
I wanted to be starring in an opera as a young boy and somehow landed in a casting for a children’s series. At first my Mum didn’t want me to do it, I had to promise not to get any worse in school.
Is there anyone in the industry who has particularly influenced your work as an actor?
I learned a lot from my colleagues- from experienced actors and directors. The first feature film I shot was directed by the wonderful Kilian Riedhof and starring Wotan Wilke Möhring. Both taught me a lot. One of my first steps in the cinema industry was the movie ‘We Are Young. We Are Strong’, from Burhan Qurbani. He is brilliant and encouraged me to improvise in my character and to find a way to be flexible as an actor. Then the first director of the Deutschland series Edward Berger, also known for the series Patrick Melrose and Your Honor, was my mentor for almost half a year. I can’t thank him often enough. Actors like Sylvester Groth, Ulrich Noethen, Lars Eidinger, Tobias Moretti…. There are so many that I learned from in the filming process, I can’t name them all, but I relied a lot on them, because I didn’t study acting I had to learn it by doing.
Deutschland 89 is the final instalment in the Deutschland series.
When we first see Martin in 83 he is thrown into this completely new environment and is constantly having to adapt to the changes around him. How has this impacted your approach to the role as the series has developed?
Martin constantly is getting thrown or gets himself into the most challenging and traumatizing situations. Through this he learns that he can’t trust anyone around him. That changes his character a lot from being an open minded, naïve young man to what he becomes in season three.
In Deutschland 89 there is one episode where Martin is being drugged with Magic Mushrooms without his knowledge and for once Martin loses all his protective mechanisms. That felt absolutely uncaging for him and for me. In this episode, there are a lot of scenes where I could more or less do whatever I like. That's like a dream come true, without limits. It's a playground for me as an actor. I had so much fun and wasted hours of material on improv that probably no one’s ever going to see.
How has the Deutschland series affected the roles that you´re offered?
I feel that in retrospective German casting directors saw a pretty clear type cast in me before the Deutschland series began- a sensitive melancholic young man, which lead to wonderful roles to play and inspiring shootings. By playing Martin, I was able to show such bandwidth like in no movie or series before. So the casting requests after the series also had a broader spectrum, which I really do enjoy. Also because of the international success of the series I had the opportunity to shoot international productions as well, such as Persian Lessons.
You also play a role in the upcoming film, Persian Lessons. Could you tell me more about this?
It’s a very intense movie, based on real events. It takes place in a Nazi transit camp in France, where a Jewish young man only survives because he teaches the camp cook a totally made up language that he says is Farsi. It’s heart-breaking and the performance of the lead actors Nahuel Perez and Lars Eidinger is mind-blowing. I’m playing the antagonist SS- officer Max Beyer that tries to reveal the lie. And still, the movie makes room to get to know this character. To find, that he’s more than just a sadistic Nazi stereotype. That’s the uniqueness of Persian Lessons, you will find no monsters but human beings doing completely unhuman things.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
Actually I found a pretty inspiring way to deal with the never ending lockdown. I’m currently composing film-music together with my partner David Grabowski for a Netflix film and also a new German series. Also I’m developing a series side by side with the writer and actress Nikola Kastner and the producer of the Deutschland series Jörg Winger. Luckily it's not getting boring.
Filming-wise I have planned to shoot two interesting projects from April on again. But who knows in times like these.