Before the BAFTA nominations were announced last month, few pundits expected Netflix's All Quiet on the Western Front to dominate the shortlists quite to the extent that it did. The film – directed by German filmmaker Edward Berger – scored a staggering 14 nods, the most any film had managed since The King's Speech achieved the same total more than a decade ago, and four more than its closest challengers at this year's ceremony.


Since then, the acclaim has kept on coming, and All Quiet followed up its BAFTA nods with a further nine nominations at the Academy Awards, including one in the coveted Best Picture category. It's been a pretty head-spinning story of success, and even the film's lead actor Felix Kammerer admits to a certain level of shock at the rapturous reception.

"It was the biggest surprise of all," he tells during an exclusive interview. "We were of course hoping for some nominations at the BAFTAs – we were hoping for maybe a nomination for Best Non-English film– but to have nominations of that vastness, it's really unbelievable."

Kammerer points to a moment around two or three months ago when he first realised quite how well the film was doing with audiences. A friend had sent him the film's IMDb page – just to show him some trivia – and he scrolled up to see that the film was already sitting on "around 10 wins and 14 nominations."

"[I thought] 'Oh, my goodness', because I did not know," he says. "Of course, you hear something here and then, but I did not know the whole. And now shortly ago, I looked again on IMDb and it said something like 81 nominations and 24 wins. I mean, those are numbers! I can't believe that."

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So why has this story captivated audiences and awards voters around the world to this degree? Kammerer believes that the answer is simple – it's a very good, very universal story that has been updated in a way that wasn't previously possible.

"It puts this very well-known story in a very modern and immersive way of looking at it, because of the camera and because of the techniques that were not available 100 years ago," he says. "In the 1930s when the first movie came out, it was a brilliant film, but it just has not got the immersive-ness of the camera techniques that we have today. So that really is maybe a reflection of our generation."

Before beginning production on the new movie, Kammerer watched both that 1930 version and the 1979 television film – which he found especially "disturbing" – but those viewings were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to his preparation for the role. The actor – who was making his film debut after working extensively on the stage – undertook a huge amount of training, both physical and mental, ahead of arriving on set for the first day of filming.

That training included "running around with a weight vest for months" and regular "high-intensity interval training" in addition to hundreds of hours sitting at home, "reading, watching and really just listening to music" to help get him into the mindset of a First World War soldier.

"I should probably count all the hours of work I did," he jokes. "Because now that I think of it, it's much more than I remembered."

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For all that the preparation was crucial, however, Kammerer says that it wasn't until he found himself on the painstakingly realistic set – aided by some pretty gruelling weather conditions – that he realised the sheer magnitude of the challenge he was taking on.

"You come to set with all your preparations, and you're ready to go," he says. "And you're ready to act in a sterile room. But then you are on the set – it's muddy, it's wet, it's cold, it's horrible. It's exhausting! The costumes weigh 90 pounds, you are completely drenched. It's like the glue that fixes everything together, and really gets you going."

Unsurprisingly given the visceral nature of the finished film, it was an extremely intense shoot – a long way from Kammerer's usual experience on stage (he compares the transition from his theatre work to All Quiet as like "telling an Olympic swimmer to swim from France to England") and there was one day in particular that proved to be a monumental challenge.

"I think the one scene we can all agree was unbelievably hard was the one where we are clearing the trench with our helmets," he explains. "We shot it the whole day, and it was raining. and I think it was six degrees Celsius. Water is coming down all the time, we were shivering and after six hours we started singing in the breaks when they were doing new setups, just to keep motivated.

"You develop this animalistic drive, this force to go forward," he continues. "Because we knew we just have to go on for half an hour more, or for an hour longer, and then we're finished. We're not going to stop here, we have come so far, then afterward we will go home."

As the motivational singing suggests, Kammerer adds that there was a real "comradeship" between the actors on set, and this proved especially helpful when it came to the difficult task of switching off after a long day of filming.

"I would not say [we were] in character because I am not a big fan of method acting or anything," he says. "I really like it very technical. But I would say you stay close to the character all the time – and you have to, because if you switch it on and off all the time, you are finished after the first week. Because it's so challenging, and it's so exhausting and you have to handle your energy right to keep on going for three-and-a-half months, 16 hours a day.

"But what really helped was to have the people who also work in the film, my colleagues, the other actors living in the same house – we all lived in the same house in different apartments. So we were not allowed to see each other, but of course we did! And that helped, just to sit together after a long shooting day to talk about what's happened and have something to eat."

All Quiet on the Western Front is now streaming on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream. You can find something to watch with our TV Guide and Streaming Guide or visit our Movies hub for all the latest news and features.


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