interview | jannik schümann

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Meeting Jannik Schümann is like meeting a long-lost friend. Nestled outside a cafe in Berlin, Schümann meets Schön! at a time when both Spring and his career are in full bloom. The German actor is equal parts warm and approachable as he chats about his latest project, the mini-series Disko 76. The series focuses on Doro, a woman who flees from her marriage, discovers disco, and falls for Robert, played by Schümann.

It’s a role that, in a way, has made his career come full circle. He grew up as a child in the rural quarter of Hamburg and found a passion for music, dance, and theatre. Disko 76 brings together the aesthetic of the 70s and the secret discotèques where people could be free to be who they are. For Schümann, who has championed characters and projects that uplift lesser-known stories, it’s a place to explore the societal norms in Germany in the 70s and what they meant for women.

Meeting up for a spot of lunch, Schümann sits with Schön! to discuss what attracted him to the role, why Germany needs to support more queer representation in the media, and more.

What was it about your character Robert in Disko 76 that attracted you to the role?

Okay, I was attracted because of different things. I love to dance; it was always my dream to be part of a dance film. I grew up with John Travolta movies like Grease and Saturday Night Fever. My favourite film is Billy Elliot. I saw the film when I was nine years old. From that day on, I could relate to Billy a lot. I always wanted to be part of a dance film. This was the one part, plus there are no dance film genres in Germany; it’s not really existent.

Not anymore. It was like a period in the ’80s

There was one production a few years ago, but this was more like the Flying Steps breakdance style. I was always waiting for a dance film or series, and then Disco 76 came around. That’s why I liked the project in general. In addition to that, what I really liked about Robert is that in the beginning, in the first episodes, you just think that he is the cool dance god on the dance floor. He’s like this typical, mature boy, but then you get to know him much better and you understand why he is doing what he does without saying too much. He has experienced lots of bad things in his past and he’s just looking for answers. That’s why he is in the western part of Germany — we tell the story of when Germany was still separated. I always look for characters who are not black or white, not good or bad. I’m looking for the in-between.

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You shared your casting tape for the show where you’re dancing. Can you tell me a bit about the dance training you had for the show? 

I think I could dance. We were asked to do the self-tape with acting scenes, but also to dance so that the choreographers could see if we could dance or not.

Did you do it on your own at home? Or was there somebody else?

At my home, it was completely improvised. It was just some dancing moves and my best friend was filming, and I put the towel on her head so that she couldn’t see me because we were laughing too much. It was just insanely funny. I sent this casting tape and then I got the part. We rehearsed for almost six months for the show with our two choreographers and with Emma, my dancing partner and my colleague in the show. She has a dancing background, so she knows how to move.

The series focuses on Doro escaping her marriage, discovering disco, and using dance as a form of escape. Can you tell me about a time when you found a passion or hobby that helped you escape from ‘life’?

Okay. deep question. I think dancing was a part of that. I always danced when I was younger. I went to once a week to a dancing school as a hobby, but then I found my passion for musicals. I started my acting career when I was nine years old on stage. I fell in love with musicals so being in a theatre is my escape. The lights turn off and the show starts… That’s always one of my favourite memories. 

We’ve been together to the same ballet when Easter started.

Yes! I always love going to the performances of these choreographers. Their ballets are blowing my mind. And the audience is also special. Experiencing these shows together is one of my favourite moments.

Can you sing?

I wish. 

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Despite being gay/queer, you tend to play straight roles. Do you find there is a lack of projects and characters that focus and uplift queer stories?

Yeah, I do.

Tell me what you think should be normalised.

Queer life and the community need more representation. Last month I saw All Of Us Strangers with Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal and it was so special because even if it was a queer story, their sexual orientation is not the main focus but the universal fear of losing your parents. So it is not a “queer film“ but a drama. In Germany, it would just be a “queer film” and the actual premise of the film wouldn’t be that important. Our problem is that we’re always categorising it that way, almost like queer life isn’t normal yet.

Yeah, it’s stereotypes a lot and people think that queer stories means a love story.  

Exactly. People wouldn’t watch it because it’s a queer story and they wouldn’t be interested in that. The things the characters are struggling with are universal — they aren’t queer topics. I’m looking forward to seeing more [queer stories] and also to be part of more queer projects in Germany without stereotypes.

We are not a genre; sexual orientation shouldn’t be seen as a genre.

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Usually, people are saying, “Well, you are part of a queer film or you are again part of who we are.” But they wouldn’t ask or they wouldn’t tell that to a straight person who’s playing a straight character. I think people are seeing [these films] as a niche or a category, but it’s not. 

Since it’s set in the 70s, what were some of the films, albums, or other media that you watched/read to prepare you for the role and show?

Yeah, I love the soundtrack, it’s incredible. I’m so happy because I talked to a lot of people, like my parents and their friends, and got them to time travel back to the 70s and ask them questions. Men love the series, my dad had a lot of fun watching it. The music is amazing. I rewatched the classic Saturday Night Fever and I love watching Flashdance just to get a feeling of the dancing film. Love is still always the main thing in those stories.

Was there anything that surprised you about the role of Robert that you experienced while filming?

Good question. Not really, but I learned a lot about the 70s regarding the role of women in marriage and relationships in general. I know that not every relationship and husband were like that — forcing women to stop working and such — and there were exceptions. The men were so powerful and would just call their bosses, “My wife is pregnant, she’s not coming back to work.” That’s just 50 years ago, I didn’t know that it still happened in the 70s.

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You worked closely with Luise Aschenbrenner, who you called your ‘partner in crime.’ What was it like working with Luise?

It was very special, she is a very special human being. She’s honest and true and lovely.  She was fighting for a character and she was fighting for things that were not written in the script, but that she wanted to be part of the show. She was fighting to make her character as special as possible and I really admire that. If there was a line in the script that she didn’t like or wasn’t specific enough, she would have 10 Zoom calls to try to change it. She’d suggest lines that work better for her character. She was always fighting for the character and I learned a lot from her.

When you first read the script, does it change a lot by the time you end filming and it comes out?

No, not really. Luise’s character is edgy and I’m always a fan of edgy characters. It’s important to also portray the character who is not always doing good things, you know? We need more characters that are real and authentic. 

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Disko 76 is out on March 28th.

photography. Alexander Courtman
fashion. Gianluca Cococcia
talent. Jannik Schümann @ Marie-Claire Kozik
grooming. Sabrina Reuschl
cd + production. Dirk Meycke
video. Markus Ostermeier
photography assistant. Sinan Kollmar
location. Kino International
interview. Raoul Keil


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