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“I was lucky”: Mario Adorf had a “comfortable” career

“I was lucky”: Mario Adorf had a “comfortable” career
He was often seen as a villain, and when he was older he was often seen as a patriarch: Mario Adorf
Image: CAROLINE SEIDEL (DPA)

But one of his most famous roles is one that he didn’t actually want to play: that of the villain Santer in “Winnetou I”. There is now – 60 years later – a restored new version of the Karl May film adaptation from 1963 in 4K Ultra HD quality. On this occasion, the 93-year-old invited people to his Munich apartment for an interview. When he opens the door, he appears fit and kindly invites the guest in. Adorf takes his time. He sits relaxed at the table. “I’m not in a hurry,” he says. And so the conversation becomes a journey through time through an eventful life.

Expansive in age

The actor’s main residence is in Munich, where he says he feels comfortable. He also spends a lot of time in St. Tropez, the hometown of his wife Monique, and in Paris. Even in his old age, the grand seigneur of films has remained cosmopolitan.

Well, the fact that it’s Santer of all people that he’s been asked about for decades amuses him. Outraged fans once insulted him because he shot Winnetou’s sister. He often heard sentences like “I hate you because you shot Nscho-tschi” and “I hate you for this murder.” At the time, he actually wanted to decline the role offer. Santer was just evil, he wasn’t interested in that. Then he allowed himself to be persuaded a little and played Santer after all.

More than 200 films, a lot forgotten

He finds it astonishing which of his films are particularly memorable for many people: in addition to “Winnetou,” there is also “Kir Royal.” He made 200 films, says Adorf, and lists: “Night When the Devil Came,” “The Tin Drum,” “The Girl Rosemarie.” A lot has been forgotten. “That’s just the way it is,” he says and smiles.

His film career simply fell into place. “I was lucky,” he says. “My career was comfortable in that sense. It wasn’t a fight for recognition.” Therefore, he did not develop any great ambition. He never aspired to anything, not even the Oscar. He was always happy with what he was allowed to do. “With a certain humility and a down-to-earth attitude, that’s how I would describe it.”

He was often seen as a villain and, when he was older, often as a patriarch. “Rossini”, “Momo”, “The Shadow Man”, “The Great Bellheim”, “The Semmeling Affair” – the list of successes is long.

“That was of course stupid, I have to admit that.”

He now describes the fact that he once turned down a role in Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three” as a mistake: “That was of course stupid, I have to admit that.” At the time he was even a little proud of it. Would he do it differently today? “I’ve always said that if I was in the same situation I was in back then, I would probably make the same decisions and make the same mistakes again.”

Adorf lived in Italy for decades, probably the best time of his life, as he tells it. “I really enjoyed being able to take part in this dolce vita.” Then he returned to Germany, also because of the policies of the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

As a politically interested person, he is currently concerned about the state of the world. “There are so many things that I would have thought were impossible, even because of my experience in the war.” During and after the war he experienced fear of death and hunger. “In the post-war period, I was really hungry for years. And I always say that I don’t wish it on anyone. Neither that they have to suffer from fear of death nor that they are hungry.” He finds it “incomprehensible” that right-wing populists are gaining strength today. And further: “To suddenly jeopardize the democracy that has brought us peace for so long – why?”

Cultural appropriation: Adorf does not want to get involved in the debate about Winnetou

Back to “Winnetou”. The actor does not want to get involved in the debate surrounding Karl May’s books and their film adaptations – critics spoke of cultural appropriation, among other things. He says he lacks understanding for that. He prefers to remember his colleague Pierre Brice. He didn’t have much contact with the “Winnetou” actor during filming. However, they later became neighbors in Rome. A beautiful friendship developed. “Perhaps the only one from a film that was so intense and lasted so long, I have to say. We had a lot of fun. He was a very funny and very pleasant, wonderful friend.”

The 93-year-old attended a cinema matinee in Munich to present the new version of “Winnetou I”, which is also available on DVD. Adorf is pleased that the famous cinema story about Winnetou and Old Shatterhand – two enemies who become friends – is being revived.

Two other stars from “Winnetou” films are sitting in the audience: Uschi Glas and Terence Hill. And on the screen, Mario Adorf is once again the ice-cold villain Santer, who shoots Nscho-tschi (Marie Versini). However, the 93-year-old is not insulted by the audience for this. There is great applause for the nation’s villain.

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