A Life Devoted to Music
An interview with Louis Hofmann
In PRÉLUDE Louis Hofmann plays a talented pianist
Rising star Louis Hofmann has often been seen at FILMFEST MÜNCHEN — for example, in the tender coming-of-age drama CENTER OF MY WORLD. By now, Hofmann is well-known all over Germany thanks to the captivating mystery series DARK. This makes us all the more delighted that this up-and-coming actor is returning to Munich this year with not one, but two exciting films. In PRÉLUDE, he plays a talented musician who experiences the downside of being an artist; and he also has a role in THE WHITE CROW, about Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. We met the amiable actor at the world premiere of PRÉLUDE and asked him about his own experiences as an artist and how life in the spotlight affects a person.
In PRÉLUDE, you play an aspiring pianist named David, a freshman at a conservatory who's under pressure from the beginning. What was it about this story that caught your interest?
In 2015, I was invited to a casting for PRÉLUDE. I think I'd read only a small blurb about it, but it won me over right away and I knew I absolutely had to play this part. I don't know whether I'd already seen WHIPLASH. I grew up around lots of music and have an affinity to it — and probably a fascination with sadness as well. I thought if the script fulfills the promise of that little blurb, I've got to be a part of things. Then I went to the first casting with director Sabrina Sarabi and we simply got along very well and I noticed that she does very fine work.
When did you finally shoot the film?
Two years ago. It was hard to get all the money that was necessary. It is just a small film, after all. I'm still glad that we made it even though we didn't have much money. Being so close on set was also great. On the first day of shooting, there were maybe 15 of us on the set. It took some getting used to, because I'd just come from DARK, where we'd had 100 to 150 people. That was our own little microcosm, and working with such a small team was something I enjoyed to the fullest.
Is that something you generally prefer: a smaller scale?
No. I just prefer good material.
What does good material consist of?
That's the question. There are only the standard responses: well-developed characters, a nice development of the role, a story that's exciting, not one that's narrated. David is somebody I can identify with to a good extent. He's sensitive. He has this great ambition that I carry within myself. When he does something, he jumps in wholeheartedly. That's also the approach I take to my own work. That's why I understood him right away.
You mentioned that music has always been very important to you. Do you play an instrument?
I played violin for a year, because my brother played violin. I stopped pretty soon after that. Then, at age eight or nine, I began to play the drums. I did that for eight years.
Do you still play?
I stopped when I moved from Cologne to Berlin. I didn't have a drum set there, nor did I have the infrastructure: a place to rehearse and so on. I didn't take it up again until this year. I rediscovered how awesome it is and how much I'd missed it — how I'd totally been caught up in the piano as well. I used to be able to play chords or three-finger accompaniment. Classical pieces, though, were pretty foreign to me. I somehow put in a lot of effort with a teacher, without being able to read music. We did it with videos. I think it helped me a little to be able to play the drums. But to learn a new instrument and suddenly understand how it works and to be familiar with the keyboard and to get into the groove when playing: that really did a lot for me. In addition, it was just extremely good preparation for the part. It made the character accessible to me, which is something I hadn't really expected.
How long did you practice?
After I got the role, we did two years of workshops. In the end, we had two-hour lessons, five days a week for three months, and then two to four more hours a day of practice.
That's a lot.
You're right. But it's great. At first it's so difficult. The first two weeks were so rough: you're really just searching for the notes; your fingers don't understand it all just yet. You feel like a dyslexic on the piano, just so amateurish. And suddenly after two or three weeks, your fingers start doing what they should. You follow the instrument, and it's simply awesome.
Are you still doing it?
Unfortunately not. No, because I can't read music and because I'd noticed that I get bored easily because I only ever play the same pieces. My roommates and I have a piano, and I play it sometimes, but not like before.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Mainly indie rock, indie pop, alternative. Sometimes soul classics, chansons, or jazz hip-hop.
Can you name two or three artists?
Two or three artists I can name... Somehow that's always pretty hard to do. Right now I'm really looking forward to the new Dope Lemon album that's coming out soon. As for indie pop, Bon Iver is one of my heroes. Parcels is great. I could go on forever. Music is a really important part of my life. I just immerse myself in it and discover new artists. It's a lot of fun.
There's this gotcha question that I once picked up from a job interview: If you were a song, what song would you be? That is, a song that describes you very well.
I have no idea. I think the songs we listen to speak to only part of ourselves. The first song I thought of is "8 (Circle)" by Bon Iver. But that's just my melancholy side. It wouldn't describe me completely, because I also have a non-melancholy side, a very happy side, that I wouldn't be doing justice to.
Left: Louis Hofmann at the FILMFEST MÜNCHEN Right: The drama WHITE CROW with Louis in a supporting role
Now that you've had a brief look at the life of a musician, even indirectly, what would you say is similar to or different from the life of an actor?
The pressure is what they have in common. The expectations one has of oneself. The competition. Although I have to say we're a generation, I think, who fight more alongside each other than against each other. For a pianist, it's a more individual fight than for an actor, because as an actor you normally don't perform alone.
In the film, David has to put his personal life on the back burner in order to get somewhere as a musician. Since you said that you enjoy immersing yourself, to what extent do you find yourself having to put your personal life on the back burner?
Since the work always comes in phases, you only have to do that in phases. And then I do that. In recent years, I've also learned that you can't completely separate the two — that the project phases should intersect more with the phases of free time. I've always felt that I've completely forgone personal life while working, up until the end of shooting. At some point, I no longer thought that was a good thing. In this line of work, you have to watch out, otherwise you'll start thinking of the year only in terms of blocks of time. I've resolved to be aware of this for more than a whole year again. Theater actors can probably do that a lot better, because they have regular work. They're able to balance their personal lives and their work more easily. That's a small obstacle that a film actor has to overcome at some point.
Let's assume you have free time. What do you do to unwind after work?
I had a hard time of that in Berlin. But this year, I went back to some old hobbies, like the drums. Also skateboarding, climbing, bouldering, and so on, to find balance. It's just about doing something that no one judges and where there's no output. Where you're not forced to deliver output. Because all you do when playing is give, give, give. You learn something, too, of course, and it gives you something back. But it's very relaxing to just do something that no one is appraising.
And where you're not being watched.
That, too, yes.
How often does it happen nowadays that you're recognized out on the street?
Sometimes. Occasionally. There are days when nothing happens, and other days when it happens several times. It also depends on whether I'm in a bar or another place where people gather.
Imagine that for some reason you had to do something other than act.
What would I do?
Hm. That's difficult.
Did you always want to be an actor, or were there alternatives?
A soccer player, of course. I definitely wanted to be a soccer player. When I finished high school, I was also very interested in psychology — and art. But I don't believe that I'd study art or psychology, even though I was still saying that two or three years ago. I also have a lot of fun working behind the camera, and I've been a set manager for short films. I enjoy organizing a set in the extreme, because I also have experience in how these things work. I'd probably still prefer to stay in the world of film and then maybe try to develop material or help to see it realized.
So you could also imagine directing and scriptwriting?
Probably not scriptwriting. I'm more the kind of person who reads the script and says, "Oh, that's what happens. I think it'd be great if this and that also happened." I don't think I could write a story myself. I have a lot of respect for those who can.
What else are you up to next?
On Monday, we started filming the third season of DARK, so I'll just do that for now. That'll probably take another six months. After that, we'll be done. The series was planned as a trilogy from the beginning, so the story will conclude with the third season.
That's all from me. In closing, do you have any more fantastic comments you'd like to make about your film?
I think Sabrina is very talented, and I'm very proud of this film and hope that people will see it.