Interview: Deutschland 83's Jonas Nay – 'German TV shows aren't used to being popular'

German actor discusses his role in the tense Cold War thriller from All4's Water Presents strand

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Interview with Deutschland 83's Jonas Nay

Jonas Nay in Deutschland 83

Deutschland 83 had the highest viewing figures ever for a foreign language TV show in the UK. A smart edgy thriller, steeped in 80s fashion and music, set during the height of the Cold War. Young East German Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay) finds himself on the front line of this complex and messy conflict with spies on both sides, false information and lies layered upon lies. Rauch finds his cover gets more confusing as he forms relations in the West, while at home his pregnant girlfriend tends to his sick mother. Meanwhile the threat of all out nuclear war hangs over the entire story. We caught up with Nay to find out more.

Could you briefly explain what Deutschland 83 is all about in your own words?
It's basically about a young border guard in the [East] GDR [German Democratic Republic] who is blackmailed into going to the West to the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany] to work as a spy.

How did you first get involved with the project?
I read the first two scripts, the first two episodes, of Deutschland 83 and I was so addicted I was calling my agent and saying: 'if the next episodes are even half as good as the first ones I have to be in it.' I'm a TV junkie but I'm really critical, if the first episode doesn't catch me I'm out. When I read Deutschland 83 I was immediately sympathising with the main character and had a feeling it was something new and really special, something in-between a spy thriller and coming of age drama, and it had comedy elements too. I went to the audition Anna and Jörg [Winger], the head writer and executive producer who are a married couple, and Anna told me she had a picture of me from another film I had made on her wall while she was writing, so she had always pictured me playing the character.

This is the first time most people have seen you in the UK but what is your acting background?
I started on TV in Germany when I was ten or eleven on a German series for kids. My first real success was a film when I was 19 called Homevideo, that won several awards in Germany. I've also shot some arthouse movies which dealt with some really serious topics and had the opportunity to play some really interesting characters. It's totally overwhelming for me to spend three days in the UK and people keep recognising me, which is crazy. I was in Berlin the other day and I was recognised on the street by British tourists, not by the Germans [laughs].

Is it a part of history that is talked about in Germany?
For my generation it is history but for my parents it's their youth. It's quite a grey zone, but it is being discussed more and more. There are so many parallels between the Cold War back then and the political situation right now so I guess that is why.

Did anyone expect it to be so popular outside Germany?
Nobody would have thought that, because German TV shows aren't used to being popular across borders. It was a big surprise for everybody but I guess it could open the door for so many great TV shows from Germany. Subtitled TV shows are getting more and more popular because of services like Walter Presents, Amazon or Netflix, the younger generation get used to watching subtitled TV. Me included. When you watch subtitled TV you really watch it, you can't iron or use your iPad, you have to concentrate so you really feel the emotions of the actors. The British people are used to American productions but there are so many European productions, which don't have as much money but they make something special out of it. You've had The Killing and The Returned before us, and these are great shows and there are so many more.

Will there be another series?
They are planning 86 and 89. I don't know how far they have got but they are sitting round a table discussing it right now.

What are you working on next?
I just finished my fifth semester of jazz piano in Germany. My second passion is music and I have a band in Germany called Northern Lights and we've just got a booking agency who have booked us some gigs for this year, and there are quite a lot. I don't know what I'm doing next with acting, I like to be surprised.

The series one box set of Deutschland 83 is available now, in full and for free, at All4.com/WalterPresents.

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