Hometown: Vienna, Austria
In his feature film debut, Austrian theater actor Felix Kammerer delivers a haunting star-making performance in Edward Berger’s German-language rendition of All Quiet on the Western Front. The anti-war drama, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name, follows a German battalion of spirited young men as they experience the atrocities of war while battling the French on the frontline. More specifically, the soldiers’ road to disillusionment is seen through the eyes of plucky Paul Bäumer (Kammerer) as the damning psychological effects of World War I combat ravage what’s left of his innocence.
For Kammerer, a veteran of stage plays but a newcomer to film, watching himself on the big screen for the first time offered great insight. Upon witnessing the raw expression of trauma and humanity in his performance, Kammerer decided he was on the right career track. “I really liked that I couldn’t see myself on the screen,” Kammerer says. “I had nothing to do with that person. It felt like it was Paul on the screen and me watching this person. For me, that’s a great sign that I have detached from that role so clearly. When I feel that I’m totally fine with what I’m seeing and doing, while at the same time I don’t feel that it’s me, that’s a very important factor. That’s how I know I’ve done a good job.”
Born to esteemed opera singers, Kammerer’s career choice seemed almost inevitable as he describes it. “Because of my parents, I grew up on stage and in changing rooms and theater houses,” Kammerer recalls. “First, I wanted to be a director, cinematographer, or even a physicist—though I’m bad at math. But then I started acting in youth theater companies, and when I was 17, I realized that acting was something I wanted to study.”
After spending four years at Berlin’s Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts, Kammerer was handpicked by dramaturge Sabrina Zwach to join the prestigious Burgtheater in Vienna. There, Kammerer would find himself trading in soliloquies for marching orders. At Zwach’s behest, her husband, All Quiet on the Western Front producer Malte Grunert, saw Kammerer during one of his first plays at the theater. Grunert was so impressed by his performance onstage that he offered Kammerer an audition right on the spot after the show and personally recommended him to Berger for consideration. “I owe it to [Zwach] that I’m here where I am now,” Kammerer says. “Her husband came to watch a play and saw me on stage and really liked what I did. That’s how it all started. It was an accident.”
Kammerer did not let the switch from stage to screen faze him. During his six-month prep period, he threw himself into research to help him capture the essence of an early 1900s soldier. In addition to watching films and gaining access to rare pictures and audio files from the beginning of the 20th Century, Kammerer’s most daunting task was sifting through war letters from the British National Archives’ Letters from the First World War collection. “I observed everything that I found, and read around 2,500 letters from the front,” he says. “It’s so interesting and heartbreaking to read those letters because they’re censored. People didn’t want to tell their families [about the difficulties] of what was really going on. And those letters are their private thoughts. Seeing that helped a lot in preparing me for this role.”
WHEN & WHERE
As for where we’ll see the rising star appear next, Kammerer jokes that he can’t share that classified information just yet. But when he considers the roles he’s aiming at in the future, he says, “I’d like a project that is important in a more universal way. Not just a happy story, but something that tells us something about humankind, about history, something that has many layers and can tell us something about the things we don’t understand about ourselves. Something that makes you feel, ‘Ah, we needed that movie.’”
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