As an actor, Oliver Masucci has been in the business for forty years starting out in theater as a child in Germany and later in numerous German TV shows. The 2017 Netflix series Dark changed all that and brought the actor recognition around the world and here in North America where he is currently filming a movie with Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco. I talked with Oliver about that and many other exciting projects he’s been involved with recently in a wide ranging and extremely interesting conversation.
Your latest your latest project, Enfant Terrible, is about German filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder. How did you come about getting that part? What drew you to that part?
We were discussing it a lot, the director and I because I was doing another film with him and he always wanted to do a movie about Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Oskar Roehler is his name, he’s a pretty famous German artsy fartsy director and somehow he sees himself in that character a bit.
Actually, there were several German film makers who wanted to make a film about him which was which was pretty problematic because there is a Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and it’s run by his maybe wife.
A long time after he died she said they would have married somewhere in the US or in Hawaii but they threw the paper away so she has no proof.
At the end she got the whole Fassbinder films as a heritage and she always tried to intervene so lots of the projects about Rainer Werner Fassbinder wouldn’t happen. And then Oskar found the memories of this actor, Kurt Raab, which you can see his character in the movie, and he wrote a book about him as a therapy for himself over his relationship to Rainer.
And then Oscar said, I want to do this movie about Rainer because then we have no legal problems because it’s another person talking about him and memories. So that was a way to do it.
There have been a lot of problems doing the movie, every sentence has been proofed by a lawyer because they tried to stop the movie. I was set for this movie. Two years before we were talking about it so there was no audition or casting or anything like this. We wanted to do it together because we know each other pretty well.
It was a really interesting character. I saw a bit of a documentary about him and people were very complimentary about his work and about him as a person. But this perspective is kind of his darker side, his sadistic side. How did you tackle that character?
In the beginning I found him pretty ugly. When I started I even didn’t want to come so close to this character, I thought, it’s such an extreme human. I thought in my life I put the extremes behind me and as a person living with three kids, it’s quite difficult to get close to somebody like this, but I found during the making lots of empathy for this guy. The film was scheduled for about sixty shooting days and eight and a half million euros of production value.
At the end, nobody wanted to finance the film and we had to shoot the film in twenty-four days and two point seven million. What we did in the end was just shoot it one thing after the other, we couldn’t even cover everything and just went on and on and somehow we made this into art. The subject of not knowing if we would succeed doing the whole movie for the money somehow also became the subject of the movie.
We started doing one scene after the other without any pause and sometimes I really felt like I would get a heart attack because I was gaining weight.
This was in fact the only preparation I did for the role. I gained twenty-five kilos so I was very fat and I couldn’t move very well anymore and I was short of breath, I didn’t feel good.
The director had a refrigerator and he put lots of Weizenbier which is a very heavy beer, and he wanted me to drink two or three beers in the morning so that my stomach blows up more and that I get into the groove of the role because he was drunk all the time.
It’s always better to play when you’re on a little booze and to play sober then if you are sober and you have to play like you’re drunk because that I think is more realistic. In the end, it was just a ride. We didn’t even know what we were doing because we were doing it so fast.
I remember when I was I was coming for preparation I knew a lot of Fassbinder, I saw a lot of his movies and I knew lots of people who met him and had been working with him and everybody was telling me their version that they knew him better than the others and he lived in their apartment for that period of time and stuff like that. In the end, I didn’t listen to any of those because that was just too much.
I watched all the movies the week before and the documentary stuff and in fact, there is not so much about him as a documentary, he didn’t give many interviews anymore, but I knew as a theatre actor working thirty years in theater starting at age twelve I had met lots of directors who felt like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and behaved like him. In the end, I put all these guys together in one character and that was my super artist I was playing.
So it’s not even exactly him, it’s a lot of people behaving like him. But I found empathy playing this guy because he was seeking so much for love and didn’t find it and this was really tragic. This big, huge artist and I found that he never protected himself. It was not the guy who forces the others to do stuff that he won’t do. He was really an open target and seeking love which he really never found was very tragic and this touched me very much at the end.
Yeah, I loved it. I thought you did a fantastic job and I felt a lot of empathy for his character as well. As ugly as he was, you could see that he was hurting, I guess maybe trying to find himself. Do you think he was genius or do you think he was just obsessive compulsive that he just had to keep working to get through his troubles?
I think somehow he was genius and he always wanted to be genius, but he didn’t trust himself that he would be one so there was always a lack of something because he thought he wasn’t good enough. Maybe this comes from his mother never accepting him like he was, or there was no father figure for him, but in a way he was genius.
