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We got a chance to chat with multi-talented actor Richard Sammel on the set of A French Village (Un village français)! Season 6 is now streaming on MHz Choice and season 7 will premiere later this year!

Were you personally affected by WWII?

RS: I can tell you how I was personally affected by the second World War, because I’m just part of that generation that was born with generational guilt; I’m just guilty because I am German. Yet I’m born in 1960, so decades after the Nazism. So that’s one thing…then you discover about your family, that your grandfather which I didn’t know was a German normal soldier and he died in a prison in Siberia. And then you find out that from your father’s side there is complete obscurity about his family. Your deduction is that they have shit on their shoes. My big surprise was actually that the father of my father was imprisoned in Buchenwald and they were ashamed of saying that. He didn’t die in Buchenwald. He first was in Buchenwald and then he was in a concentration camp near Hamburg and then there they were liberated. But he wasn’t a Jew, he was an anarchist yet he got the same treatment as you know, like for the homosexuals the disabled and the Jews, it’s all what you have to eradicate. So I was kind of angry when I discovered that because that didn’t give me the opportunity to shine with a hero in my family. You’re either ashamed of what your family has done or you’re very proud because you have a resistant or a Jew or…. So, yes I’m actually born really in-between then, by I did research on my family. My family actually was Jew until the 17th century. It was Samuel then changed to Sammel because they were fed-up with the persecutions, they came from Poland. So that’s why I grew up completely catholic. So that’s my personal story with that, you know.

As an actor, what responsibility do you have playing a Nazi?

RS: You have to take care not to justify crimes. So you have to be very clear about that what has happened is one of the biggest crimes of humanity. I don’t want there to be any doubt on that.  And yet, like with Heinrich Müeller, if the production is intelligent enough to give the bad guys the opportunity to tell their story, then me as an actor, I move in with my, I hope, highly evolved responsibility, sense of responsibility. I’m not interested in just shaping a cliché, I’m interested in telling a man’s story, whoever he is. And whatever a man has done – you take any dictator, and I will be passionate to understand why Pol Pot did what he did.  And it’s very passionate if you give space to it.  It doesn’t mean it justifies it, it doesn’t mean that you agree with it. But it means that you get a beginning of understanding of it. And then you enter in human complexity in a way you have no idea. You start to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing for very selfish reasons, or reasons you would not share at all. But you understand. And when you start to understand a human behavior, you judge and you analyze in a different way.

What makes A French Village so special?

RS: What makes that series so very special is that it gave me for the very first time in my professional career, the time to tell a man’s story. And the time to reflect on it and the time to grow with it.  So, that’s the invention and the benefit of a series, anyhow. You find a lost treasure and that lost treasure in TV or cinema is time. Normally, you tell a man or wife’s or couple’s story in an hour and a half. Here, we have seven years. With 12 times one hour of screen time. It’s not all on you, but it’s a collective enterprise. But it gives you a lot of opportunities to grow with it, and a lot of opportunities to change the angle. That’s actually, I think it’s the biggest present you can give to an actor. The second biggest present is the quality of the writing and the quality of the team. I’ve never experienced a team where every head of department is so on top of his or her qualification, so actually, completely, “Here I am.” “I’m the costume designer – I’m gonna show you your costume.” And you are kind of… “ooooohhh!!!” I always get excited when I, when the makeup artist or hair artist or costume designer, or those who make the locations, want to show me something. Because I’m always…. “wow”!

What's next?

RS: Well, I’m on a series I started it’s called, The Strain, from Guillermo Del Toro, and I play a vampire. But I also have some cinema stuff going on, some minor indie movies, a German movie, a comedy, an Italian movie just released in theaters in Italy, a psychological thriller called Day Like a Week from director Kader Ayd where I costar with Armand Assante.