‘Nothing new in the West’: Felix Kammerer was ‘almost scary’

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Austrian Felix Kammerer makes his impressive feature film debut in the anti-war film “Nothing New in the West”. In an interview with ntv.de, he reveals how he got the part, when he got chills on set and whether he actually served.t.

ntv.de: Mister Kammerer, you are Austrian. In contrast to Germany, conscription has not been abolished in Austria. Young men must perform at least basic military service here. So did you serve?

Felix Kammerer: No! Luckily I didn’t serve. I went to community service.

So this option is there…


Until now, the 27-year-old has only been seen in the theater – but that has to change.

(Photo: photo alliance /)

Yes there are. It’s bizarre that civilian service lasts nine months – as opposed to six months of basic military service in the army. So choosing not to enlist in the military is still punished by having to stay longer. And you have to sign that you have a problem picking up a gun. There are probably not many people who don’t want to join the military, but they do want to join the police. But if that’s the case, it could become a problem.

In Germany, many conscientious objectors referred to reading “Nothing New in the West”. Did you read the book before preparing for your current role as Paul Bäumer?

Many people read the book at school. Unfortunately that was not the case with me. Out of personal interest I only leafed through it during my studies. But I didn’t really get involved until the preparation of the film started. But then, of course, I completely immersed myself in it.

You make your feature film debut in the film. Until now you have been active as a theater actor, not least at the Burgtheater in Vienna. So how did you get the movie role?

That’s a nice story: my second work at the Burgtheater was “Schwarzwasser” by Elfriede Jelinek, directed by Robert Borgmann. Then dramaturg Sabrina Zwach is the wife of Malte Grunert, the producer of “Nothing New in the West”. Because of her, he came to Vienna to see the play. He was also present at the rehearsals. After the premiere, he came up to me and said, “I really liked that. I think I’ve got something for you. Check your phone soon.”

And then at some point it happened…

Yes, I was sitting on the couch when the casting director Simone Bär called me a few weeks later. Three videocasts and another three live castings in Berlin followed. In September I was having a picnic with some friends in a garden somewhere in Vienna when the next phone call came. This time it was Malte Grunert and (the director) Edward Berger, who said, “See you in Prague!” (location of filming) First we celebrated.

Theater actors sometimes struggle a bit with the media of film and television. Was “Nothing New in the West” more of an exception for you, or have you gotten the hang of it now?

the last. And correctly. But also because I am extremely happy that I was able to make my first film with Edward Berger. He gave me so much confidence, warmth and support throughout the process that I don’t think I could have made the film right without him. The cast, Malte Grunert and everyone else were incredibly loving. Yet it is of course true that the road from theater to film is quite far.


My main concern was continuity. In the theater you go from A to B – done. In film, on the other hand, you might start with a Y. For example, my first day of shooting consisted of one of the last scenes of the film. Then I knew: if I don’t prepare myself properly and find a good system to deal with it, it’s over. But I think everything went pretty well.

“Nothing New in the West” is an iconic book. And making your film debut with a war movie probably isn’t something you see every day either. Do you have doubts despite the pleasure of the role?

Of course I respected that. When I heard “See you in Prague”… oops! Of course, everything was great joy, euphoria, excitement and fun. But then the moment came very quickly when I realized “I have to play that too!” Then came the pressure and the excitement. Fortunately, I am relatively pragmatic and rational. That is why I first started structuring things: what do I need for this? How do I get the role? How do I prepare? Nervousness is okay. You just can’t let it overwhelm you, you have to use it positively to get things done.

There have already been two film adaptations of “Nothing New in the West”. I’m sure you’ve seen them too…

Yes of course.

However, American directors were responsible for the previous films. What’s different when a German director like Edward Berger and an Austrian protagonist like you approach the case?

I think we just carry that legacy with us. Because: It is a German book and a German history. It is German shame, German mourning and, above all, German responsibility. These things are more or less inherited here in Europe, in Germany and Austria: memories, but also rightly a feeling of guilt. It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to retell it from a German perspective with a German production, with a German cast and in German. This way you can not only tell about the horror, but also tackle the root of the horror together. It is – not in a positive sense, but very factually intended – as it were a home game with the aim of making a genuine German anti-war film.

Many of the other actors in the film don’t have much screen experience either. Well-known stars, on the other hand, are Devid Striesow and Daniel Brühl, with whom you hardly have any scenes in common. Did you even meet the two on set?

I met Devid Striesow once. We were just trudging through these warehouses on set and all of a sudden this general was walking by the side. (laughs) On that day we also sat next to each other in the tent during the break. But we haven’t really met yet. I had a little more to do with Daniel Brühl, although we didn’t have any scenes together and the story is even further apart. Since he was also an executive producer, there was another connection with him. I saw him more often in Prague – and of course also in Zurich at the premiere.

Of course, with all the horrors of war shown, the film has a very intense effect on the viewers. Do you really get lost in it as an actor when shooting scenes like this, or do you easily stand out from all the film technology on set?

That depends on the specific scenes. An example: There is this scene in a camp in the back country when the French women come by with the cart and the boys are peeling potatoes. It was a relatively relaxed and extremely technical day because I shot the entire scene with five markers – like tape crosses telling you where the other characters are. That means: I played the whole scene with only five scotch crosses! It gets so patently technical that you can hardly believe that something good will come of it in the end.

And another example?

There’s the scene where I’m in the crater with the Frenchman. It was so realistic it was almost creepy. Pipes were laid underground, from which came the blood that the Frenchman lost. But you couldn’t see where the blood was coming from. In this funnel you didn’t see anyone from the crew, no lights and no extras. We shot the entire scene from start to finish seven or eight times in an 11-minute one-shot. Playing through that for 11 minutes and killing someone every time was pretty close. To get away from it again, you really need strength.

“Nothing New in the West” is about World War I. Nevertheless, against the background of the war in Ukraine, the story suddenly took on a different explosive character and to a certain extent it was also topical. You certainly couldn’t have dreamed of that during the recordings last year…

For Kammerer, the film should make clear how “misanthropic, disastrous, cruel and terrible” war is.

(Photo: photo alliance / Everett Collection)

No, of course that’s totally absurd. You make an anti-war movie because you want to make a difference and show how terrible war is – and then I open the New York Times and I see pictures from Ukraine that look like colored photos from World War I. At that moment I thought I was going crazy. At the same time, I don’t think that made the film relevant. He was always relevant. There have been countless wars since the First World War. We just didn’t notice it in Europe or we hid from it because of course it’s easier. Ukraine, on the other hand, is closer to us than Syria or Iraq, and not just geographically. As a German or Austrian you can more easily identify with something that resembles our landscapes. Therefore, we are only becoming more aware of its relevance.

A US review of the film pointed out that it also made it clear that war is not a video game. What do you think is the main message of the film?

Same as in the book and also in the first two movies. On the one hand, of course, there is a level that has to do with victims, perpetrators, actions and their effects – political issues that are important to discuss. But on the other hand, there are just the people who then stand in front and die. There is destruction, suffering, devastation and all that ensues for future generations. I hope the film gets to the heart of these existential aspects and shows how absolutely misanthropic, catastrophic, cruel and terrible it is.

“Nothing New in the West” is the German contribution to the upcoming Oscars. What would be your first reaction if he actually won the prize?

Let’s see where I am now. But I think: I’ll open a beer first.

Volker Probst spoke to Felix Kammerer

“Nothing New in the West” is currently in German cinemas and will be available on Netflix October 28.

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