Actor Benjamin Schnau Wins Two Awards For ‘Best Actor’ And Stars In Academy Award Qualifying Film
Working in the film industry sounds like a dream for many people. For actor Benjamin Schnau it’s pure reality and it couldn’t have been better for him so far. He recently won two awards for ‘Best Actor’ at the Oniros Film Festival in Italy for the dramatic piece ‘Against all Odds’ and ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for the period film ‘The Little Picture’ at the Top Shorts Film Festival. On top of all that he also stars in the film ‘Kommando 1944’ which has now qualified for the 2020 Academy Awards and he will be seen in the upcoming film ‘The Current War’ -which is going to be released in the US on October 25. We met Benjamin to get more into detail on how he makes all this work.
Hi Benjamin, it’s great catching up with you, please fill us in about the 2 awards you won recently:
Thanks so much for having me. I’m very grateful to be able to win the award for ‘Best Actor’ at the Oniros International Film Festival in Italy for the role of Leon I was portraying in the film ‘Against All Odds’ a dramatic film about a gay couple who fights for acceptance in their community. I was working on two projects back to back at that time so I was also fortunate enough to win the award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the Top Shorts Film Festival a couple of weeks before that for my role as Gunter Wolfgang in the film ‘The Little Picture’. These awards are very special to me as I was really looking forward to working on these projects with the great cast and crew. The team effort on set was just incredible and I’m really thankful for the experience.
Tell us about the character/characters you played that you won these awards for?
The character Leon I won ‘Best Actor’ for was truly a challenging but even more exciting role for me as Leon goes to so many layers in his life as a human being. The story in ‘Against All Odds’ is about Leon and Ryan, a gay couple that just wants to be accepted in their environment. But the community they are dealing with is the world of boxing, so really something that is still not easy to combine, even today. Leon is on his way to become the next boxing champion but he also loves his long time boyfriend Ryan, so he has a very hard to time deciding what he should do, as he feels like it might be impossible to live these two important parts of his life at the same time. For me as an actor that’s where the excitement kicked in, because in the ring Leon is kind of dangerous and almost brutal with his opponent.
He wants to win and become the next champion no matter what, but is also a very sensitive and emotional person inside of him especially with Ryan outside the ring. It was an absolutely incredible journey for me to work on the character arc as I wanted to create two parallel worlds inside of me as an actor to feel the anxiety on both sides of these completely opposite parts of his life. I wanted the audience to identify with him not just as a boxer or boyfriend of someone, but more so as a human being who is struggling to make a decision to get something by maybe losing another important part of his life. I think we all have that in our lives sometimes, especially today, we want it all but maybe have to accept that we have to let go of something or maybe even someone to do what’s good or right for ourselves. That’s not easy and can hurt. This character definitely brought me even closer to myself asking basic questions that I didn’t even have the answer for.
The character Gunter Wolfgang in ‘The Little Picture’ seems like the typical general with too much authority that we immediately don’t like as the audience (laughs). But when I read the script and the character it was clear to me that the director had more in mind than just shooting another history piece. The Little Pictures talks more about the characters behind the uniforms, behind the authority, rules and regulations. I was intrigued when they offered me the part of Gunter Wolfgang as he is not really the person he is supposed to be, but it’s clear that he doesn’t have a choice. He was given this position to fight for his country and does what the authorities tell him to do. But he is also a family man (laughs).
I know when you watch the film you probably don’t want to believe it in the first place but if you pay attention you realize that he is not convinced by what he does and what’s happening around him. But in order to save himself and his family he does what’s needed to be done. That was truly amazing to me when I started working on the character to get myself in a mindset to completely understand that there are times where you get almost forced into doing maybe something negative, illegal or criminal just by knowing that you will save something on the other side. I remember when I played the role, the only thing that kept me treating people in a way I would probably never do was the thought of losing my family. It’s incredible what human beings are capable of when they are thrown into extreme situations they just have to handle. You make decisions in a second based on what’s important for you.
How has life changed for you over the last few years?
Life is always changing for me (laughs). Every new project I feel is changing me for the better. There are so many uncovered characteristics about myself I still haven’t explored -so every new role gets me a bit closer to that. But I guess you meant something else with your question! (laughs). Life has changed in very good way. I’m in a position where I’m able to play many different characters and can really develop my skills as an actor. I’m very grateful that I’ve been given all these opportunities. I just started preparing for a TV-series about heroes and characters of favorite 80’s video games where I’m playing a villain of a criminal squad trying to take over. I’m really excited about that, also.
