Midwinter Night’s Dream Man | Lars Eidinger’s ‘Dying’ in Berlin

The iconoclastic actor was alive and well, and thriving at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival

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© Jakub Bejnarowicz

Lars Eidinger is an hour early to our interview, which takes place inside the Hyatt Hotel press area of the Berlinale. “I got the timing wrong,” he confesses, followed by a no-problem kind of shrug. When we do start, at the scheduled time, after he’s waited around for an hour, Eidinger is every bit the fashion icon we may expect him to be, wearing a black Balenciaga blazer with matching/not matching Prada trousers, holding a white bag which may or may not be a reusable plastic shopping bag. And he’s kind, the best accessory for any fashionista. I notice the large shopper he’s carrying because much of the information that is available online on Eidinger has to do with one such shopping bag, a PB 0110 by Philipp Bree X Eidinger designer version of an Aldi supermarket bag and the scandal that caused when the actor was immortalized sporting it in a promotional photo in front of a homeless camp.

But when I meet Eidinger in Berlin, it is to talk about his latest acting project, playing Tom Lunies, the music conductor living on the verge in Matthias Glasner’s festival hit Dying. Eidinger is also the latest personality featured in the documentary work of German film director Reiner Holzemer, whose previous subjects include fashion designers Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela. In the award winning Lars Eidinger - To Be or Not To Be, Holzemer shows a man whose personal choice to go against the conventions of modern acting and march to his own drum has made him a favorite of his industry peers and audiences alike. Though perhaps not always a darling of the German media. The feeling is mutual, as Eidinger throws a casual dig at them, towards the end of our chat. “It is really not flattering, but I do wish the German media asked questions like this,” he says about our exchange, continuing that during his junket with them, scheduled on the previous day, he found their questions uninspired.

© Matthias Horn

When asked what attracted him to the script of Glasner’s film, which won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at this year’s Berlinale, Eidinger confesses, “What impressed me was that the under title was ‘also a comedy’." A contradiction for a film titled Dying, which deals with a son coming to terms with his own dysfunctional family, as his very German parents begin their individual descents into death. Glasner, “looked for an actor with funny bones,” Eidinger continues, and that was something I really liked because it was not something I expected — it’s called Dying but I think it’s a movie about life.

Playing the unexpected has been a trademark of the actor, also a working DJ, who hails from the residential neighborhood of Berlin Marienfelde — a district southwest of the city which boasts a village founded in 1220 by the Knights Templar. Eidinger studied acting at the Ernst Busch Academy of Dramatic Arts and soon figured out that bad guys, Nazis and psychopaths would be more fun to play as an actor. “Strangely, these Nazis, psychopath, evil persons they are what people relate to me or what I’m used to playing,” the thespian confesses, going into a story from his school days. “When I was in acting school, the teachers told me ‘you will never play evil guys, your appearance is way too nice!’ You look very friendly,” which frustrated Eidinger, who found more complexities in the naughtier characters. 

© Matthias Horn

His solution was to choose the monologue of Franz Moor in Friedrich Schiller's The Robbers, a character who is described as a “cold and calculating villain,” which the actor then used for every audition he went on in the early days, including at the Berliner Schaubühne, where he has been a performing member since 1999. That paid off and the rest, as they say, is history. Since his school days, Eidinger has played loads of baddies, from Shakespeare’s Richard III, to the cruel, terminally ill Nazi officer Reinhold von Rumpel in the 2023 Netflix series All the Light We Cannot See, to serial killer Kai Korthals on the German language TV series Tatort. Eidinger is quick to point out though that he doesn’t think of characters as good or bad, “I never thought about how now I want to show my other side,” he says about playing Tom in Dying, “because I didn’t think about the other side — it’s happening.” And watching the final product is typically as much of a surprise for Eidinger as it is for us, the audience. 

Glasner says about Eidinger, “I liked the way he is in interviews — very direct, very surprising and very funny in a way,” and that the director connected on a deeper level for the semi autobiographical role of Tom because “we are both the kind of people who, when we wake up in the morning, we’re not thinking ‘wow, another day, let’s have fun!’ We’re both like, oh my God, another day…”

Many of the actor’s role balance what is called in German “Der schmale Grat,” the thin line, a quote which is uttered by the composer friend of Eidinger’s character in Dying. “You lose the thin line if the feeling, the emotion doesn’t reach reality,” Eidinger says about his latest project. His own thin line has included frequent collaborations with French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, for whom he embodied the eyeliner-sporting Gottfried, an over-the-top actor in the series version of Irma Vep

© Reiner Holzemer Film

For his doc on the actor, Holzemer followed the actor one summer, as he rehearsed and performed Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play Everyman in Salzburg, Austria. In it, Eidinger wears a fat suit, displays his temper in one scene where he equates people talking during rehearsals as “like turning the lights on during sex,” and dons blue French heeled booties with a pair of red short shorts. “Shoes are crucial to the development of a character,” Eidinger says in the film, “shoes are the foundation of everything.” As a shoe lover myself, I have to agree. Everything changes when the right shoes are found for an occasion. 

During out chat about Dying, we end up addressing what Eidinger calls “the German trauma, or the German fear, the German angst,” which is a central theme of Glasner’s film. He calls the director and writer, who based many of the characters on himself and also revealed his demons in the story, “somebody being brave enough to show himself as a German — it’s a cliche that Germans have no humor but there is a complex reason for that.” He continues, “it’s our guilt in the Second World War, we lost the trust with our language because the Nazis misused the rhetoric, and used it from the theater. We are ashamed of celebrating language.” Eidinger admits that “in a way, this is what the movie is about,” as Dying tackles the syndrome experienced by the older generations, unable to process their participation in the collective guilt of their country, which has trickled down to the younger generations. 

© Reiner Holzemer Film

When I ask Eidinger who his inspirations were while in school and if they’ve changed in later years, he admits “I’m not coming from a very cultural background, my parents never took me to the theater and the first time I went to one was after I had already started studying acting.” He calls it an advantage, because in a play like Hamlet, which has been performed so many times by different actors of all ages, talent and style, “I don’t have any references which gives me a greater freedom.” The only time he screwed up, his words exactly, was with Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, “because I made the mistake, before we started rehearsing, to watch the film with Marlon Brando, and then I played, as we say in Germany, a  kind of ‘Marlon Brando for poor people’, that’s what I felt, I couldn’t get his performance out of my head.” When asked further for names, he calls the present “a great time for fascinating, fabulous, genius actors,” and finally I’m able to draw out a few names like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christian Bale, “I love Joaquin Phoenix, I love Edward Norton and Willem Dafoe — there are so many, it’s endless, nearly.”

Apart from appearing in Holzemer’s doc entirely about him and Glasner’s Dying, Eidinger will next star in the film The Light, by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who is best known for the international hit Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and who worked with the actor on the long running streaming series Babylon Berlin.

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Midwinter Night's Winter Dream Man, Lars Eidinger, People, E. Nina Rothe