Why did you want to tell this particular story?
“Because it’s such a controversial subject. I remember there was one Swedish player coming out in the 4th division about 20 years ago and his story was mentioned in every European newspaper, because it is such a taboo. When my co-writer suggested the idea, I didn’t really think it was very original to combine football and a gay love story. I thought a film like that would already exist, but we found out that there weren’t any at that time.”
You could also have chosen a different sport, but why football?
“I think football is the most complex of all sports. The dramaturgic idea that love grows in a prohibited surrounding gives a great conflict. I love the impossible love stories like Romeo and Julia – here it’s Romeo and Julio – and here it’s so absurd. I wondered why it is so difficult in football. All the clubs and people attached say; “Oh that’d be no problem, we would support each player that would come out.” But it’s a lie. In German we called this “Lippenbekenntnis”, the words are spoken, but they don’t mean what they say.”
Did you speak with gay soccer players while making the movie?
“I spoke with Marcus Urban, a former football player who came out after his professional career. I showed him the first drafts of the screenplay. I also learned during my research that there are some clubs who are protecting their gay players and manage everything for them. Only to the outside, they have to show a very traditional image. The fake girlfriend in the movie is really happening.”
Are there clichés that you really wanted to avoid while making this movie?
“Most clichés I had to serve, because clichés are also often true, but I treated them differently. For example, I didn’t want to show too much homophobic talk, although it exists and it’s an everyday thing. So there’s one time that a player shouts on the pitch: “What a gay pass!” I had to show this, but didn’t want to exaggerate.”
“That’s also why the shower scene is ambivalent: you cannot know if it’s only in Mario’s imagination that his teammates react differently or if there’s really something going on. I wanted to show his paranoia. Because this is also the case with homophobia in the world: it is hidden and politically incorrect. So nobody really shows and it’s not always very noticeable.”
Was it difficult for you to find the lead actors?
“It was very easy actually; I really wanted to work with Max. In Switzerland, he really is the best actor of his age and when I learned that he played football for several years, I knew that he’d be perfect for me. I also wanted boys who aren’t too feminine, because I didn’t want the audience to think: “yes, of course, they’re gay.” I wanted it to be more of a surprise. This is also why I like Brokeback Mountain so much, because you’d never think these two guys are gay and then they fall in love with each other. The message of it is that love is everywhere. It hits you in a certain moment and you cannot foresee it.”
There are also some love scenes. How did you manage to get them feel comfortable with each other?
“We did a lot of rehearsals and made sure that they got to know each other better. They became friends and like each other a lot. For actors, it’s also part of the job to play love scenes. It didn’t matter if it was a love scene with a boy or girl. My French camerawomen Sophie Maintigneux and I were always very clear to the actors of what we were going to do, why and what the audience will see on the screen. When you communicate about this to the actors, they feel safe and trust you. One of the scenes I like the most is the tender scene when they both sleep naked and Mario has a bad dream. Even in his sleep Leon calms him, he’s not really conscious but makes a little gesture that calms Mario. I think that’s a point in the movie where you can see the real love between the two characters.”
What was the most difficult shot to film?
“All the football scenes were very difficult, technically but also emotionally, because they were very challenging. Mario has to aim for the goal in the last scene; we had to film this 15 times. Also for me it was extra challenging because I’m not a football specialist, so I worked with a coach. We hired an empty stadium and had to manage everything in one day. Afterwards we had to put it together with the audience in a natural way. It was very emotional, because you’re under so much stress to make it realistic. So this was a big challenge, far bigger than the love scenes.”
One of those football scenes is the debut of Mario in Germany where you can see a full and loud stadium.
“I wanted to show what it really means to be a professional player. The whole film, they talk about Mario’s chance to become a pro, but if you don’t see it, it stays theoretical. The first time he enters the stage, it shows the meaning of being a professional: to play in front of 30.000 people. When I did my research and I went to some big games, I felt that it was a very emotional, manly atmosphere. There’s shouting, crying and so many other emotions. It was then that I felt it must be hard to come out when there are so many fan groups who could insult you.”
What will have to change for gay football players of the highest level to come out?
“Countries like Russia, Iran and Qatar will have to become gay-friendlier. Football is such a huge business and human rights are just on the bottom of their list where money prioritises. A gay player is afraid that when he comes out, a lot of clubs will refuse to buy him because many clubs have an owner from these countries. And when clubs buy a gay player, they’re not sure that they can raise their market value, because other clubs might not be interested to buy him anymore. So the main problem is the big business behind the sport. European clubs should really try to make a difference and show it to the rest of the world. Last year in the UK, some managers of different clubs prepared a group of players in the Premier League to come out, but nothing happened. I think too many people are against them coming out.”
Is it your wish to bring change with this movie?
“When the film wins an Oscar it might change the world, but don’t forget it’s an art-house film for an audience who is already aware of the problem and open to gay soccer players. The goal is mainly to just keep the discussion alive. We will have to do it in little steps and all the groups who are fighting for equality in sports are just as important as this film. This is just another piece of the whole picture.”
What would you say to young footballers who are in the same situation as Mario?
“In a perfect world I would say that they just have to be brave and be themselves, but at the same time I know that they are endangering their professional career when they do. So I’d have to be honest and tell them what the situation is at this moment. I talked to Corny Littmann, the former president of FC St. Pauli (the German football club that’s also in the movie) who is openly gay and a drag queen. Even he would not recommend a player to come out if he wants to make a career as a professional football player. In his team, the player would have all the support of the world, but if he ever wants to make a transfer, then he’d be stupid to come out. If even a gay president says this… but who knows, maybe there are some courageous people who suddenly decide it’s time and stop this hypocrisy. But for now I’m not so optimistic.”