M’Barek in “A Thousand Lines”: “I Don’t Have to Add My Two Cents Everywhere”
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In 2018, the case of “Spiegel” journalist Claas Relotius made headlines. Many of his award-winning articles turn out to be fake, embellished and partly fictional. has been revealed the scandal of his colleague Juan Moreno, who chronicled the experience in the book “A Thousand Lines of Lies”. His report served as a template for Bully Herbig’s satire “A Thousand Lines”. The role of Moreno was taken over by Elyas M’Barek.
The actor is now in talks with ntv.de about his unwavering faith in journalism and his dealings with Instagram and Twitter, among others.
ntv.de: How did the collaboration with Bully Herbig for “A Thousand Lines” come about? What attracted you to the project?
Elyas M’Barek: First of all, I loved the idea of the movie. And I was happy with the genre. At first you would think that Elyas and Bully would make a funny movie together. While “A Thousand Lines” is entertaining as well as humorous, it’s not a classic comedy. On the contrary. I think it’s called satire, but the film also has a lot of serious aspects.
You were shooting during Corona. How hard was that at one time or another?
The film is set in many different countries – from Cuba to Spain to the US. I had been looking forward to many trips abroad and many different locations. But in the end we had to film a large part in Spain, which turned out very well. The film still looks international. You don’t even notice that Cuba wasn’t filmed in Cuba at all.
How much did you know about the Claas Relotius case before filming?
Quite a lot actually, because I had read some of his articles and really liked them. Those were articles that made me later realize that a lot of them weren’t true, for example “Jaeger’s Border” with the Border Patrol guys shooting Mexican refugees. And just like in the movie now, then I thought, “What’s going on?” I felt really cheated.
So what attracted you to the role of Juan Moreno, who now appears as Juan Romero in the film?
I had read his book on which the movie is based, A Thousand Lines of Lies. Overall, I’m a big fan of him as an author. I was immediately enthusiastic about the project and thought it was a great hero’s journey. A story about an alleged hero who isn’t at all and someone who is and who no one believes.
So am I right in assuming you also met Juan Moreno in preparation for the role?
We’re even friends now. I’m still in touch with him. I can only recommend everyone to read his books. Happiness Is No Place and A Thousand Lines of Lies are truly excellent books. He is a great person, especially a very smart guy. It’s super interesting what he’s been through and how great he writes. And most importantly, he sticks to the truth. That is the big advantage compared to the other colleagues. (laughs)
Does contacting a real character make it easier or harder to play – especially since you know that person will look at the result afterward?!
Although the film is based on and inspired by real events, we are still telling a fictional story. I didn’t play a historical character and a lot of people aren’t that familiar with the story. Most of them noticed the scandal in passing, will only enjoy themselves by seeing the film and then perhaps finding out what exactly happened then.
It’s not even that long ago. The case is from 2018, the whole thing probably just seems from another time because of the pandemic.
Exactly, but the subject is all the more relevant in times when fake news is talked about quickly. One message from the film is that journalism can and should be believed, and unfortunately there are isolated cases that do not represent journalism as a whole. And unfortunately they do a lot of damage. But I still believe in journalism. I believe what I read in the newspaper and what I see in the news on TV. I expect that too. I expect professional and honest people to do their work.
So the Relotius case hasn’t changed this attitude?
No, I thought it was very positive how it was cleaned up. You can still read the articles in the archive that Relotius distributed and see what was wrong with them. Transparency arose then, albeit too late. That didn’t break my confidence. I just thought, “Wow, does he even know what he’s doing with it?” I think he thought he could get away with it.
Perhaps the first success has gone to his head? Was too much expected of him then? Was a claim made on him because people liked to adorn themselves with him, which he couldn’t do justice to without his lies?
I think the art of impostors and manipulators is to take over people and play with them. That’s why he’s come this far. Because people wouldn’t believe that, because he was “so nice, so charming.” This is also the case in our film. There’s a scene where the doorman of the publishing house thinks I’m the taxi driver – I don’t believe just based on my looks. That’s kind of the message: that you should not be blinded by superficial things and that you should always look closely. That one should go through life with open eyes and not believe everything that is spread, especially not on social media. Basic trust is better in well-founded journalism, that is, in people who do their work and do research.
Especially during the height of the Corona pandemic, some of your colleagues have drifted towards social media fake news…
… and some are still there.
Do you think it’s better as an actor to stay out of public socio-political discourse, which isn’t the same as not having an opinion about things in private?!
Above all, I believe that I am not a journalist. (laughs) I guess I don’t always have to add my two cents to everything because I just have no idea about certain things. And of course I have an opinion about it and I say it when I’m asked about it. But – as you said – not unchecked. It’s just dangerous because I’m aware of my responsibility. If I say something in an interview or post something, people will read it and probably believe it. I have to choose my words consciously and be sure.
How do you deal with the social media you just mentioned? Especially Twitter can spoil your mood. Or a few comments on Instagram…
I have an ambivalent relationship with it. I use and consume social media myself, but with caution. I do not believe everything that is written and I am aware that many people express their frustration on the Internet, often at the backs of other, usually defenseless people. The algorithms can be the devil, you can quickly get into such a bubble, which I don’t want. I inform myself elsewhere, not on Twitter and especially not on Instagram. This is for looking at pictures and not forming an opinion.
Has it always been like this or was it a learning process? Especially when it comes to comments about yourself and your work…
Well, I know from personal experience that a lot of it is just nonsense. I know this from stories about some colleagues, and I know it from stories I hear or read about myself. Then I just know that there is a lot of mischief going on on social media and in many tabloid media as well. That’s why I deal with it professionally and usually can’t take it too seriously. I feel more sorry for people who probably really assume this is all true and then the angry mobs on the internet believe and stop weighing it up.
Do you select your interviewees, so are there any well-known tabloids you don’t talk to?
Basically I believe it is the right of anyone interested to do an interview with me. Of course there are one or two people I’ve had bad experiences with, but that’s just like in normal life: I meet people in peace. But if someone betrays my trust or plays with my trust and doesn’t tell me the truth, then there is no reason to talk to them.
Nicole Ankelmann spoke to Elyas M’Barek
“A Thousand Lines” hits German cinemas on September 29.