When he came up there was the time of the big gurus as well. I think in America it was the same, there were the hippies at the end of the sixties and people were looking for people to lead them in private constellations and we had these communes and they thought he was left wing then suddenly he was right wing because he did a play about a Jew in Frankfurt.
He wrote a piece of theater on his way to the States about a Jew who is doing real estates in Frankfurt and is treating the people bad, but he knew that because this is a Jew the government won’t judge him for that in Germany. So suddenly they thought he was right wing, which actually he wasn’t.
He was none of that, he was just observing society and he did it through an electronic microscope and the society was his commune he founded and he watched exactly what he was doing, what the other was doing and I think its topics were power and love and money and violence, because he found out that love for him always had something to do with violence as well.
And there were structures of power which kept people in addiction and that was the thing he was talking about so he never found that which was truly love.
It was always something to do with money and violence and if you find out that about yourself and be honest with it, then it’s very difficult to have a proper relationship. This was something he was describing so he was very honest with himself and he showed things which normally you don’t show. Lots of people ask me would he be possible at the moment?
I had a lot of answers to this, but I think we need people like Rainer Werner Fassbinder who are not politically correct because the time will show if we can do politically correct artworks.
If this is still art in 20, 30 or 40 years and if we could do it in a politically correct way, I think it’s not possible somehow and so I think we have to differ between the artist and his artwork. So in the moment, we mix it all together.
I don’t know how it is in the US. But in Germany, that’s pretty correct that people are thinking about people and artists, whether they are political correct, where the left wing or right wing, or whether we can consume that art or not and this is somehow ridiculous. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, you could never grab him whether he is on this side or that side.
We definitely do need more of him right now because you’re right, everything is left and right and we need somebody who doesn’t think in terms of left and right all the time by those constraints, right?
It’s just not true because a human being is never politically correct. A human being says something and does the opposite. There is always this abyss in ourselves and I can see this in myself and I think I go from myself to the others in this special case because they are not politically correct, they say different things than they do.
Because they don’t dare, our society prevents them from doing what they want but it’s a complex thing being human. It’s never true what we say, there’s always an abyss in us and if we are only politically correct we don’t see the other side and that makes us not human anymore.
In Rainer you see a lot of depth is there and a lot of struggle and we’re still struggling surviving our life till death. I think that’s what we see in him.
It was so funny when we started the week of preparation and Oskar, the director showed me around the studio, and he’s a bit like him, he’s crazy, and he said, “You know, we don’t have the money and I threw out the set designer because, you know, it was all shit and I don’t know, I’ll do it myself.”, and he hired these sprayers.
He had sprayers, and they sprayed the whole stage and I came into the studio and it was all lit everywhere and I saw this. The whole set design was just sprayed on the walls and I felt terrified because it looked like Sesame Street.
I said this is horrible, it looks like Sesame Street, we can’t shoot it here and then he became nervous. But then he kept on doing this and after a while we find out while we were shooting how we should lighten this and from which angle the camera could see things better, playing with this kind of style. And so this became art somehow.
It was really funny doing this movie. It was exhausting. And it was very exhausting after one and a half months of shooting but at the end it was done.
Took me a year to lose all this weight but I always have to cry when I see the movie because I touched myself somehow. It’s funny, if you ask yourself this doesn’t happen a lot of times, so I’m very proud of the movie and it’s very, very touching for me.
I thought the sprayed set backgrounds were brilliant. At first, I thought the same thing as you watching it, I’m thinking that’s just kind of weird. But after a while you forget about it and it just blends in with the rest of the set.
There were lots of people in Germany who said this isn’t a real film. That’s so funny, what is a real film? It starts in the theater so this works somehow because he was a theater director and he came from theater to movie and then he found out lots of things. He always picked up things the media said about him and made it to his art. Somehow he picked up the things the critics said. There are so many funny stories about him doing the stuff which somehow are cruel but also the so called victims of him, somehow they loved it.
They wanted to do this and he told them, I’ll make you big stars and at the end he did, they all became big stars.
That was a time when in Germany there were no movies, there was nothing. Germany totally forgot how to make movies. After the catastrophe of the Second World War we could we could do movies before, but after this there was there was no industry.
And so Rainer Werner Fassbinder was the first one and the Germans didn’t notice. That was the funny thing about because they couldn’t handle him, they thought it’s not a movie, it’s not real, and it’s not good, what is that?
Then he went to Cannes and became world famous and he came back to Germany. And the press asked him, you had a success in Cannes by accident, how does this feel? And he said it’s not an accident. And so that’s where his arrogance came from to the Germans because they never understood it. Even today, it’s difficult to do a Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie.
