German autograph card. Photo: Mathias Bothor.
Sebastian Koch (1962) is one of Germany s most multi-faceted and successful television and film actors. He is known for roles in the Academy Award-winning film The Lives of Others (2007), Paul Verhoeven’s film Zwartboek/Black Book (2006), Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015), and as Otto Düring in the fifth season of the TV series Homeland (2015-2016).
Sebastian Koch was born in 1962 in Karlsruhe, West Germany. Koch grew up in Stuttgart with his single mother, and temporarily lived in the orphanage where his mother worked. He originally wanted to be a musician, but a production of the artistic director Claus Peymann influenced him in the late 1970s to change his career aspiration to become an actor. From 1982 to 1985, Koch studied acting at the renowned Otto-Falckenberg-Schule (Otto Falckenberg School) in Munich. In addition to his cinematic work, he played a diversity of different roles on stage. Koch portrayed amongst other Peer Gynt and Leonce in Leonce and Lena at the municipal theatre of Darmstadt. At the Schiller theatre in Berlin he played the character Roller in Schiller’s Die Raüber/The Robbers and Orest in Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris. A couple of years later, he took over the role of Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in the playhouse Bochum under the direction of Armin Holz. Koch had his first TV appearance in 1980 in the 77th episode of the Krimi series Derrick, followed by an episode in another popular Krimi series Tatort/Crime Scene (1986). He acted in numerous thrillers like Der Mann mit der Maske/The Man with the Mask (Peter Schulze-Rohr, 1994), Die brennende Schnecke/The Burning Snail (Thomas Stiller, 1996) and in Heinrich Breloer’s two-piece Todesspiel/Dead Pool (1997), in which he portrayed the role of Andreas Baader. This role overnight changed his career.
Sebastian Koch won in 2002 the Adolf Grimme Award for two different films, a feat not achieved in over 30 years of German television. He won the award for the title role in Der Tanz mit dem Teufel – Die Entfuehrung des Richard Oetker/Dance with the Devil – The Kidnapping of Richard Oetker (Peter Keglevic, 2001), the story of the abduction of the heir to the Oetker fortune, and for his performance as the writer Klaus Mann in the three-part historical family drama Die Manns – Ein Jahrhundertroman/The Manns – A Novel of the Century (Heinrich Breloer, 2002), starring Armin Mueller-Stahl as Thomas Mann. The latter drama was furthermore distinguished as "TV event of the year" with the German Television Award, and Koch received the Bavarian TV Award for the same film. His first international productions included the historical drama Napoléon/Napoleon (Yves Simoneau, 2002), in which Koch appeared alongside Christian Clavier, Gérard Depardieu, John Malkovich and Isabella Rossellini. He portrayed the youthful lover of Catherine Deneuve, Rodolphe Löwenstein, in Princesse Marie/Marie und Freud (Benoît Jacquot, 2004). Anke Zindler at IMDb: ‘Koch’ s continued choice of roles in his career have provided an extremely intense examination of many personalities and themes pertaining to German history.’ He played Rudolf Höss in Costa-Gavras Hochhuth’s adaptation Amen (2002). He appeared in The Tunnel (Roland Suso Richter, 2001), a made-for-television German film about the idea of going underground by digging a tunnel shortly after the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961, and in the historical drama Zwei Tage Hoffnung/Two Days of Hope (Peter Keglevic, 2003) about the strike in the GDR on 17 June 1953. Koch appeared as Oberst Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg in Stauffenberg/Operation Valkryrie (Jo Baier, 2004) winner of the German Film Award; and as the Nazi architect Albert Speer in the TV mini series Speer und Er/Speer & Hitler: The Devil’s Architect (Heinrich Breoler, 2005) – his third collaboration with the director following Todesspiel and The Manns – A Novel of the Century. He received for his latter performance the German TV Award.
