In Sonke Wartmann’s “Contra,” Christoph Maria Herbst plays a vomit once again: a selfish law professor named Richard Paul who insults student Naima, played by young Berliner Neelam Faruk, in a racist and misogynistic manner in a crowded lecture hall. When a video of the accident hits the internet, he faces professional ruin and has to see how he can get things right again. That is why he has to prepare this same student Naima for a debate competition.
For his role, the 56-year-old will take home the Ernst Lubitsch Award with Neelam Farooq on Tuesday evening at the Astor Cinemas in Kurfürstendamm. Although he is currently under shooting stress, Berliner Zeitung had the opportunity to speak with him – albeit on the phone – on the occasion.
Mr. Herbst, where do we pick you up?
on the highway. I’m on my way back to Cologne. Our conversation will definitely reduce the traffic jam for me.
Your movie character Richard Paul is not only sarcastic, lacks empathy and rises above others, but also expresses misogyny and racism. Despite that, he is a brilliant orator. Do you like Professor Richard Ball?
As an actor, you always have to love the character you’re playing, or else you’re just acting. Sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. At least that’s how I looked at Richard: on the outside you hate what he says, but on the inside you have to give him flesh and blood or else the character will remain wand.
Do you know Richard Paul from real life?
Unfortunately, I was denied an academic career because none of the acting schools wanted me. Pohl as a professor is unknown to me. When I was in high school, I definitely had teachers who flaunted their ideas with a great deal of arrogance, to keep us young too. Language, choice of words, expression, and even dress, are great ways to elevate oneself above others. I had my own experience there. In addition to all his brilliance and scalpel-like nature, Mr. Paul is always well dressed. So I had one experience or another that was a very lively example for my professor.
Should someone like Richard Paul be allowed to teach at a university?
At this point at the latest, Contra turns out to be fiction rather than a documentary. Indeed, it is hoped that such a university professor will not stand a chance of surviving. But the movie is also about old white men pulling strings together behind closed doors, and the actual attraction is Dean. In addition, I believe that a stable democracy or institution proves stable only if it not only tolerates other opinions, but considers them to be fertile. But the line is fine. granted.
Have you already read all of Schopenhauer for the role?
(Cough) Naturally. Almost completely. Anyway, the entire pamphlet, The Art of Being Right, is still on my bedside table. Anyway, it was exciting to work with him. The recommendations made there have not found their way into my life.
Other than that, would you personally take anything away from your role as Richard Paul – other than the Lubics Award?
It’s another role in a series that I wouldn’t recommend trying. However, Pohl was not born cynical. Life affected him, and sadness, anger and unresolved disappointment left him wearing some kind of armor. What you can take away from this character is that you should remain open and extroverted.
What does the Ernst Lubitsch award mean to you?
Looking at the list of honorees makes me dizzy. If you also know that the idea for the award came from Billy Wilder – dear Shuli. Anyway, it’s a big ball and not a laurel I’d be comfortable with.
She has often been seen in controversial roles, such as the grumpy “Stromberg”. Do you generally prefer to play unsympathetic or sympathetic characters?
I can’t say that. What I can say is that it’s never about looking likable, that is, looking good in that sense. If there is a story or character that sparks something inside of me, I try to devote myself with all my heart to it. Basically, I like the best characters who have been brought to life a little skewedly.
What is your favorite personal scene in the movie? In addition to the sharp and sexy debate scenes, there’s also the massive dance scene, where the ruthless Richard Paul reveals an unexpected habit. Are you already dancing to get rid of the excitement?
Unfortunately, my favorite scene in the script never made it into the movie. We shot them. In the end, she is left out for rhythmic reasons: Naima plays Dieter Bohlen. Then it was Paul’s turn as Bushido. Unfortunately this part is missing. Otherwise, dancing was never a real thing, so it wouldn’t be my way of getting rid of stage fright. It would bother me even more when I found out I couldn’t do that either.
What is the main message of the film? Did disagreements and discussions arise behind the camera as well?
As is usual with Sönke Wortmann, we had a lot of very focused reading samples. So, just before filming, the book was in place and there was no room for discussion. Listening to each other, not just communicating with each other in tweets, honoring the language – these would be three nice personalized messages. They are certainly not the only ones in this great movie.
How was it working with Neelam Farooq, also a Lubics Prize winner?
Hammer. From start to. Lightning flashed between us even during the casting process, which is very important for the sparks flying between these characters.
The German comedy does not have a good reputation. What do you think makes good comedy?
Is Contra a comedy? yes. Moreover. But here’s the point: If I can’t label it clearly, I’m relieved. Fortunately, a lot has happened in Germany. It is no longer necessary to specify the exact type. There is a beautiful sentence: comedy is tragedy plus time. This sums it up very well. I want to see characters in trouble, be believable, and then laugh at them without laughing at them.
Do you consider yourself a funny person alone? What was the last thing you really laughed about?
I am very funny. I suspect. Maybe just because I like to have a good vibe around me. Who does not? But being funny is almost an attitude. Help me at least a few times in my life. The last time I laughed myself to death was Ted Lasso.
Your favorite Lubics movie?
Unfortunately, I cannot claim to know the full work of this exceptionally talented and creative artist. But what stuck me watching it over and over is ‘To be or not to be’: a lesson in great script, great set and amazing timing. Had I seen him again yesterday, my answer, which made me laugh out loud the last time, would have been different.
Isn’t it scandalous that there is no street named after him in his hometown of Berlin?
At least there’s a plaque at the birthplace and a star on Star Avenue. So it’s not all bad.