Mikael Nyqvist plays the German
sect leader Paul Schäfer in "Colonia Dignidad"
Source: Die Presse - February 20, 2016
How did you know Colonia Dignidad?
I did a film in Chile years ago about Pinochet and the
coup. One night while we had a dinner with the actors, a
journalist came into the restaurant totally shocked. We
had been working on the film for two or three months.
The journalist had just been in the colony because Paul
Schäfer had been arrested, and began to talk about it.
We thought he was inventing it. That sounded like hell
on earth. Ten years later Florian (director Florian
Gallenberger, note) called me, and now I have played
Schäfer. A monster.
What did you think when he called?
There were many thoughts that went through my head. Why
should I do it? And how? The film is also a
documentation in a way. So I had a responsibility to
stay close to what he was. It was a great challenge for
me to step into this dark side of life. I think I as an
actor also have a responsibility to keep the world a
mirror and tell of life. That such people also exist.
What was it like to be a shepherd?
Really hard. I felt sick every day. I felt like a
dangerous animal. But he was probably a charismatic
preacher. He was curious. But he could turn into a
destructive one in a minute. The most sinister
thing was that all these people put their lives in his
hands. I have therefore dealt with Charles Manson, all
those sect leaders, even Pol Pot, to find out what makes
them. They all have one thing in common: they say the
truth in their own way. And do not care to be polite.
Was he a personification of God?
I think so. Many people consider themselves to be
omnipotent, most of them as teenagers. If you still do
this as a grown man, that is not good. And then he also
abused children. I said that I cannot play such a scene,
because then a child experiences something like that.
And I cannot not do that either. I am a father.
Did Schäfer have a master plan or did he act out of
I do not think he had a plan. Every day was a new day. I
believe that if you inflict so much suffering on people,
you cannot analyze what you did yesterday. He only
looked forward, which is a dangerous thing. One step
forward, two back: This is the right path for me. One
must also not forget that these people came from the
destroyed Germany. He was in the Luftwaffe and they had
taken all this Third Reich thinking, authority, rules,
laws. He probably used it. It was like a camp, you were
constantly punished. We have this scene in which a
person must confess, and then everyone begins to hit
her. This is something you always do because it is
filmed from different angles. This is no longer funny
after a while. You start to turn. I played with a lot of
extras, and you can feel how fast it is that the
situation derailed. I told Florian that we had to stop.
Two people were about to go crazy.
What did you do to get out of the role again in the
Alcohol, drugs, sex... No. In fact, I have not really
figured it out. It was a depressive period. I've looked
at many documentaries about preachers and the world war.
In a break I went to Bhutan to trek with a Buddhist monk
from monastery to monastery. That was nice. Then we went
on, and I met some of Schäfer's victims. In costume I
looked like Paul Schäfer. This was not pleasant.
Did it help to grow your hair like he did?
That was a wig.
What actually made your way to Hollywood? The
It slowly began, with "Together," "As in Heaven", and
then the "Millennium Trilogy". Many had seen this, and
they had read all these books. I knew Stieg
Larsson. I'm always find suspicious of
bestsellers. I have not read "The Da Vinci Code". And
then I read the three "Millennium" books in one day or
What do you read instead?
Classics. Currently I'm reading a lot of Rilke.
Whitman. I read many poems.
Yes, Tomas Tranström, who was my neighbor for a while.
When he got the Nobel Prize, I had just written my
second book and got into a writers block. I could not
write - and he had the Nobel Prize and journalists were
running all the way through the hall.
What were you writing about then?
It is a novel about something I hate: that other people
tell us who we are, create us almost. I hate that, but
you have to live with it. If someone says "You're fat,"
you can say yes or no, the rest you have no choice. This
affects us, but it is a trap. It's also about film and
theater, because they are places where you can really
feel it. He's good, he's bad...
Do you think that people have a half-true picture of
No idea. I think I am pretty humble and extremely good.
The bad thing is that I have to say that myself
(laughs)... No, I really have no idea.