Actor Albrecht Schuch, who portrays the seasoned and disillusioned soldier Kat in the film, recently sat down with Oscar nominated makeup artist Heike Merker for an in-depth conversation about their experiences on the BAFTA-sweeping film.
Nominated for an industry leading fourteen BAFTA awards, “All Quiet on The Western Front” collected wins in seven categories including Best Film, Best Film Not in the English Language, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, and Sound.
For Schuch, the accolades are all a result of the leadership of BAFTA winning director Edward Berger. He is just a wonderful leader because he makes everyone feel that the vision of each individual on set of all the different departments is needed,” says Schuch. “Everyone was talking to everyone. It was sort of an open-door policy.”
For Merker, she found the process equally collaborative. “Edward is giving you so much room for your creativity,” says Merker. “Whatever idea you have you can approach, there are also many tests to see if your idea really works or not and what we need to adjust.”
The full conversation is available in the embedded video and also transcribed below (edited for clarity).
Awards Focus: Albrecht what was your journey like to finding the material and this role, and ultimately landing the part that got you a BAFTA nomination?
Schuch: First, I felt so privileged because it was the first time someone told me, “I wrote that part for you.” That was the first time ever for me. So, they didn’t need to cast me but I said I wanted to meet Edward. I do have to listen to the vision of the director. I have to listen to the silence, the awkward silence that sometimes is there because if we understand the silence, we can go anywhere I would say. So, Edward and I met in a silent place, at a graveyard next to one my favorite places in Berlin. I got rid of my fear that this could be a glorifying war movie, an adventurous war movie. The trajectory was, we are not going to that, we are telling the story about the people there. I was already convinced so I went for it. I always felt protected by Edward. He is just a wonderful leader because he makes everyone feel that the vision of everyone on set of all the different departments is needed. Everyone was talking to everyone. It was sort of an open-door policy. You know? We all went through with them like ping pong. We got the best ideas for every individual scene. So yes, it was tough work and yes i quit smoking on that project because it was after 24 years to be quite precise. It felt light because we were such a great team.
AF: Heike you were able to make Albrecht look like Kat. You’ve been nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar. How much lead time did you have to prepare before the cameras rolled on the film? Did the fact that this is a period war film affect your approach to the work or is that process unchanged as you come onto each project?
Merker: The work already started when we still didn’t have the green light. I was like I already know this kind of project; I cannot start with my preparation when I am there. So, I need to pre-organize myself. I need to have everything prepared before we start. So, I did this and lucky we got the green light. This went on and on. It was a great collaboration between all those departments and without it I do not think it would have been possible to film. Edward is giving you so much room for your creativity. Whatever idea you have you can approach, there are also many tests to see if your idea really works or not and what we need to adjust.
AF: This a dirt under your nails type movie, and war is rarely depicted in such a visceral way. So congratulations for that. You do an amazing job showing the strain on the soldiers, can you Walk me through this process and collaborating with the actors?
Merker: The thing is you first choose the colors. What is the color palette of the movie? From there I start to prepare something and then from there you step by step. In the case for Albrecht you have the breakdown of the characters so you have to adjust something such as making Kat look tired, he is feeling cold. You go step by step and you do tests. On set, things change. So, you need to be flexible in order to make things work. The collaboration with each and all the actors was wonderful. I always had the feeling everyone was just so open. Embracing every second of it. This is why the work turned out the way it turned out.
AF: Albrecht boot camp was an intense period for a lot of the cast, how did you find it? Did the fact that this was a period film affect the type of instruction you received?
Schuch: I think we all started individually doing the physical workouts to get ourselves prepared for the boot camp weeks. It was necessary because you are outside in February running hundreds of meters with a certain amount of gear on your soldiers. I think one day Felix and I were shooting; it was muddy, cold and wet. He had this idea to weigh all his gear on a scale, and I think it was about 80 kilos. We needed boot camp and it was fun too. You would always see us sitting together in the evening talking about the upcoming scenes. We stayed four months in Prague in the same building. We would meet and discuss the scenes for the week. We had this roundtable and we played playboard games and whatsoever to bring a certain amount of lightness otherwise we would have gone crazy. You must keep in mind, we did it during covid, so Prague was empty. There was really no place to go and socialize which was challenging. There is always this point where you need to get out of it somehow, you go on a hike, or you play a game. Otherwise, you get too overfocused in a way and then it loses its lightness in a way. When it comes to the actual acting you need to be completely immersed but outside its important to take a step back.
AF: Albrecht, circling back to the period elements of the film. From wound care protocol to the weapons you’re using, how did you find the experience of being in a soldier’s mindset and knowing almost any wound would be fatal and Hekie how were you able to bring that to life with makeup?
Merker: In terms of wounds, the prosthetic, understanding the proper positions for an open cut at the neck for example. This is also a collaboration with the costume designer. This is all about figuring everything out and bringing it all together and this all happens during prep, so you are not deciding anything on prosthetics or something while you are shooting. The process is a bit longer to make all of it. You grow into the story, and you grow with your research material. You test everything and then you bring it to life. While you are shooting things happen and things change so stay flexible. We also prepped so many dirt, colors, and different consistencies. Apart from wounds or feeling cold or tired, these are elements that you use as tools of the craft. You need to work it out according to the scene and to the character.
Schuch: You mentioned the mindset of a soldier, I don’t have a mindset of a soldier. It’s always just an idea I’d say. My work is to create, so there is part of imagination. It is based on true facts, something that I read, something that I see in documentaries or read in history books.
It is definitely the mindset of Kat that is from Remarque, that is from Edward, and Heike and everyone on set, and my dreams or my understanding of what it is. All those facts i am collecting during the preparation work that drains through my empathy system and then I create a mindset. That was a very delicate and warmhearted process.
It’s like that scene between Paul and Kat when they are sitting on the toilet, and he reads him the letter. We cannot go back and forth with the content of the letter for a long time, and I think also Neiler, Edward’s wife, was involved in the process of writing this letter. It’s just such a nice delicate process with different emotional voices coming together.