THE FINEST TALK
20 questions for Max von Thun
Max von Thun is a musician, television presenter and above all an actor. He has been involved in more than 50 films for television and cinema, including “Crown Prince Rudolf”, “Rubbeldiekatz” or “Dream Women”. Perhaps he was born with talent, as his father is Friedrich von Thun, familiar from, among other productions, “Schindler’s List”.
At the moment, however, Max is involved in something completely new: the lullaby originally written for his now 6-year-old son Leo “The Starman” was published in 2018. The 42-year-old is suddenly a successful children’s book author, and working on new books has become a genuine family project.
A none-too-serious conversation about excessively naked or coloured skin, the art of doing your own thing – and decommissioned saucepans.
My first memory of you is from around 30 years ago. You were 13, I was 16. The fact that I ran around your house with a steel helmet on my head, parodying bad shampoo adverts with your sister is of no relevance here. At any rate, you were banging on drums that consisted of saucepans and other stuff and you were extremely annoying. What has changed since then?
Nothing. I am a little bit older. The drums are gone, as are the saucepans, which I now use elsewhere. I have the great luxury of earning my money with professions that do not require you to grow up, so I can be like a child and act like a child.
The next impression: skull and crossbones rings, cruising through Munich on a Harley-Davidson, when the police let you, you’ve made films, made music – a deliberate change of image into a bad boy?
Och, the skull and crossbones was pretty amusing back in the day, tattoos too, but nowadays virtually everybody has a tattoo and every housewife wears a glittery skull and crossbones T-shirt. It used to be a different symbol. I won the Harley and I was never a bad boy, because my upbringing was too good to let me slide into the naughty, naughty world of rockers.
No clear image emerges from your filmography. Your films for television and cinema are a colourful mix of comedies, crime stories, romances, thrillers, historical dramas and children’s films. The characters you play are sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes serious, sometimes slapstick, sometimes swashbuckling, sometimes gay. In which role do you feel the most comfortable?
Firstly, I am someone who gets bored easily, so variety in every respect is always nice. And secondly, it doesn’t make much difference what the role is; the main thing is that the role challenges me in some way, lets me try something new. Other than that, I just want to work with good colleagues and good directors, and to have good scripts. In general, historical films are always fun, because you can really transform yourself. And to satisfy the child me, it’s simply loads of fun to dress up and run around in historical costumes or uniforms or to sit in a carriage with a top hat.
Is there a ‘dream role’ you are waiting for?
As a father who notices that children’s films are well received at home, what seems to be missing is a knight.
Recently when I was zapping through the channels I landed briefly on ‘Schattenmoor’ (Shadow Moor), your latest TV film, right at– hold onto your hat – your sex scene.
Yes. It was a shock. How easy are these scenes for you and where are your limits?
In general, I am not much of an exhibitionist and am realistic enough to know that you shouldn’t expose people to that kind of thing permanently. There are nicer views than seeing me in the nude.
In that specific case, I had a very young partner who was totally nervous about doing something like that for the first time and was worried her breasts could be seen. She was so tense that I was busier trying to help her than I was concerned about how I felt myself.
Limits? Obviously, but they are set by the film environment itself – it’s very rare that you see a dick in German films, and it’s not something I miss (laughs). I really don’t have to present mine to the camera. So, yes, there are moments when you feel a bit silly, but it’s also always a question of who you are filming with. If you have a good director or cameraman that you appreciate for what they do and you trust, then you know they will make sure you don’t come across as silly and that the whole thing involves certain aesthetics. You can also do a lot with light and shadow, which means even guys like me come across as a bit ‘buffed’ (laughs).
But when I read in screenplays, for example, “He is standing there in front of her in boxer shorts with his buffed upper body,” then I know: that’s not going to happen; there’s just too much missing. I would then perhaps suggest that it would be much funnier if he was wearing a faded old Mickey Mouse T-shirt. In short: I try to argue that that I should be naked as infrequently as possible.
You have played a number of roles opposite your father. What is it like to have the ‘experienced gentleman’ of German film by your side?
It’s somehow completely absurd to talk to you this way.
Yes, I know. Just pretend you’re at some kind of job interview.
OK. So. In the past, when I had just started acting, it was probably different, perhaps because he was afraid I would make a fool of myself or worried about how I could assert myself in this business. In the meantime, I think I’m sufficiently independent. When we are in the same production these days, we’re colleagues and it’s all very friendly, and I enjoy being able to spend time with my father, even on the set. Added to this of course is the fact that he’s a very funny bloke for whom I don’t need to be embarrassed. I definitely know colleagues whose fathers are also actors where I would have more problems, without naming names (laughs).
