Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jürgen Prochnow Should Have Been a Huge Star In the States


Hey Germany, let's make a deal. I'll trade you George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, James Franco, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, and Justin Timberlake for your Jürgen Prochnow.

In fact, I'll trade anyone that's ever been featured in the pages of People magazine's annual Sexiest Men issue and anyone else that the Hollywood media deems that us warm blooded American females should be drooling over...because they say so...for your Jürgen Prochnow.

All of these pathetic American "actors", you can have them all. Just give me Jürgen. Please?

OK, if the answer is nein, I don't blame you. I wouldn't trade him, either.

But he should have been a huge star here. I'm talking bigly. (I just noticed that Blogger didn't autocorrect bigly. So it's a word after all.)


And before we go any further, and just so you know, the j in Jürgen is pronounced like a y. Just like Johann. Please don't pronounce his name Jer-gen, because...well, that sounds too much like something else. :)


Now that that's out of the way, today is Jürgen Prochnow's 76th birthday. After becoming fascinated with him while watching Das Boot shortly after Memorial Day, naturally my womanly research instincts kicked in and I decided to see what I could find out about the new man in my life. Of course there were the usual array of interviews, and the standard IMDB and Wikipedia bios. But something surprised me.

Prochnow does not have an official website, even one run by a fan. He has no social media presence (that is actually not surprising; many smart celebrities don't touch Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and there's only one "fan club" devoted to him on Facebook, the Jürgen Prochnow Appreciation Society (which I joined...of course.)

Part of this is due, I'm sure, to attributing himself as a working actor and not a movie star. But I can't help but think that his name should have been bigger in the States. That's not to say he hasn't been successful. After Das Boot caused a sensation worldwide, he was next exposed to American audiences when he starred in a Michael Mann cult horror film called The Keep (in an interview I recently watched, Prochnow was very proud to be a part of this film and considers it his big Hollywood role after Das Boot.) He then played the dashing, bearded Duke Leto I Atreides in David Lynch's movie adaptation of the sci-fi epic Dune (Lynch would later cast Prochnow in a small, strange role of the Woodsman in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.) Beverly Hills Cop 2 followed a few years later. But while Prochnow has had a lucrative career, most of his international film roles have been supplemented with German films and television (not that there's anything wrong with that.) He's also had his fair share of bombs.

It probably isn't hard to figure out why. Hollywood is notorious for pigeonholing Teutonic actors into two categories: Nazis and villains. Just look what's become of Christoph Waltz since winning the Oscar for Inglorious Basterds. With the exception of playing a good natured dentist turned bounty hunter in Django Unchained, he's portrayed a con artist in Big Eyes, an abusive circus ringleader in Water for Elephants, and James Bond's nemesis Blofeld in Spectre.

In the interview I mentioned, Prochnow said that he tried hard not to take too many bad guy roles after the success of Das Boot, but admitted that sometimes those dark parts are more complex and interesting to play then the hero. When he tried to get director Tony Scott to develop more of his character's story for Beverly Hills Cop 2, however, it backfired and several scenes of his Maxwell Dent character got cut. It was Eddie Murphy's movie, he said, and he realized then that Hollywood is very much a business.


Then I think there's the fact that Prochnow's looks may have worked against him in an industry that places a high priority on a standard of what they and American audiences think is perfect and beautiful.

Now, I happen to think that Jürgen Prochnow is VERY handsome and sexy, and beautiful inside and out. I've never seen a man with such intense looking blue eyes in my life. He also just has that very European look. But I'm guessing that, sadly, American filmmakers just didn't view him as leading romantic man material. Fools.

There was one exception: he plays a Jewish man that falls in love with a German countess during WWII in the 1984 television drama Forbidden, costarring Jacqueline Bisset. He is very believable in the role; enough to me at least that he should have been offered similar parts.

Prochnow also has visible scarring on his face which probably worked against him, a result of bad acne in his teens which he says cleared up during a trip to southern France (and exposure to sea water), only to return when he came back home to Germany. Wikipedia also reports that during the filming of Dune, a stunt went wrong and he ended up with second degree burns on his cheek. Maybe that's also why he looks pretty darn nice with a beard.

And if Prochnow hadn't been cast in Das Boot, who knows how many of these roles would have come his way. He nearly didn't get the part of the strong yet sympathetic U boat captain. In 1977, he played a gay man in a German television movie called The Consequence at a time when homosexual relationships were still banned in Germany. Wolfgang Petersen originally chose him, then later told him to forget about it because the financial backers for Das Boot actually said that Prochnow couldn't possibly play a U boat captain because of his role in The Consequence. But a year later, Petersen hadn't found anyone else appropriate for the role and entrusted it to Prochnow after all.