So all these critics from the past times, they think they know anything about him and they don’t. And this movie was criticized by people but we can say, you didn’t find out anything about it, you just didn’t understand anything. But there were also people who have found it very nice, but it’s still a character, which is very controversial in Germany.
Speaking of controversial characters, you played Hitler in Look Who’s Back. I absolutely loved that movie. Tell me a little bit about the filming of that movie. You actually went around Germany in character and just approached people and interacted with them, didn’t you?
Yeah I did. So there was six months of preparation for the movie. I did a lot of auditions and casting for this movie. I was playing theater at the time and I was in Vienna at the Burgtheater which is a very famous theater and the offers I got at that time were not good. I always played theater and I could live with this very well because we have a very different theater system than you have in the US. The actors are employed by a fixed contract at the theater for years.
Then came this role and the director told me he wanted to make it like Borat does it.
It was a novel which was pretty famous in Germany and so I was embarrassed when they offered me the role because I thought I don’t look anything like Hitler.
Then I went to the casting and we did the first scenes and he told me his concept and I found it very, very interesting this concept to go in character outside in Germany and interact with proper Germans.
The casting process was pretty weird, because the studio wanted a famous actor and he didn’t want a famous actor because then everybody would recognize the actor on the street so he needed someone who was not popular at that time so it came to me. I could do this because I trained acting a lot in theaters. So for the preparation of the role I never knew what was going to happen. He sent me some text, some lines, and I thought I was doing the lines, but then we didn’t do the lines and he said, “Okay, there is a new twist today.
I employed two psychologists and I told them I was doing a documentary about a guy who thinks he’s Adolph Hitler and he’s schizophrenic and he runs through the streets of Berlin and holds his Hitler speeches and he got beaten up a lot of times and now he’s in the mental hospital and he is willing to be in therapy by you in front of the camera.
So we’re shooting a documentary and I had to play this guy and that was five hours of free improvisation with two psychologists. That was crazy. That was really crazy. Then came the time when I had a coach and was trying to behave like him and listening to all the speeches and stuff and then I get into costume and had to step into reality. That was pretty awkward for a German. I was embarrassed all the time in the beginning because for a German, we still have problems to hold our flag because of this catastrophe.
It’s very difficult, and to go as Hitler on the streets and interact with people, I had to learn this, I had to cross a line, and I had to prove myself doing this. In the end I found out it worked. Lots of people said this won’t work. No German would ever say some bad stuff standing beside Hitler about foreigners and people but they did in the end.
The film brought out in a Borat test that there was lots of right wing thinking in the heads of lots of Germans. I mean, here is a guy who dressed like Hitler, looked like Hitler and claims that he is the real Hitler. And they asked me, what are you doing? At the end of the day I found out I didn’t have to perform that because if I play it, the people gathered around me. And then they always asked me, “But what are you doing?” And I said, “I’m shooting a documentary to see what the proper German thinks about Germany.” And they always would say that this is somehow critical and I said, No, it’s not critical, it’s totally racist, I’m a racist, I don’t like them.
You know, all the black guys, the gay guys, we have to throw them out of the country. And they would say, “Are you serious about this?” And I said, “Yes, of course, but you are not because you don’t dare because you’re a proper German.” Somehow this opened something in the people and then all this shit came out. And this is weird that there are people who really think Hitler would be a nice person. Standing beside him would be the right person to address some right wing stuff against foreigners so this was so absurd.
Afterwards the people had to sign for the rights to use for broadcast and they did, so this was a weird situation. This was at the time when refugees from Syria came to Germany and we had these billboards and people said we can’t do this because the people are arriving at the Munich main station. We didn’t know if this would work and at the end it was a big hit in Germany.
The fun thing you have to keep in mind is the film works on both sides. If you’re sitting in the cinema there the left wing and the right wing sitting in the same cinema and both love to laugh about Hitler because it’s satire and somehow it’s funny. And then comes a special moment in the movie when the writers have to write racist jokes and they get money for it.
They get one hundred and fifty euros for each joke and then they say yeah, but a racist joke is always racist and this guy said. yeah, of course, but Hitler is the only guy who can bring the joke in this TV show he’s doing and they have to read their own racist jokes and they feel bad about it, but they do it because of the money.
This is the moment when people stopped laughing in the cinema for the first time and then it gets worse and worse here. But there were also guys who still were laughing till the end and you know these are the guys. You could feel it in the audience so somehow it’s funny, but it’s bad. It’s really, really bad.
Did you ever feel in danger when you were out on the streets interacting with people? Did you ever worry that somebody would get violent?
