In this interview, Aimée Woolford talks with The Liberator star, Philipp Christopher, about the pioneering mini-series; his experience at the School of Visual Arts and his encouraging words to aspiring actors and actresses, during these unprecedented times.
Q: “The Liberator”, airing on November 11th 2020, tells the true story of the most dramatic march to victory ever seen during the Second World War. You have a starring role in this mini-series as Major von Lamberth, so can you tell us about this character?
A: The real Major von Lamberth was the combat commander of Aschaffenburg towards the end of the war. Even though there was no path to victory, he enforced resistance by enlisting all able-bodied men to fight. The ones who disserted or refused would be punished, sometimes even hanged publicly to be made an example of. This is where the story of Episode 4 picks up. He is a ruthless yet experienced and diligent officer and it was a fun experience to dive into his psyche and the conviction he carried.
Q: How does it feel to be involved in such a pioneering mini-series? What was your experience during the shoot?
A: We were all very uncertain about how the final look of the show would turn out, but I know the director Greg and love his visual talent. He is an amazing artist and I trusted him in every way. I’ve worked in front of a blue/green screen before but never with such bare minimum. The sets only consisted of a few props from the period, maybe some furniture but everything around us was screen. I actually thought it was a good opportunity to train my imagination. The make-up was probably the most unusual that was every applied to me. It was very secretive so I’m not sure how much I can talk about it but it required a very specific technique for this new technology.
Q: What is it like to work with Greg Jonkajtys?
A: Greg has worked as a CG artist on some of the biggest movies and is also a fantastic director. We had actually met at a film festival in the US years before and that’s where I became aware of his visual talent. When he asked me to play Lamberth, I did not flinch. To me, it was only a matter of time until he would find his way to directing a major show or film.
Q: What was it like to study at the School of Visual Arts, and how was the beginning of your acting career influenced by your mentors, Elizabeth Kemp and Sandra Seacat?
A: I really enjoyed SVA. It was my portal into the film world. The school was very hands-on and open to all kinds of creative endeavours. The most important aspect of film school, however, is its community. The fact that you’re constantly surrounded by every aspect of film really drives your enthusiasm and sparks your creativity.
Elizabeth Kemp influenced my acting more than any other teacher. It is hard to put into words, but I would say she was able to open my heart and soul to the craft, to the dedication, to each character I played. She would not accept half measures. You either give all or nothing. Acting became a creative expression; an art form in which you and a fictitious character become one. She manifested my love for acting.
Unfortunately, she is not with us anymore and I miss her terribly. But her spirit lives on, in people like Sandra Seacat who was in turn a mentor to Elizabeth. A wonderful human being and coach in her own right, I met Sandra later in life. Both these women have an understanding and love for acting that is the most selfless, untainted and brightest I’ve ever witnessed.
Q: I’ve heard that you are constantly finding ways to advocate for action against climate change! Do you use your influential platform as an actor to encourage your fans to do the same, and what future plans regarding these issues do you have?
A: The Coronavirus pandemic has had a lot of bad effects on all aspects of life, but one major one is that it seems to have put a damper on the issue of climate change, which is in a way ironic as the latter is actually a bigger threat to life as we know it. If we would have responded to climate change the same way as we are to the pandemic, we would be a lot further along. I
am not sure how much social media platforms really have an effect on the issue anymore. I do still use my platforms to inform people, but I also think that much bolder actions are required in order to bring about change. It’s not about raising awareness anymore as I think the issue has entered the conscious minds of people at this point. What’s missing is the actions of politicians and also the media. The sad truth might be that we humans have to hit rock bottom in order to change, but with this issue we cannot wait for that scenario.
I do support Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion who I already had a meeting with, but as of now I’m not sure what my future path will be. I have to rethink my strategy.
Q: You’ve directed two films of your own: “The Bridge” and “Chance of Rain”, both of which have been featured and well-received at international film festivals. What is it that you enjoy about directing as opposed to acting?
A: As a director, you are the captain of a ship. There is a lot of responsibility and that can be thrilling and exciting. When you finally see your film come to fruition and it is close to what you imagined or even exceeds it… that’s an amazing feeling. You managed to navigate the ship into the harbour and everyone on board has helped you along the way. It is more collaborative, as it brings together all aspects of filmmaking. Even though it can be the most heart-wrenching and stressful experience, when it’s all finished and the credits come up on the screen… it feels like a creative adrenaline kick.
Sometimes however, I don’t want that responsibility and focus only on acting. You are still part of a collaborative project but without all the headaches that come from being a director. And of course, acting in itself can be the most rewarding experience especially when handed a full-fledged character and script.
Q: What would you say has been your favourite genre of film to act in, considering you’ve gained experience in real-life recreations, sci-fi shows and drama/thriller programmes such as “BANSU”, directed by Pavel Kostomarov?
A: I think it all depends on the role and the script. It can be any genre, as long as the part is well written and the story works. I do, however, long for some simple drama along the lines of “Marriage Story” for example. Something completely character driven, something I’ve done on stage and a bit on TV but not so much lately. I think every actor can consider themselves lucky to be part of an amazing, character-driven script. It doesn’t come along that often but it’s what I’m aching for.
Q: What do you think the challenges can be for new actors and actresses in such a competitive industry, and what would you say to these aspiring people to encourage them?
A: Work, work, work. Always work on your craft. And I’m not saying you necessarily have to take classes. Just act…with friends, do independent films, create an acting group. There are endless possibilities. The technology has also gotten so affordable that you can shoot your own films. In this busy atmosphere, it might be the best way to get seen and heard. And always ask yourself why you’re in it. Is it to be a star, or to be an actor? You know the answer. Social media has made it a lot easier to be a star these days, so don’t waste your time on acting.
Photo: Grayson Lauffenburger
Styling: Giulia Consiglio
Find out more about the work of ‘Fridays for Future’ here: https://fridaysforfuture.org/
Find out more about ‘Extinction Rebellion’ here: https://extinctionrebellion.uk/
For more information about Philipp Christopher, click here: http://philippchristopher.com/