Plus, how can we forget him ridding Willem Dafoe of his thumbs in The English Patient? Prochnow says that the part, which wasn't in the book, was scripted especially for him. He originally wanted Dafoe's role of the thief Caravaggio, but the budget called for an American actor to play it. Nonetheless, Prochnow made a memorable impression in a movie with a terrible romantic story.

One bit of interesting trivia is that Prochnow was considered for the lead in The Terminator. That would have been satisfying to see, but ultimately I think Arnold Schwarzenegger was the right choice for that iconic part. (Ironically, Prochnow did portray Schwarzenegger about ten years ago in a movie about his political career, See Arnold Run.)

Something else about Prochnow's career that surprises me is that he's never been nominated for any Oscars. In fact, he's only won one award -- a 1985 Best Actor award for the Bavarian Film Awards.

Born in Berlin in 1941, Prochnow later grew up in Dusseldorf and studied acting at the Folkwang University of the Arts while working in banking. He has an older brother, Dieter, who also acts and the two brothers appeared on screen in a film called The Man Inside.

In interviews, Prochnow comes across as relaxed, happy, and genuinely grateful for all of the work that has come his way -- a really nice guy, and another reason why I'm enamored with him. (By contrast, Waltz comes across as arrogant and is a nightmare subject for many interviewers.)

And, he's not immune to taking comedic parts. In 2006 he starred as Baron Wolfgang Von Wolfhausen in a silly movie about a German beer drinking contest called...what else? Beerfest. He's a clip from the film...there's also another funny scene where he references Das Boot.



Well, I adore this attractive, talented man and I look forward to continuing to catch up with all of his work as well as seeing his new films. Happy birthday, Jürgen!


By the way, here's that interview I mentioned throughout this post. Lots of entertaining anecdotes here about Prochnow's career and various roles.

13 comments:

  1. Everybody has a movie, or several movies, that they like and nobody else does. The Keep is one such movie for me. I think people who don't dig it are just nuts! And that seems to be most of the population.
    Prochnow turned in one heckuva performance, as did Gabriel Byrne, another great European actor.
    Another movie I really dug that everybody else thought was El Crapo was In the Mouth of Madness. Any John Carpenter movie can't be all bad. Prochnow plays the demon-possessed author Sutter Kane, whose novels unleash unimaginable supernatural horror on the world. He's not in the movie very much, but when he is he's pretty weird. Not his best work, but worth a look!
    Thanks for another great article about an actor who, I agree, is always compelling.

    Cheers, M.P.

    (Oh yeah, the English Patient. "Are thumbs fingers?" I've wondered that myself. Not something you wanna hear when you're being interrogated.)

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    1. OK, now I really want to see The Keep. Supposedly there's a five hour version of it that's never been released, but that Michael Mann hinted at becoming available, and fans of the film really want to see that happen. I'll check out In the Mouth of Madness. Jurgen was one of the only good things about The English Patient in my opinion.

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  2. I have always fantasized that if I made a remastered version of Silent Hunter 3 (a video game where you command a German U-boat and even includes a reference to Das Boot), I would ask Jürgen Prochnow to do some voice acting in it as a cameo.

    Alas, I can only dream.

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    1. Although I'm not into video games, that one sounds like fun. :) I saw some references to Silent Hunter in the comments on YouTube for some of the movie clips.

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  3. I was always interested in the fact that Jürgen Prochnow played a good-hearted and sympathetic, and openly anti-Nazi U-Boat captain in Das Boot, yet some of his more notable roles afterwards were as a bad guy. I never had a problem with it, it just struck me as interesting and I am glad to finally see an answer on here. Honestly, Prochnow's answer does make sense; a bad guy is sometimes more fascinating then a good guy.

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  4. Fun fact: He dubbed Sylvester Stallone's voice for the German release of Rocky and Rocky II.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning that.

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  5. I am flabbergasted that Prochnow has only gotten one award and from his home country; come on Hollywood, give this guy a award! Das Boot was amazing.

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    1. Yes! Best picture winner for 1981 was Ordinary People (yawn). Jurgen aced the part; I was truly pulling for him to make it. There was still some war movie bias in the early '80's, maybe that was part of it. I didn't realize he's in his mid-70's now, time clipping on by. Great review as per usual Pam.

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    2. Thanks, Anonymous. It was actually during the Academy Awards held in 1983 where Das Boot was nominated in six categories...and it didn't win a single one. The Best Picture and Best Director awards that year went to Gandhi. Jurgen wasn't even nominated for Best Actor, nor was the score nominated. Even the Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing went to E.T. Poo poo. The movie will always be a winner in my book!

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  6. I had a huge crush on him when I saw him in "Dune." Thanks for reminding me about him. I'll have to check out some of his other movies.
    Kathy B.

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    1. I don't blame you; he looks very dashing in "Dune" with that beard and costume and he played a nice guy. Thanks for commenting.

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