‘Deutschland 83’ interview: Jonas Nay chats about Channel 4’s new German thriller

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Jonas Nay stars as Martin Rauch in Deutschland 83, Channel 4’s new German-language thriller.

Created by German-American husband and wife team Anna Winger and Joerg Winger, the eight-part series reveals the experiences of Germans from both sides of the Berlin wall during a pivotal period of Cold War tensions where the world’s nuclear arsenals rested on a hair trigger.

> Order Deutschland 83 on DVD on Amazon.

Deutschland 83 follows Martin Rauch (Jonas Nay), a 24 year old East Germany native, who is thrust from the world as he knows and sent over the wall to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi. Hiding in plain sight in the West German army, he must gather the secrets of NATO military strategy while trying to resist the pleasures that the West has to offer. Everything is new to him, nothing is quite what it seems and everyone he encounters is harbouring secrets.


What was it about Deutschland 83 that appealed to you?

“I remember really well the moment in which I first read the script, on a train to Prague where I was filming the TV show Tannbach. I am a huge fan of serial drama and was excited by my own reaction to the script.

“First episodes are incredibly important so if, by the end of that episode, I’m already so caught up in the story that I have to find out how it continues, then there is a high likelihood that I will binge-watch the entire season. This exactly how it was with Deutschland 83.

“I read the script and was so fascinated by the material, the tempo, the energy and the way in which the story was told. It’s also unique in the way it mixes the genres, from period drama to coming of age story all wrapped up in a spy thriller punctuated by some great comedy moments. I knew right away I wanted to be part of this series.”


Can you describe your character?

“I play Martin Rauch, a border guard for the GDR. He has a girlfriend, lives with his single mother and leads a simple life in a suburb of Berlin.

Deutschland 83 1 1 Martin and Annett

“However, his aunt Lenora, who works for the HVA (the foreign intelligence service of the GDR), forces him to infiltrate the West German Bundeswehr as a spy, in order for his mother to receive a life-saving kidney transplant. From there we follow Martin, who now goes by the alias Moritz Stamm, on his journey as he infiltrates NATO.”


Did you do much research into the period/your character?

“I did a lot of research about the period. For me, having been born in the 90’s, the 80’s qualify as “history”. The so-called “hot” phase of the Cold War seemed very far away for me, even though it really was not such a long time ago, so I was keen to learn as much about it as I can.

“Even though it was part of life for my parents’ generation, and not really that long ago, for many younger Germans it’s a period of history that isn’t very well known. When I came to Berlin to start filming, a large pile of research material was waiting for me on the living room table of my apartment. The producers made sure that I was fully aware of the historical context of the show.

Deutschland 83 1 1 Martin

“Much of the background of the series is based amongst true world events – but part of the fun of acting is how to play a fictitious character in this world. It was great to have the opportunity to emotionally and creatively explore with this time period and material. I have found that much of it has stayed with me, and I believe that the viewers, especially those of my generation, share these feelings.”


The show seems at the vanguard of a host of great new shows from Germany, how do you feel about that? Is this is a new age in German TV?

“In my view there are several good German series: Weißensee, KDD or more recently Weinberg. I think with Deutschland 83 we also stirred interest in the international market. The premiere in America was something incredibly special and now we are also running on Channel 4 – a broadcaster whose shows I personally love to watch.

“That is a great feeling! As a fan of TV shows, I naturally hope that more great series will follow, and I’ve already heard of a few. I’m very excited about what is coming up!”


The world right now feels like it’s on a similar precipice and filled with tensions to the early 1980s – do you think the drama reflects today’s world as much as the world of 1983?

“I think that Deutschland 83 beautifully demonstrates the awful scenarios that were being played out behind closed doors during that period, including events that the public only received tiny hints about.

Deutschland 83 1 3 Lenora, Walter and co

“It has made me aware of how little information reaches the general public, and even then how manipulated it is. In that way, and keeping in mind the current tensions in foreign policy, our series is frighteningly timeless.”


Tom Hanks has said he loved the show – that’s quite exciting isn’t it?

“When I first found out I could not believe it! Nico Hoffman, the head of UFA Fiction and co-CEO of UFA GmbH in Germany, revealed the news to me during a joint interview.

“He said that he has the original recording of the interview and Tom Hanks starts raving about our series for 5 minutes. You don’t hear praise like that every day!”


Did you get to do many of your own stunts?

“Yes, except for one jump from a height of 3 to 4 meters onto asphalt… On his mission, my character encounters an increasing number of physical challenges and I really wanted to do them myself.

Deutschland 83 1 3 Martin and Alex

“I spent half a year taking kick-boxing classes and during filming I went jogging almost every day. I have never been as fit as I was during the shoot. Rainer, the stunt coordinator, already knew me from other German film productions and guided me through the stunts. To be honest it was a lot of fun!

“For me acting deals mostly with the head— and being allowed to turn that off and to do something physical is a welcome diversion when you’re filming for half a year!”


Deutschland 83 has a brilliant soundtrack – are you a fan of 80s music?

“Absolutely! Although I’m a child of the ’90s, I grew up surrounded by 80s music. My father had a whole repertoire of 80s songs that he would play on his guitar and sing along to. As a boy all I wanted was to play along with him on the old piano in our living room. I was unbelievably uncool in school, at least with my taste in music.

“All of my classmates were listening to hip hop or electro music and my iPod was full of so-called oldies. But that was how my journey as musician started. Now I am studying jazz piano and have a band called Northern Lights.”


> Order Deutschland 83 on DVD on Amazon.

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