Character actor, musician and comedian – quite a combination! We need more artists like Matthias Matschke. And look: he even moonlights as a model!
MATSCHKE, TAKE ONE: AN ACTOR’S PROGRESS
Reading through Matschke’s list of theater, TV and film work is almost exhausting – you catch yourself thinking that the man must have superhuman powers.
First, a plethora of small roles, then progressively larger ones, culminating in his present appearances in the “Helen Dorn” series, as the supremely unsettling “word of honor” peddler in “Der Fall Barschel,” his role as Claudia Michelsen’s exasperating new colleague in “Polizeiruf 110” and perennial appearances in the middling comedy show “Sketch History.” Matschke seems to have an enormous appetite for work.
So how about his stint as a model today? It is taking place against the crazily serene backdrop of St. Agnes, a former church where each concrete wall amply illustrates why this style is called Brutalism.
“Yup, it was great fun!” he says, adding that he only models twice a year, but with immense pleasure. “I am crazy about photography, so this is great! I sneak looks to see which exposure the photographer’s using, how he’s metering – it’s like a mini internship. Today, I was really proud of myself because Gregor used the same camera and lens as I have. That has to mean I’m making progress.”
MATSCHKE, TAKE TWO: THE PEOPLE’S FAVORITE
Six years ago, I had a date with him and Kurt Krömer, the anarchic Berlin comedian who comes across as being spontaneously combustible, but who in reality targets his punch lines with the surgical precision of a fighter pilot – bam!
Our topic was friendship. Krömer sat there spouting yobbish quips. In contrast, Matschke – as yet beardless – was gentle, almost shy, super-alert, an elastic, hilariously funny butt for brief moments, a loyal sidekick hiding behind a thick-witted persona whose idea of a great evening’s fun was board games. Already an emerging actor, he appeared in theaters in both parts of Berlin: at the Volksbühne (east) and the Schaubühne (west). He wasn’t famous yet, and that didn’t seem to matter, it wasn’t his main objective.
The masses will recognize someone from TV, or not at all. Back then, they knew Matschke from “Ladykracher” (where he had to endure plenty of ignominy) and as Hagen, the younger brother in the TV show “Pastewka” (ditto).
Matschke’s specialty was the stunned straight guy. Matschke’s problem: many people considered him a comedian who got lucky with the right scriptwriters. His consolation was that he is a fantastic comedian. And an excellent accelerator, capable of going from zero to one hundred in three facial expressions.
MATSCHKE, TAKE THREE: THE ATHLETE IN ME
The man is a high performance actor. High speed, no quarter given, and straight to the point. “I feel like an athlete: Either you go for the long distance or you become a sprinter. Some films are like a 100-meter dash, others are like 800 meters, 5000 meters or 10,000 – and next up is the marathon. It’s all a question of how you apply your energy. If you know you’re running 100 meters then you use your strength differently than if you’ve still got 42 kilometers to go.” Sounds like a tried and tested pattern: actors, athletes, divas.
So tell me, Matschke – you slippery sprinter – are you particularly fond of sporting metaphors and comparisons? A look of perfect innocence crosses his face. “No, I just thought that up on the spot!” Grin.
“But it’s apt. You need stamina as an actor, and there are similarities in the discipline you need for rehearsals or training. In both, you need to be fit: A film shoot or a performance are like a tournament.” And in both, the audience has no interest in how well the athlete performed during training, how brilliant the actor was at the rehearsal…
MATSCHKE, TAKE FOUR: TRAVELING SHOES
Once upon a time, near Darmstadt, there was a restless pupil who grew up to become a clueless young college student. He liked books, had an interest in religion, didn’t have an awful lot of self-confidence. He felt he had several talents, but had no idea how to shoehorn them all into a profession.
Take, for example, his musical talents: cello, violin, guitar, mandolin, double-bass. “I have continually astounded myself, ever since I first started. I always want to go forward. There’s an old folk song, ‘My soul in my traveling shoes burns – to leave and travel – so what shall we do now – in front of so many clever people?’ by Joseph von Eichendorff, which my German teacher wrote down for me in high school. My classmates got Goethe and other famous poets; I just sat there and couldn’t relate to the verses. Today, I think: Yes, he nailed it – there’s a lot of me in those lines.”
MATSCHKE, TAKE FIVE: ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!
Now he wants more, to see what else he’s capable of now that more and more people know him, and many like him. “I believe that my deliberate aimlessness has given me a certain imperturbability,” he self-analyzes, “I am naturally restless because I am an ambitious person – without ambition you wouldn’t get anywhere in this profession. But it is an inquisitive ambition, it has no predefined goal.”
But when he does have a real, concrete goal, for example getting a role (even a tiny one) in Wes Anderson’s majestic film spectacle Grand Budapest Hotel, then he pursues it relentlessly.
And is delighted if he succeeds. And touches discreetly on what the industry has been whispering loudly: that many other, bigger names had wanted the role. Matschke got his role, as a dodgy prison guard: small, but indubitably a role.
MATSCHKE, TAKE SIX: A CERTAIN HUMBLENESS
He has a beard, the kind of in-your-face beard that says: I am an adult now. He seems more determined, less a teddy bear, more a dude. But still mind-blowingly charming – especially when he expresses silent agony, like Buster Keaton.
It all happened at the right time.
When he cleverly or foolishly tears around, romps, jumps, twists and turns, like a rubber ball. He is obviously delighted at his gradually rising fame, he is ready. “It all happened at the right time. Had I been a young shooting star I probably simply wouldn’t have known what to do. I loved the situation – the theater as a lab, as a school and testing ground. This period taught me humbleness. Because whether you deserve it or not, you always start from zero, evening after evening. Nobody claps today for yesterday’s performance.”
MATSCHKE, TAKE SEVEN: IN PURSUIT OF ADVENTURE
Let’s get things straight: He’s not saturated, and he rarely settles into a rut. Even as a master of his craft, his mind is open to new ideas. “I sometimes feel that I am continually learning new, small parts, like extracts, and my job is to fuse these parts to form a whole.”
He remains an imp waiting for the perfect moment to ambush and tease his audience, as befits an apprentice of the great Groucho Marx. He dives into happiness. “You could say that my motto is to absorb, embrace, experience as much as possible – I constantly want to see, feel, and soak up more. And that is how I almost inadvertently became an adventurer, something I would never have thought possible.”
This curiosity drives him repeatedly to photography, almost as if he has the urge to split into separate parts. “If I didn’t have to act, I would grab my camera, set off somewhere, walk around, take in what’s happening. I still love acceleration. What’s changed is that once I would have dashed off without thinking; now, I make sure that I warm up first.”