Back to the music. In 2007, you and your band “77” released your first – in my opinion very good – album with the magnificent title “Greatest Hits, Vol. 1”. There was a great concert in the Munich Muffat Hall, and some hysterical broad even shouted “I want to have your child!”, which was then the headline in the Süddeutsche Zeitung the next day.
That was you! By the way, that was often quoted afterwards and I always say that I know who it was.
Is the music career now over?
When the band didn’t really have the same impact as Tokio Hotel, they withdrew to a certain extent. I would really like to do something of my own and maybe release a few of my own songs in 2020, but that’s a bit like an invisible bucket list. I do new things without them being planned and then they’ve been ticked off, check, and I no longer feel the pressure to do something like that again. I am still a long way from being the best guitarist around, but I still make a lot of music at home and, with my son Leo, other music was simply added.
Is being a father your new favourite role?
The timing was simply perfect. I have been in the media business for quite some time now and it is not exactly a fountain of profundity; many things are very superficial. At some point I simply felt a growing need to do something genuine. When your child is sick in bed during the night because they’ve picked up a virus, you are there at the bedside. That’s another form of being needed, real meaning in your life. Added to this is the luck that I was able to afford to work as little as possible, especially in the last three years, in order to spend as much time as possible with my child. You know yourself: it all goes so quickly and suddenly they’re standing in front of you with a beard, wanting to get married.
Somehow I am also lucky that the things I do with my son have become a new source of income. In the meantime, we have written a couple of stories together. Two things are coming out next year, where Leo is also mentioned by name on the cover as co-author. He has also come up with a really cool pseudonym: Romedio von Stein. It goes beyond the fact that I have a son with whom I occasionally play with Lego. There are some things coming out that are commercially interesting and push me in new directions.
Now specifically about these new directions: in the meantime you are also a successful children’s book author. “The Starman”, so far translated into seven languages, came about because of a lullaby you wrote for your son and is now also available as an audio book with seven songs. Your father, Friedrich, narrates the man in the moon. The next book project was the lullaby “Little Tiger, Tired Warrior”, also lovingly illustrated by Marta Balmaseda, and now…
(breaks out in uncontrollable laughter)
What’s up? I’ve prepared myself for this!
I always have to laugh when I hear that, because it was never planned! Just for fun, I wrote lullabies for Leo and also recorded them so that I could play them to help him fall asleep when I’m on the road making a film somewhere. And then this ‘Starman’ book came about at some point, but I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would ever be published. Then things took off very quickly. Now I’m a children’s book author, which I find totally absurd and that’s why I still have to laugh when I get asked. But yes, you’re right. The sequel to ‘Starman’ comes out in March next year ‘The Starman and the Fearless Princess Luna” – where he falls in love and together they save the world. And ‘Starman’ comes out as a novel in August. It’s much more exciting and also for older children; I wrote it together with Leo. I simply recorded all our conversations at the dinner table when I asked him, for example: How can they now get to the parallel universe together? What could the black hole look like? These are all ideas that came from Leo and I adopted unchanged. That’s why he’s there as co-author and meanwhile he is also regularly present at readings. He also pitches new ideas at me every day. At the moment, they are blowing each others’ heads off with laser guns, which is a little less usable, but sometimes he has really cool ideas.
If this goes on – can you imagine writing books for adults one day?
In general, I haven’t yet fully accepted that I coincidentally tumbled into the book scene in the first place. The novel was easy enough, but it is definitely easier to write for children. I have now started two things that are even older and am trying to build in things that are important to me, but I notice that I keep getting stuck when I write consciously. I’m just beginning to notice how difficult writing is in general. I used to be lucky enough that these things just popped out of my head, but when you want to draw it out deliberately, that’s a different story. I would love to keep on writing – it leads to lovely independence. I can write where I want, when I want, what I want and still make money, which is pretty exciting. Nonetheless: it’s not quite so easy to follow up with something successful.
Is a film adaptation planned– with you as the Starman?
I might be too old for that. He’s very youthful in the book, with rosy cheeks; a younger colleague will have to do that. But when I think about, I can imagine doing it. I own the film rights and a producer already has the book. I keep mentioning it to producers, but if it really were to be produced it would definitely be a massive hit. You can’t do any better than your messing around with your son leading to books, audio books and even a film – that would be cool.
Now, cross your heart: are you really such a super daddy who sings his son to sleep every night? I see it in myself, that sometimes you simply reach a point: right, stop, shut up, off to bed.