What has been one of the highlights for you on set of ‘The Current War’?
Oh wow, one of the highlights, there are definitely a lot of top highlights, but one of them is definitely the scene we shot in an old factory building with Michael Shannon and myself outside of London for the upcoming film ‘The Current War’. First of all Michael is great to work with, so we had a great time on set but I also really have to point out the production and costume design. The film is set in the 1920’s which tells the story about Edison and Westinghouse and their battle of the technology that will decide over whose electrical system will lead the new century. Lucky enough I had long hair when we shot the movie, so they created these old school hair styles from the 1920’s which just looked so authentic and phenomenal. The film comes out in the US on October 25.
How do you feel about starring in a 2020 Academy-award qualified film?
Wow, I still can’t believe it and I’m so grateful for it. The whole cast and crew worked so hard on ‘Kommando 1944’ that it’s a true honor for all of us getting this opportunity. We knew that we wanted to create something people could start thinking about. It’s based on true events, a story about an Asian American soldier who is thrown into a Nazi work camp on a farm in Germany -as his family back home in America are forced into an American Japanese concentration camp. I play General ‘Lehmann’ who is controlling and organizing the camp with I would say a little bit ‘too much’ authority. Lehmann’s character is a very interesting one as you don’t really expect or foresee his actions which makes him very unpredictable. We all believe in the film which will be screened internationally.
What has been one of your favorite roles to play in your career so far?
Another very impacting character I was able to portray was the role of Jupp Klein in the show ‘Nazi Megastructures’ -which is based on his true story back in 1944 in Italy. Jupp Klein was a young general back then who was trying to lead his team out of Italy in order to save their lives. He was one of the youngest generals for this time which made him a true legend -so it was an honor for me to play this lead role which was produced for the National Geographic channel, which can now be seen on Netflix as well.
What have you learned the most about this business?
I’ve learned that this business is a business as well (laughs). No but seriously, first of all I believe in this industry we live in, you have to stay true to yourself. You can have ups and downs, so having a stable private life with a solid background is key. Then if you have that it’s also up to you to make it happen in the business which pretty much means that you have to be ready all the time. And I really mean it. The world of entertainment is really fast paced and you have to accept that and go with the flow. Opportunities come but are also gone immediately if you are not ready.
Being ready means that you have to work on your acting skills obviously, take classes and become better in what you do. But as important as the art and creative component is, its also essential to live a healthy lifestyle. Working out, eating healthy are key elements to make it in the industry long-term as well. Let me put it this way, understand how people see you, just don’t go after how you see yourself from the outside or how people should see you, because trust me, people see you in a certain way immediately and cast you based on that. But lets come back to the business aspect.
The film business is also like any other business which means that it’s about making money, revenue, putting the right marketing in place -for hopefully getting the right return through investment filmmakers spent on projects. Therefore it’s important to understand that the more you are in demand the more of a brand you become as well. This is a key factor why some people are making it in the industry and some don’t. If you realize this, you will probably make it easier for yourself. Especially social media becomes an important factor for the industry today which means that branding yourself in general becomes even more important than ever, so that you are able to be cast in future projects. Be open for it, accept it and go with the flow.
If you had the chance who would you like to work with in the future, either a filmmaker or actor?
I would definitely like to work with Christian Bale as I believe he one of the most committed actors we have in the industry -and I really respect that about him. I can feel it is a passion for him and is his calling. As a filmmaker or director I would love to work with Damien Chazelle. He really inspired me especially at first with his bigger projects ‘Whiplash’ a very detail orientated movie with great directing and cinematography.
What would be your best piece of advice for aspiring artists?
It maybe sounds a bit cheezy but I definitely mean it how I’m saying it. Preparation meets opportunity and never ever give up. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Know why you are doing the art of acting, directing or whatever you do. Try to understand what your purpose is and thrive for it. I’m also always saying that you can’t be great at everything and that is OK, but it’s bad if you don’t know what you are good at which doesn’t mean by the way, that you shouldn’t stop learning. You can also improve and should work on your craft always, no matter how long you are doing something -it’s just in how you change your perspective when looking at things. Oh and reflect on yourself, learn about who you are, what you are capable of but also how people see you as well -and use that to your advantage. I believe to become a great actor or great in any field to that matter, you must experience yourself and learn from it.