In 2006, Sebastian Koch played his most famous role as GDR dramatist/playwright Georg Dreymann in the drama Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006) opposite Ulrich Mühe and Martine Gedeck. Dreyman was a dissident who was spied on and monitored by the Stasi. The film received an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2007 as well as the BAFTA Award, the César, and the German and European Film Award. In Paul Verhoeven’s excellent film Zwartboek/Black Book (2006), Koch played a Nazi Officer in occupied Holland who falls in love with a Jewish member of the resistance (Carice van Houten). Black Book celebrated its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Koch appeared opposite Tim Roth in the international production of Jack London’s classic psychological adventure novel Sea Wolf (Mike Barker, 2008). He portrayed a lone despot of both brutal cruelty and longing romance. The shooting of this two-parter based on Nigel Williams’ script took place in Halifax, Canada. The mini series won the Directors Guild of Canada Award and Koch was nominated in 2010 for his role as Wolf Larsen for the international Emmy Award. In Manipulation (Pascal Verdosci, 2009), adapted from the novel Das Verhör des Harry Wind, Koch played a leading role opposite Klaus Maria Brandauer.
Sebastian Koch also starred in the English independent tragicomedy Albatross (Niall MacCormick, 2010), Unknown (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2010) with Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger, and he had a guest role alongside Eva Green and Joseph Fiennes in the TV series Camelot (2011). In 2011, Koch appeared in the Czech production Ve Stinu/The Shadow of the Horse (David Ondricek, 2012), in which Koch played the leading role of the investigator Zenk, whose mission is to win through one personal rival and through the regime of communist Prague in the 1950s. In Das Wochenende/The Weekend (Nina Grosse, 2012), Koch portrays an amnestied RAF terrorist (Jens Kessler), who has a reunion with his old mates. In the same year Koch made the Greek-Russian drama film O Theos agapaei to haviari/God Loves Caviar (Yannis Smaragdis, 2012), based upon the true story of Ioannis Varvakis, played by Koch, a former pirate who moved up to being a Greek caviar merchant and eventual benefactor from Psara. The international cast also included Catherine Deneuve as Catherine the Great of Russia and John Cleese as Officer McCormick. Furthermore, Koch played the title role in the thriller Suspension of Disbelief (Mike Figgis, 2012) with Lotte Verbeek, and was Bruce Willis’ Russian antagonist in A Good Day to Die Hard (John Moore, 2013), part 5 of the Die Hard films. Ridley Scott directed him in The Vatican (2013), a pilot episode for a Showtime series about intrigues concerning the Pope and mysteries and secrets within the Catholic Church. Koch played the role of the Vatican’s secretary Cardinal Marco Malerba, who is one of the true potentates of the inner circle.
Sebastian Koch portrayed Alfred Nobel in Bertha von Suttner und Alfred Nobel – Eine Liebe für den Frieden/Madame Nobel (Urs Egger, 2014). In the French production Au nom de ma fille/Kalinka (Vincent Garenq, 2016), based on a true story, Koch played Dieter Krombach, a German doctor who is accused of murdering his stepdaughter by her biological French father (Daniel Auteuil). The case had spanned 30 years and has caused considerable publicity because of the issues of French-German relations and vigilante justice it raised. Koch was also part of Steven Spielberg’s historical dramatic thriller Bridge of Spies (2015) starring Tom Hanks, about the negotiations of the release of spies between the East and West. He also appeared in the biographical romantic drama The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper, 2015), about one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, starring Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander. Nebel im August/Fog in August (Kai Wessel, 2016) is the first feature film to address the Nazis’ euthanasia program and the hospital’s staunch Nazi chief physician Werner Veithausen’s (played by Koch) way of dealing with the issue. Koch appeared in the fifth season of the TV series Homeland (2015-2016) about bipolar CIA Officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). Recently he could be seen in Werk ohne Autor/Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) with Tom Schilling, and in the Television adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose (Giacomo Battiato, 2019) with John Turturro and Rupert Everett. Announced is the Canadian series Shadowplay (Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein, 2020), in which he will star with Nina Hoss. Sebastian Koch dated Carice van Houten from 2006-2009. He had met her on the set of Zwartboek/Black Book. Koch lives in Berlin and has a daughter, Paulina.
Sources: Anke Zindler (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.
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