Armin Mueller-Stahl Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Parmigiani
Armin Mueller-Stahl Winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Parmigiani

The conversation took place on a sunny afternoon in Locarno on 8 August 2014 moderated by Ralf Schenk.

The many notable directors with whom Mueller-Stahl has worked include Costa-Gavras, Andrzej Wajda, Jim Jarmusch, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Ron Howard, David Cronenberg and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Born in East Prussia, the Oscar-nominated Mueller-Stahl is a classically trained violinist and an acting school dropout. He moved to West Germany at the age of 50, and later made the transition to working on American Hollywood and independent films and television.

Mueller-Stahl: “This year I am 84, which is a long life by the way.”

When asked about the films he feels particularly attached to, his response is "Avalon" and "Music Box."

Armin Mueller-Stahl in "Avalon"
Armin Mueller-Stahl in "Avalon"

Mueller-Stahl: “I filmed them in parallel over the same year. In "Avalon" (in the role of Sam Krichinsky) I played a German; I was the head of a Jewish family. And in "Music Box." I played Mike Laszlo a war criminal. The two roles could not have been more different. It was an unforgettable experience. I felt like a kind of Mephistopheles.”

Sam Krichinsky in Barry Levinson’s "Avalon":

“I came to America in 1914 - by way of Philadelphia. That's where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn't know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!”

Mueller-Stahl: For Avalon there was a press junket with 12 Jewish journalists. The first journalist asked me, ‘Please tell me about your Jewish heritage.’ I made a long pause. I didn’t answer straight, so I made a curve. ‘My grandfather came from St. Petersburg to Germany – unfortunately he got off at that stop otherwise I would have been an American star and you wouldn’t ask me that question.’ I paused. ‘I’m not a Jew.’ Then another journalist put his hand on my shoulder warmly, ‘You are a Jew’.

When I made Music Box with Costa-Gavras I said to him, ‘Maybe I’m (the Mike Laszlo character) not guilty in the very beginning. I would like to keep the door open to almost the end. This guy is guilty of course, in the end you know he’s guilty. He said, ‘No, it wouldn’t work.’ After three days, Costa-Gavras came to me and said, ‘Let’s do it your way.’

Armin Mueller-Stahl in "Music Box"
Armin Mueller-Stahl in "Music Box"

On playing many villains

I played many awful guys. There is always a dark side in a person. I’m always trying to find in a bad character the good in him.”

On Playing Various War Roles

“To live through a war…I have lived it. No war. No more. Period.”

The Actor. The Jester

When talking about the craft of acting, Mueller-Stahl refers to (in German) the ‘gaukler,’ the jester. “The gaukler is a dreamer, but optimistic.” Perhaps one can interpret this as a true reflection of this fine actor.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell presents international workshops and seminars on screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and executives ,