Leo has grown out of it now. I am now more likely to appeal to his sense of reason. When he does something wrong, I don’t bang on the table and start shouting, rather explain to him that what he did was crap, because… Or: do it this way; it’s better for everyone. And he understands that. He has a strong voice here, can dictate things that he can dictate and I dictate other things. I’m an imaginative father, but he tells all his friends that all his father does is nonsense. Maybe I’m not viewed as a fundamental authority, but I set the tone. And I have the cash. That helps.
One day, your son asks you: Daddy, what should I be when I grow up, actor: musician, author – or something respectable? What do you say?
He’s in his first school year at the moment, has joined the school theatre group, which he enjoys, but I don’t know if he has any talent. The creative professions are always very uncertain and you never know what the future will bring. I keep hearing about people who study some brilliant subject, but then end up doing something completely different. Generally, he should do what he wants to do and what makes him happy, but then he should also do it properly.
At what age will he be allowed to get his first tattoo?
I think perhaps these days it would be better to invest in laser studios that remove tattoos. It’s only when I go swimming with Leo in the Isar or at the lake that I see the incredible shit people put on their bodies. You used to see someone with a tattoo and think, oh, he drinks beer out of the can and listens to rock music. Nowadays these are the most bourgeois people of all. A tattoo no longer has any meaning at all; it’s simply a fashionable trend. I would be glad if Leo didn’t get any tattoos at all, which I now find a whole lot cooler than having tattoos. My mother used to bar me from doing so many things I thought were cool, so I developed an attitude of my own – finding that stuff uncool and my things much cooler, and I still do that today. I don’t follow fashionable trends and I hope Leo adopts a bit of that and then does his own thing.
You grew up as the child of a celebrity. Your child goes to school as the child of a celebrity, all the more so in the age of social media. How do you deal with that?
There was recently a nationwide reading day and the headmaster asked me if I would read ‘Starman’ in the school. Then I talked a bit and a couple of kids said they’d seen me in ‘Benjamin the Elephant’ or other children’s programmes such as Immenhof. When I go to the school, they greet me with “Hello, actor,” but that’s usually as far as it goes and they don’t seem to know exactly what’s going on; they just babble. There are de facto no problems. Although Leo has the same name as I do, he goes officially by the name Thun-Hohenstein, which maybe helps him to avoid stupid situations. And as long I don’t enter the jungle camp, he doesn’t really have to be embarrassed. There are definitely bigger idiots in this industry.
Alongside your book projects, what else is planned for 2020?
There’s this crime series with Jessica Schwarz that’s been running since last year, the ‘Black Forest Crime Story’, where we play police inspectors. There have been two episodes already and we will be shooting two more next year. Immenhof will continue, and I will once again be playing a ‘horse whisperer’. I also have a couple of projects on the table that are really only in the initial stages. I’ve always said that I will do more film work again when Leo starts school – and I will. Perhaps a little more music. The nice thing is that I can drift along and do whatever I like, which I feel is a lovely privilege.
A view to the coming decade, towards the end of which you will be 50. Is a midlife crisis in sight?
Not so much a midlife crisis; I have no real problem with the numbers. In the meantime, however, I understand older people more and more when they say that time flies by so fast. I need reading glasses now. When I bought them for five euros, I though, oh shit. I notice I’m getting older, but somehow I’m fine with it. As long as you stay young at heart, things aren’t quite so dramatic.
Now a nice question in the vein of a new father-in-law: where do you see yourself in ten years?
To be honest, I don’t plan that far in advance. I hope that in ten years I am still allowed to make films that I enjoy and are good. I hope that by then I have written a few more books, also for adults. And that I can do even more with music, because I really enjoy it.
And while we’re talking about fathers-in-law, is there one in the offing?
Come on, through the back door, a nonchalant question.
The people I know at the moment…
…fathers-in-law, of course…
Obviously. Well, they are currently not so sound that I would want to get to know the parents right away. I don’t know whether I definitely want to get married, but no, there is no father-in-law in the offing.
To conclude: do you have a connection to Andalusia – or have you perhaps even thought about emigrating?
At 19, I inherited 5,000 marks from an uncle I had never met, bought a VW bus and travelled for nine months all over Europe with my band, all the way to Morocco. Of course we passed through Andalusia, a really beautiful corner of the world with all its Moorish influences, but otherwise I’m not in the area very often. We always go on a family holiday once a year with my father and my sister and her countless children – maybe we’ll just come and see you next year!