A portrait of actor Jannis Niewöhner

photo © Jens Koch/kochfoto.de

Thanks to this hairstyle, no one actually recognizes me at the moment!”. Jannis Niewöhner laughs and points to his hair, cropped so short that it gives him an almost military look. “It makes a nice change because when several new films are launched in cinemas at the same time — like they were last summer — there are quite a few young people who recognize me riding on the subway or at places like Alexanderplatz in Berlin.” But the 22-year-old actor would be the last to complain about this state of affairs: “After all, it’s great feedback when people come up and talk to you. I’m still a long way from finding it a nuisance.”

Even as a teenager, Niewöhner could be seen on the big screen in a great number of films like SUMMER, GANGS or CHEEKY GIRLS 2; last summer, however, he under­lined his putative status as Germany’s best-employed young-generation star with work including PLAYING DOCTOR and BESSER ALS NIX. It is his role as Gideon de Villiers in the film version of the bestseller RUBY RED and its continuation SAPPHIRE BLUE that has truly weakened the knees of his young admirers, however. As one might expect from such a melodious-sounding name and the central love story, in those films his hairstyle is correspondingly romantically tousled. It is also the second of this trilogy of adaptations based on novels by Kerstin Gier with which Niewöhner has begun the next chapter of his career: at the Berlinale 2015 he will be one of ten actors to receive the European Shooting Star’s award — and is subsequently likely to be recognized way beyond Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. “You are nominated by the European Film Promotion (EFP) and then you submit an entire feature film as well as your showreel.” I decided in favor of SAPPHIRE BLUE. Not just because I play a leading role. But also because I wanted to show something that had a certain dimension, was entertaining, and could also work on an international level. In other words, everything that constitutes cinema.”

THE GIRL KING photo Starhaus Filmproduktion

THE GIRL KING (photo © Starhaus Filmproduktion)

IT has long been obvious that the three-part fantasy romance not only appeals to young audiences in Germany. RUBY RED was presented at the youth film festival in Zlín, and for the recent DVD-premiere in France a red carpet was even rolled out on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Since the cinema launch in Russia, he has even received some fan mail from there, as well. In the meantime, how­ever, he was also able to get his first whiff of international atmosphere when he played a supporting role in Mika Kaurismäkis’ now completed historical drama THE GIRL KING with Sarah Gadon, Michael Nyqvist and Martina Gedeck. “My part is relatively small, I don’t have very much dialogue,” says the actor, modestly waving off recognition for his first shoot in English. But it is obvious from his face that he enjoyed the experience immensely. “Nevertheless, it was the perfect intro­duction for me. I was always present, but I wasn’t in the limelight so much. That means I had a bit of time to observe what was going on rather than everything rushing at me at once. And it was great to see that not very much at all — apart from the language, of course — was different from work on a German film.”

4 KINGS photo Sandra Müller/C-Films

4 KINGS (photo © Sandra Müller/C-Films)

Niewöhner has not wasted much thought yet on the fact that the European Shooting Star award will lead to a lot more international contacts and projects. “I always try to avoid having a very specific career in mind or very concrete expectations,” he says with a smile, so taking the pressure off his own back. But of course he cannot help being aware that actors like August Diehl and Moritz Bleibtreu, and Franka Potente or Heike Makatsch, with whom he could be seen recently in ALLES IST LIEBE — many of his German predecessors, in other words — were launched on inter­national careers after receiving the honor from the EFP: “I have to admit that it’s a good feeling to find myself joining a group of people that I have admired for so long!”

SAPPHIRE BLUE photo Concorde Filmverleih

SAPPHIRE BLUE (photo © Concorde Filmverleih)

After ten years working in front of the camera, the 22-year-old has had time to gather sufficient self-confidence to stand alongside such successful colleagues, refusing to let himself be stamped as a cute franchise-hero: “In recent years in particular, I am feeling more and more at home just where I am. I’m becoming aware that I’m in the right place with this profession; my passion for it is growing all the time.” Correspondingly, he says that to date, he is proudest of his film 4 KINGS, the story of four young psychiatric patients – the film­ing of which was completed at the end of last year: “A completely new challenge, very much quieter and more serious than all my other roles.” Because of this, he was more than happy to have his hair cut so short for it. Although it now needs to grow back as fast as possible, so that Niewöhner — after the Berlinale — can return for a third and last time in his starring role as teenage hearthrob de Villiers in EMERALD GREEN.

Patrick Heidmann