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Jonas Nay and EPs Anna and Joerg Winger Preview Sundance TV’s Coming-of-Age Thriller Deutschland83 [Exclusive] 

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Warning: Spoilers Ahead

’80s nostalgia is huge right now. We all either remember the ’80s or have been inspired in some way by ’80s culture — maybe it’s fashion or toys or music (or something else). I was especially intrigued by this show for two major reasons: 1. I love coming-of-age dramas and 2. My dad was in the military and we were stationed in West Germany in the ’80s. Although I was too young to remember or appreciate what was going on in world at that time, it’s so interesting to look back now that I know more about the Cold War and East/West German relations. It’s been educational, to say the very least, and this series makes it entertaining and intriguing as well.

I had the chance to speak EXCLUSIVELY to series star Jonas Nay as well as the Creators and EPs Anna and Joerg Winger. We talked about their inspiration for telling an East German story we don’t often see, the evolution of Jonas’ character and more.

Photo Credit: Conny Klein/Sundance TV
Photo Credit: Conny Klein/Sundance TV

TV GOODNESS: I love that we’re getting a new take on East Germany. We’ve heard so many stories about people wanting to leave or escape and I love that this story is about Martin, who wants to stay. Can you all talk about the genesis of this project?

Anna Winger: “I’m a novelist and my husband [Joerg Winger] is a TV producer. We created the show together. I’m American and he’s German. And from the very beginning we imagined the character as being played by Jonas [Nay] and we were lucky enough that he came on early.

TV GOODNESS: What was the inspiration behind Deutschland 83?

Anna: “So Joerg, when he was doing his West German military service during the Cold War, he was a radio signaler and in the Bundeswehr, which is the West German army. He was listening to the troops in East Germany and at Christmas they greeted him by name. So he realized there were people listening to him and there was a mole on his base. So, our idea was to tell the story from the point of view of the mole.

In the current political climate in Germany, there’s been a very big issue and questions around the NSA. It probably wasn’t as known in America, but there was a scandal of the US listening to [Angela] Merkel’s cell phone. It was a big thing and because of Stasi history, Germans are very sensitive to spying and questions of privacy. So we wanted to write something that was about that space and we decided to write something historical.”

Joerg Winger: “It was also a big moment in German pop culture in 1983. I grew up in West Germany. I was listening exclusively to British or American pop music my entire life until 1983 when, all of a sudden, there were all these German language bands coming up.

It was a strange coincidence of a great moment in German pop culture, at the same time we had a political military escalation. So there was a real counter-movement happening in that year.”

Jonas, how did you hear about Deutschland 83 and what made you want to do it?

Jonas Nay: “I was going to dinner with Anna and Joerg in Berlin and, actually, Anna told me while she was writing this series she had a photo of me on her wall. I was like, ‘Really? Why?’ [Laughs.]

She told me she watched my first movie and she said, ‘This is gonna be my Martin/Mortiz.’ They presented their series to me with such enthusiasm. I just couldn’t say no. If I do a project, I’m enthusiastic too. That was just the spirit this needs. And then everything happened really fast.

I had to do some research, of course, because I was born in 1990. I had to keep up with the [story]. We were shooting when Episodes 1, 2 and 4 were written and the rest was in development. So everybody who was working on this project, including me, was following the development all the time. It was a creative process and it was work that I really enjoyed.”

Photo Credit: Nik Konietzny/Sundance TV
Photo Credit: Nik Konietzny/Sundance TV

TV GOODNESS: One of the things I love about Martin is that he’s so reluctant, at first, to become a spy. There are some fun moments and moments of humor, especially during his training. For Anna and Joerg, can you tell me what’s coming up for the series?

Anna: “He’s reluctant and then he slowly start to get into it and then-”

Joerg: “How many episodes have you watched?”

TV GOODNESS: I’ve only watched the first one so far.

Joerg: “Ok. So that’s reluctance and then he will start enjoying it and then once he’s really enjoying it and is getting better at it, he will be faced with the darker sides of this game. We really wanted it to have all the tonalities you would have looking back at the time, so there’s moments that were completely normal in the ‘80s, but seem absurdly funny to us now. But then we also didn’t want to just glance over the depths and the artifice of being a spy. It’s a journey, a roller coaster.”

Anna: “And it’s also a journey of disillusionment. He’s a believer and we were very interested in the idea of what happens when a very normal person’s not looking to leave where they’re from. People think from the outside that everybody was just clamoring at the gates in East Germany, but it wasn’t like that.