Yeah, in the beginning, and there were some people who got violent. Sadly, it was only the women, it was the women who beat me up. I had some problems and there were some body guards there, but always when the bodyguard was doing his lunch, somebody came and tried to beat me. This was always the women, that’s what’s so funny about it. We did a lot of weird things.
There was a Halloween thing in an institute where there was lots of karaoke bars, about forty of them in a club, and people were singing everywhere. And there were lots of drag queens and Adolph Hitler of course, and there were some women who really didn’t find that funny and really beat me. But there was some Israelis as well and they loved it and found it funny and said, it’s the only thing you can handle this, because it was such a weird situation and after a while they all knew what we were doing, shooting this novel which was pretty popular.
But yeah, actually we found it very hard that there were so less people, not so many people that will try to beat me. At the end we drove to this place which is absolutely left wing so that we could find people who are really doing bad things and who will try to beat him up but sadly those people didn’t want to sign for their rights, they didn’t want it to be in the movie because they found it so shitty.
He had lots of respect this guy, still people had lots of respect when he appeared.
I was worried the most when I went to a Nazi rally where there was some fascists doing a rally and trying to get the arrested terrorists of the NSU in Germany set free, trying to get the attention for this in the media.
And I came there dressed as Hitler and the police came and said you’re not allowed to come here to this rally because this would be a mess and people would go crazy. And I said, but this is a democracy, and I always had to be in character because we were shooting all the time and things were happening all the time.
I had this mask I couldn’t take off so people would always react to me as Adolph Hitler. I couldn’t say no, I’m Oliver Masucci, I’m actually not this guy.
There was so much prosthetics on my face. But this Nazi rally was really, really tough, because the people were very aggressive and also very funny because the police, they didn’t know how to handle this. But it’s democracy, everybody can dress as he likes. And they said no, we don’t allow it, you can’t go there.
And then we said but if I go on a private balcony and just wave a little bit to the people, would this be possible? And they said okay, if you’re not in the rally, that will be possible. And then I think we fucked up the whole rally because I was waving on the on the balcony like this and then the right wing guys, they were looking and then the left wing guys, the ANTIFA said, “You can you can’t bring an Adolph Hitler here!” to the right guys, and the right wing guys said, “It’s not from us.”
Everybody tried to say no, no, he’s not from us.
Then the media came and I was in character and nobody else could speak to the press so they said to me, “The right wing people said they didn’t call you?” And I said, “Yeah, of course they won’t, because they never stand to their own opinion, you know? These are stupid guys, they don’t even dare to say I’m a National Socialist because this is something which you couldn’t say in Germany, you get arrested when you do this. A Nazi gets arrested when he says I’m a Nazi, luckily. And then I said to the press, a proper German shouldn’t be here obviously as Adolph Hitler which became pretty funny and this became viral around the world. It’s a bad thing, it’s still a bad thing. There are people in the moment in Germany after this war in Israel which is in front of synagogues, and saying shitty Jews. This is something which you are not allowed to say in our country anymore. I think if there are people in our country with our history, nobody is allowed to say such things. Our country is the wrong country for those people. If there are people in our country who want to say such things, they should go elsewhere, where people do strange stuff, but in our country, this is not possible. We have a history which forbids this.
Yeah, that’s very understandable. Your popularity over here I think really took off with the Netflix series Dark, didn’t it?
Yeah, that’s right, but you only find out when you travel. You know, you do his show in Germany somewhere in the woods one hour from Berlin for half a year and you stay in Germany and the Germans, you know, time travel, it’s not their subject so that they found it very American.
The press always asks, “Do all the shows have to look like American stuff now? And I said, “Yeah, but what’s German? When it looks shitty?” And so this somehow was very popular throughout the world, but the Germans criticized it a lot, funny thing. So, you only find out that you’re popular when you travel to the countries. I was traveling throughout Europe and the Spanish, loved it a lot. I had lots of fans in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.
So lots of people in South America are watching this and in India as well. And then I had to shoot a movie, a German movie in Central Park in New York and I was going to the US for only one and a half days to shoot and then leave again. That was the first time when I found out that it’s popular in the in the US because I was on Fifth Avenue and people asked me to do a photo. And I said, yes, of course, I can do a photo of you, give me your cell phone.
And they said, “No, not of us, of you.” And I asked them, “But why do you want a photo with me?” and they said, “You’re the guy from the Dark show, right?” And this was the moment I realized that I was a bit popular, more popular than before, and that people know you all over the world. This is funny, you only find out when you travel.
This was the first project by a German production company for Netflix. So this is kind of the pioneering show for Netflix, Germany, right? And you’re currently starring in another Netflix series, Tribes of Europa, which I started watching the other day, which I really, really enjoy. How’s the reception to that one in Germany, compared to Dark?
