Playing the bad guy is definitely something that agrees with Torben Liebrecht. The German actor just won a Canadian Screen Award for portraying high-ranking Nazi officer Franz Faber on the CBC spy drama X Company, and he’s absolutely relishing the chance to portray the many shades of grey involved in this complicated character. “It feels like the gig of a lifetime. I have never gotten the chance before to play a character who is that multi-layered and nuanced,” Liebrecht tells The TV Junkies.
While in many ways Faber represents everything the Allied team is fighting against, he’s also a man reeling over the actions he had to take to save his son Ulli from a horrible fate. By showing Faber’s grief over those actions, and dealing with the guilt from it, along with exploring his relationship with wife Sabine (Livia Matthes), X Company has turned Faber into “the character that you love to hate, but hate to love,” says Liebrecht.
In this week’s episode, “Fatherland,” written by Mark Ellis, Stephanie Morgenstern and Sandra Chwialkowska and directed by Amanda Tapping, everything that has been building for weeks now between Faber, Sabine and Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) comes to a dramatic head. In our exclusive interview with Liebrecht, he shares the challenges involved in playing an evil character, whether or not Faber can recover from the loss of Ulli, and previews Wednesday night’s episode.
The TV Junkies: What’s it like filming a scene like the one at the end of Episode 6 where Faber has to take out the village? Is that as difficult for you as an actor as it was for viewers to watch?
Torben Liebrecht: It was really bizarre because that was one of the most brutal things I ever played. One of the first things I wanted to do was ensure that the extras and the featured extras that got shot didn’t have a feeling that I would just use them, and not appreciate or recognize them, or that they were just props. I was apologizing beforehand for what would happen. As a person, I wanted a clear agreement with them about what would happen.
It’s a moment that’s hard to describe and at some point you just have to do it. For me it’s not like you’re having an argument with your girlfriend–something you may have experienced several times in your life–but this is only fantasy, and you try to imagine what this would feel like and it’s a completely traumatic moment. It only works for me to go to the darkest place inside myself because I know, within this production, that I’m completely safe with the people that are surrounding me. It was just one of those points where you have to let go of control and let things happen to you.
I still don’t know what to say about the scene myself, and it was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever gotten to shoot or watch. It’s immensely brutal. This episode was so much fun to watch, until it’s not. Daniel Goodwin outdid himself with that script, and it very much reflects the tone of where the whole season is going–going deeper and darker and exploring things. It’s not about glorifying anymore. It’s not about being a hero anymore, for anyone. It’s not about being a winner. It just comes to a point where everybody is so torn that they are just trying to preserve what’s left of their soul.
TTVJ: Faber clearly has unresolved feelings of guilt about what he did to Ulli and that loss. How will that continue to affect him over the rest of the season and will he find any closure?
TL: I personally don’t know if I could ever fantasize something that could be closure for him, when he’s done something like that. Sabine is pushing him to the point where she can let go and say goodbye, but Faber is very much in denial. He feels that he has to march on in order to not get overrun by the events of what’s happened. He’s always in control. He’s always very composed and taking things in. He’s not the kind of person to share. He’s trying to preserve his wife from the bitter truth of everything that’s happening outside. He never gets to share. More and more he’s trying to be what he considers to be a good soldier. The justification for what he did is the circumstances, and he just marches on.
That’s ultimately what he’s trying to do, but there’s this feeling of guilt over the mercy killing of his son. He did that to spare him something, but on the other hand he did it for the system. I remember at one point I was talking to Stephanie [Morgenstern] about this, and where he is in the system. He sacrificed his son for a purpose, but if he would ever find out that the purpose itself is wrong, it would make him no more than a common murderer. That’s something that would literally make his soul burst.
You can only try to withhold so much, and he’s putting more and more guilt on himself. The question is whether he’ll be able to preserve a part of his soul, or whether ultimately, he’ll have to sacrifice everything. It’s very complex and very ambiguous, but on the other hand very human.
TTVJ: I know humanizing Faber was a big goal for the writers this season, and that’s definitely come across as we’ve seen shades of grey to him, and know that he’s not just pure evil.
TL: There’s no doubt about the fact that the system he’s working for is wrong. You’re never dragged into a perspective where you think what he’s doing, and what he’s promoting by being a part of the system, could be something that the viewers could agree to. It’s only about his personal life, and that’s what makes it so hard. On one hand, you have this completely heinous and abhorrent system he’s working for, but on the other hand, you just see that he’s trying to save his soul, and that’s a very strong conflict.
TTVJ: Faber has started to realize that the Allied team may be getting to him through his wife, and he comes face to face with Aurora on a train this week. Can you preview how that confrontation is going to go?
TL: It’s hard for me to describe what this episode does, because it does so much. It’s the ultimate face off of two people representing different sides of this war, but on the other hand, are united by their love of innocence. There’s also the fact that they are supposed to act, and it’s demanded of them that they lead and not act how they are as people. In a way, that makes them two sides of the same coin.
It was amazing to play the scene. It was similar to the scenes at the beginning of the season, the interrogation scenes between Faber and Alfred (Jack Laskey). It was such an amazing experience to have the time to really fall into the scene, and really experience the flow where things can just happen. Jack Laskey and Evelyne Brochu are two of the strongest partners I’ve ever gotten to work with. It’s incredibly well written and so much fun to play, and something I’m very proud of.
TTVJ: Given everything they are going through with their son, what’s the state of the Fabers’ marriage over the last few episodes?
TL: There’s something in the room that hasn’t been there before, and it’s the truth. They will ultimately have to see if they can cope with it and deal with it or not. I don’t know what’s in store for them in the future, but I remember one of the most thrilling things I learned at the beginning of this season was that Aurora was going to try to get to Faber through Sabine. Something was planted back in Season 1, where there was this moment where she’s [Sabine] looking through the curtain, and you see all the loneliness and solitude of this beautiful woman that’s being kept in a golden cage away from life. It’s so great to see all her desire to be recognized as a human, to have company and be able to share things, realized. I was so thrilled that they came up with this storyline because it made perfect sense. Livia is just so great in 208 and she’s outdoing herself.
What are your thoughts on Faber this season? Do you have any predictions about his confrontation with Aurora? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.