A lot of people were living their lives as we do anywhere. Most people just live according to the system around them. So we take someone who is a very normal guy, who was living a normal life and then he’s put into extraordinary circumstances. We’re interested in how that plays out and how he comes to see both Germanys and how he can be both enchanted by and disillusioned by both sides of the equation.”

TV GOODNESS: Jonas, how does your character evolve throughout the series?

Jonas: “The big challenge for me was that Martin has to become Mortiz. Through all the circumstances he’s going through he develops, in a really tough time, as a character. We weren’t able to shoot chronologically. I had to deal with these big developments very quickly each and every day.”

TV GOODNESS: You shot out of sequence?

Joerg: “The main locations are all shot in a row. He would have to play a scene from Episode 1, then a scene from Episode 5, then a scene from Episode 3, which all took place at the same location. It’s not completely unusual. Game of Thrones does it and a few others.”

Anna: “It requires the actors to travel back and forth in time, so-”

Jonas: “It’s challenging, but there’s also something good about it. It’s really lucky for an actor to have a role that’s developing that much to start in the valley and go up mountains and back down again. It was a challenge, but it was so nice and you could show so many different faces and emotions.”

TV GOODNESS: I know that Martin seems to need a father-figure and he’s got quite a few options now that he’s gone on this mission. Can you all talk a little bit about that?

Anna: “He has a very close relationship with his mother, but he doesn’t have a father so various options present themselves from the East and the West. He also juggles women in the East and the West.”

Joerg: “And you will find out who his real father is.”

Anna: “And we try to take all the political themes and make them personal for the characters. So, here’s this guy who’s got options of whether his love life or his family life develops on both sides of the border, a lot of options.

We like the idea of him going back and forth between an East family and a West family and different ideas of who he is. Ultimately it’s a coming-of-age story, so he’s struggling with his own identity and his identity would be like the future of reunified Germany, part East and part West in the end.”

Joerg: “What’s also interesting about his character is that, in the end, he will have to rely on his own instincts. In the end he will not trust anyone, really, and he will make his own decisions.”

Jonas: “I have to find my place in the whole thing. I’ve been raised in East Germany. I have a picture of a big enemy in the West, like’s everybody’s evil, and I get a totally different picture. I meet people I like, I meet people I dislike. I get a real good picture of politics at that time because I saw both sides, military politics, and I have to find my own truth.”

TV GOODNESS: Any finals thoughts?

Anna: “I think it’s really great that you have some personal experience with the military in West Germany because I think one thing people often forget is that German Cold Wast history is also American History. It’s part of our history too.

For me as an American writer, I’m naturally that much more curious about it because it’s part of our story also. I have my writing office in Tempelhof Airport. Now it’s a park, but originally it’s where the airlift took place and it was occupied by the American Air Force during the Cold War. It’s got some really good stories in its walls.

Edited for space and content.

Photo Credit: Nik Konietzny/Sundance TV
Photo Credit: Nik Konietzny/Sundance TV

Episode 1 synopsis, from Sundance TV:

The East German HVA (Foreign Arm of the East German Secret Service) is concerned by Reagan’s “Evil Empire” rhetoric and American military plans in West Germany. When an opportunity to place an agent high up in the Bundeswehr (West German Military) presents itself, they quickly need someone very young. So Lenora Rauch sends her nephew, Martin Rauch, to West Germany against his will. In Bonn, en route, he receives intensive training from HVA field operative Tobias Tischbier and arrives at the army base in the Eifel under a new identity: Officer Mortiz Stamm.

His job is to collect intelligence on NATO plans to station Pershing II nuclear missiles in West Germany, while serving undercover as aid to General Edel. In the process, Martin befriends Edel’s rebellious children, the angry Alex and the beautiful Yvonne.

Photo Credit: Conny Klein/Sundance TV
Photo Credit: Conny Klein/Sundance TV

As his first assignment, Martin photographs the contents of a briefcase belonging to General Jackson, an American army general who is meeting with General Edel. The material he finds there is explosive. His superiors at the HVA decide he is ready to be assigned more important tasks. But when Martin is invited to a party at Edel’s family home, he almost blows his own cover by making a foolish mistake.

Deutschland 83 premieres Wednesday, June 17th at 11/10c on Sundance TV.

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