Not that much like Dark. It’s even more a dystopian topic. I think it didn’t find its target audience in Germany because on one hand, it’s very brutal and I don’t know if this really works, I just don’t know. Netflix doesn’t give the numbers so I don’t have any idea.
I like this dystopian subject. The show could be something in between Mad Max and Star Wars and there is the Matrix so this is the genres in which it is playing. And I like my character, I like this Moses guy. He’s, in fact a character like Han Solo from Star Wars.
It’s the guy who protects. Somehow he’s a gangster but he’s protecting the hero and the hero takes his burden and saves the world and he’s accompanying him.
I found this guy is the comic relief so I really love playing him. He’s a sniffer, he sniffs all the time. He sniffs every danger so that was lots of fun. And we were shooting in Croatia throughout autumn and I had my kids with me. We were on this journey through Croatia and this is nice, this dystopian feeling there because there were lots of islands just rocky with no trees, nothing and really, it looks sometimes like the end of the world but it’s really beautiful with a crystal clear sea. It was a good time shooting, that was directly after I shot Enfant Terrible and I needed to do something which was fun for me, and this worked pretty well.
You’re working on quite a few projects, aren’t you?
Yeah, I did. My first English speaking series which is The Girlfriend Experience, which is actually broadcasted on Stars, the third season produced by Steven Soderbergh and a German director, Anja Marquardt, who I found pretty nice to work with.
So this was my first show in the English language which was really nice and we shot in London and right after that I shot Fantastic Beasts. Johnny Depp was replaced with Mads Mikkelsen which was very funny because in Germany they always call me the German Mads Mikkelsen and now we’re in the same movie having magic wands and playing around, I like him very much.
I did this for five months in London last year. It was nice to work because for half a year I didn’t do any work due to this pandemic and I was three months in lockdown in a very nice hotel called The Grove on a golf course and I was the only guy, so it felt like The Shining. There was a huge lockdown in London, you couldn’t go anywhere. There were no restaurants in the hotel complex anymore so there was just room service.
I bought myself instant pots and tried to cook in my hotel room and do some work out and lose the Fassbinder pounds that I gained, and we’re shooting but I was so alone. My kids were there for about one month and my girlfriend, but that was it but it was fun being a part of the wizarding world of JK Rowling’s. It was amazing, I watched the movies with my kids, not even the movies, I read the books to them out loud and they know all these characters and at the end to be a part of it this is really great.
At the moment, I’m doing a Netflix film called Day Shift, which is a vampire movie starring Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco. I’m playing a vampire of German origin and this is very funny.
It’s a really nice role and I love doing it. We had some problems to start due to the pandemic, we had some cases where we had to skip the schedule but now we’re shooting and this will come to Netflix. I love being here.
It’s been a long time since I was last in the U.S. which was very funny, I had to get a visa for this. I had two Oscar winners who wrote me a recommendation letter that I could go to the US. At the moment, the US Embassy in Berlin, you get an appointment there, somewhere in 2022 so to speed that up it had to be an emergency visa and Netflix was asking for that.
And so I went to the embassy and Netflix said, we don’t know if you’ll get the visa now. Of course I was tested negative and all that stuff but we don’t know. I went to the to the embassy and there was this guy who said, “I was I saw your recommendation that is by two Oscar winners but I didn’t know your name but then I Googled you and you’re the guy from Dark, you’re Ulrich, right? And I saw this show two times, once in English and then in German. And then another one was screaming I saw it three times! And so then I got the visa.
On my way here I fell down the stairs over my suitcase and broke my arm. So on my way to the airport I first went to the doctor’s and he gave me a cast and then I took this cast onto the plane and went to the U.S. because I said if I phone them before, the Americans would say, you can stay in Germany with your broken arm. I wanted to do this movie so we skipped a bit because of the COVID cases and now the arm is healed so I’m fine now.
I love being here. I mean, everything’s open. You know the funny thing is, in Germany, we really have a problem with the vaccination because they didn’t order enough vaccine.
You call it Pfizer but it’s a German company who developed it, it’s BioNTech. In Germany, everybody’s calling it BioNTech Pfizer, and I came here to Atlanta and I was vaccinated three days later at the Mercedes Benz stadium with German vaccine where the Americans gave the money because the Germans didn’t invest in this. So I found it quite good to be here in the US being vaccinated. So I’m safe now.
All of your roles that we discussed, I think they’re thinking roles for sure.
Yeah, that’s why I choose them. I choose stuff where I have fun just to think about it which gives me something where I can make some experience for my life at the end. So it’s always good to make an experience and to find out something.