In 2018, the case of Spiegel journalist Klaas Relotius made headlines. Many of his award-winning articles turn out to be fake, embellished, and partly fictional. revealed a scandal from his colleague Juan Moreno, who documented this experience in the book A Thousand Lines of Lies. His report served as the model for Hooligan Herbig’s satire “A Thousand Lines”. The role of Moreno was taken over by Elias M’Barek.
The actor now speaks about his unwavering trust in journalism and his relationship with Instagram and Twitter, among other things.
How did the collaboration with Bully Herbig on A Thousand Lines start? What attracted you to the project?
Elias M’Barek: First of all, I thought the idea of the film was great. And I was happy with this genre. At first, it was possible to assume that Elias and Bulli would make a funny film together. Although A Thousand Lines is entertaining and humorous, it is not a classic comedy. Against. I think it’s called satire, but there are a lot of serious moments in the film.
You were filming during Corona. How difficult was it at one point or another?
The film takes place in a variety of countries – from Cuba to Spain and the United States. I was looking forward to many trips abroad and many different places. But in the end, we had to shoot most of it in Spain, which worked out really well. The film still looks international. You don’t even notice that Cuba wasn’t filmed in Cuba at all.
What did you know about the Klaas Relotius case before filming?
Quite a lot actually, because I’ve read some of his articles and found them to be really good. These were the articles that later made me realize that many of them were not true, such as “The Jaeger’s Border” with the Border Patrol guys shooting at Mexican refugees. And just like now in the movie, I then thought: “What is going on?” I really felt cheated.
So what drew you to the role of Juan Moreno, who now appears in the film as Juan Romero?
I read his book, which is based on the movie, A Thousand Lines of Lies. In general, I am a big fan of his as an author. I was immediately enthusiastic about the project and thought it was a journey of a great hero. A story about an alleged hero who is not at all, and who actually exists and who no one believes.
Am I correct in assuming that you also met Juan Moreno while preparing for the role?
We are even friends now. I am still in touch with him. I can only recommend everyone to read his books. No Place for Happiness and A Thousand Lines of Lies are truly outstanding books. He is a wonderful person, above all a very smart guy. It’s very interesting what he’s been through and how great he writes. And above all: He sticks to the truth. This is a big advantage compared to other colleagues. (laughs)
Communication with a real character makes the game easier or harder – especially since you know that this person will also look at the result later?!
Although the film is based on and inspired by true events, we are still telling a fictional story. I didn’t play a historical character and many people are not familiar with this story. Most of them noticed the scandal in passing, will have fun watching the movie, and then maybe find out what exactly happened then.
It’s not even that long ago. The case of 2018, all this probably only seems to be from another time due to the pandemic.
Exactly so, but the topic is all the more relevant in times when fake news is quickly talked about. One of the messages conveyed by the film is that journalism can and should be believed, and that, unfortunately, there are isolated cases that do not represent journalism as a whole. And, unfortunately, they do do a lot of damage. But I still believe in journalism. I believe what I read in the newspaper and what I see in the news on TV. I’m looking forward to it too. I expect professional and honest people to do their job there.
So the Relotius case didn’t change that attitude?
No, I really liked how it was removed. You can still read the articles in the archive that Relotius distributed and see what’s wrong with them. Then transparency was created, albeit too late. It didn’t shake my confidence. I just thought, “Wow, does he even know what he’s doing with it?” I think he thought he could get away with it.
Maybe the first success went to his head? Wasn’t it too much expected of him? Was he charged because people enjoyed decorating themselves with it, which he couldn’t justify without his lies?
I think it’s the art of impostors and manipulators to take over people and play with them. That’s why he went so far. Because people didn’t want to believe it, because he was “so sweet, so charming.” It’s the same with our film. There’s a scene where the porter at the publishing house thinks I’m a taxi driver – they don’t believe me just because of my appearance. This is a bit of a message: you should not be blinded by superficial things and that you should always keep a close eye on things. That you need to go through life with open eyes and not believe everything that spreads, especially on social networks. It is better to mostly trust well-founded journalism, that is, people who do their work and do research.
Especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some of your colleagues have leaned towards fake news from social media. Do you think it is better for an actor to stay away from public socio-political discourses, which is not the same as not having an opinion about things in private?!
First of all, I consider that I am not a journalist. (laughs) I think I don’t always have to add my two cents to everything, because I just don’t have the slightest idea about some things. And, of course, I have an opinion on this, and I will say it when asked about it. But, as you said, not without verification. It’s just dangerous because I’m aware of my responsibility. If I say something in an interview or publish something, people will read it and probably believe it. I have to choose my words consciously and be sure.
How do you feel about the social networks you just mentioned? Twitter, in particular, can ruin your mood. Or a comment or two on Instagram…
I have an ambivalent relationship with him. I myself use social networks and also consume there, but with caution. I do not believe everything that is written, and I know that many people take out their dissatisfaction on the Internet, often on the backs of other, mostly defenseless people. Algorithms can be the devil, you can quickly end up in a bubble like this, which I don’t want. I inform myself somewhere else, not on Twitter and certainly not on Instagram. This is for viewing pictures, not for forming an opinion.
Was it always like this or was it a learning process? Especially when it comes to comments about yourself and your work…
Well, I know from experience that a lot of this is just nonsense. I know this from hearing stories about some of my colleagues, and I know this from stories I have heard or read about myself. Then I just know that there is a lot of harm going on in social media and also in many tabloids. As a result, I do it professionally and usually can’t take it too seriously. I feel more sorry for the people who probably really assume that all this is true, and then the angry mob on the Internet believes and no longer weighs.
You choose your interviewees, so are there any famous tabloids you don’t talk to?
In principle, I believe that anyone who is interested has the right to interview me. Of course, there are one or two people with whom I had bad experiences, but it’s like in ordinary life: I meet people in the world. But if someone betrays my trust or plays on my trust and does not tell me the truth, then there is no need to talk to him.
Nicole Ankelmann spoke to Elias M’Barek
A Thousand Lines will be shown in cinemas in Germany from 29 September.