The star of ‘Deutschland 83’ reveals that acting is just a side hustle – his first love is music.
“It’s got a very brown look, very 1970s,” says actor Jonas Nay, describing his surroundings at Köln’s Maarweg studios. In true German style, Nay’s English is impeccable but the words he finds to define the space in German don’t seem to have fitting English equivalents: gemütlich, kuschelig and weitläufig. The first two evoke a sense of warmth and comfortable intimacy (gemütlich is the German for “cosy”), while weitläufig describes the sprawling nature of the studio, which is decked out with retro wooden furnishings, leather armchairs and Persian rugs (with the odd lava lamp thrown in for good measure). It was built in the 1950s for record label EMI and everyone from Marlene Dietrich to Kraftwerk has walked its halls.
Today, Nay is laying down the vocals on his band Pudeldame’s new album. To international audiences he is best known as the character Martin Rauch, a reluctant GDR spy in moody Cold War TV drama Deutschland 83 (and now Deutschland 86). In 2015 the show became the first German programme to air on a US network. “It’s strange because I’ve only been recognised a few times in Germany – but when I’m abroad people recognise me in the street a lot,” he says. “The show wasn’t a huge success on German TV. But it’s been sold around the world: Sundance in the US, Channel 4 in the UK and Canal Plus in France. That’s really uncommon for a German TV show. Nobody ever expected it, not even the producers.”
Nay’s career began in his hometown of Lübeck, where he was cast in a children’s TV show aged 13. He went on to act in various national TV series and small-budget productions before being cast in Deutschland 83. But music, rather than acting, was Nay’s first love. “It was my wish to make music that started my acting career,” he says. He was a choir boy when he landed his first role. “I wanted to sing in the opera and went along to what I thought was an audition to appear on stage but turned out to be for a TV series. Somehow I managed to get one of the leading roles.”
Pudeldame’s guitarist and drummer are school friends; the three of them first began making music together in the rhythm section of their school’s big band. “These are the only friendships I can keep alive during filming,” he says. “There are fixed dates when we meet and play. We’ve been together a long time already; we’ve changed the name twice and we’ve changed the music a lot.”
Nay is taking a break from acting to focus on making film scores, which he mostly works on from his basement studio at home in Lübeck. But the conviviality of Maarweg studios remains a particularly enticing source of creative inspiration. “There’s a big kitchen where people from all the different rooms get together to eat and talk. It’s a melting pot of creativity in one space,” he says. “It feels like you’ve entered a totally different world, a microcosm just for the music. That’s what I really like about the spirit of this place.”
1990 Born in Lübeck, Germany
2004 Cast in German children’s TV series Vier gegen Z
2011 Wins German Television award for starring in feature film Homevideo
2015 Stars in smash-hit TV drama Deutschland 83
2018 Reprises his role as spy Martin Rauch in new series Deutschland 86