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article image'X Company' star Torben Liebrecht on the fight for Faber's soul Special

By A.R. Wilson     Mar 16, 2016 in Entertainment
'X Company' star Torben Liebrecht tells Digital Journal about playing one of TV's most complex villains and why he almost didn't get the part.
Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for 'X Company.'
According to Torben Liebrecht, an acute bout of perfectionism almost cost him one of the best roles he's ever landed — and, by extension, a Canadian Screen Award.
Last week, Liebrecht nabbed the CSA for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series for his work as German SS officer Franz Faber on CBC's spy drama X Company, now airing its second season. But two years ago, he was so unhappy with his self-taped audition for the part that he almost refused to submit it.
"I was being very impatient with myself that day," he admits. "I thought I wasn't properly prepared to do this. I didn't think I was hitting the right keys, and at one point, I was literally walking out of my living room and said, 'I'm not going to do this. I'm not going to send that away. I don't think that's sufficient.' I was very critical of myself."
Luckily, friend and fellow actor Urs Rechn (Son of Saul, X Company) stepped in and offered some tough love. "Urs, at that moment, being the older theater professional that he is, he just literally grabbed me by the collar and said, 'Come on, you're going to walk out there, and you're going to finish this, and you're going to send it away,'" Liebrecht remembers. "Without him, I wouldn't have sent that tape away and I wouldn't have gotten the part, and it turned out to be probably the best gig I could ever imagine and one of the best working experiences on camera and also behind the camera that I've ever had in my whole life."
On the day of our interview, Liebrecht — who lives in Munich, Germany — phones from Toronto, where he has flown to attend the CSA awards gala. He's genial and openly thrilled about his first ever visit to North America. "People are being very kind, and I'm well taken care of, and it's just like coming home in a way, you know?" he gushes. "People are so nice." But when talk turns to Faber — the brutal but all-too-human Nazi antagonist who has helped make X Company must-see TV in Canada — he quickly turns contemplative, providing detailed insight into the complicated character he says is "struggling to hang on to his humanity."
In the show's first season, Faber and his wife Sabine (Livia Matthes) killed their young son Ulli, who had Down syndrome, to save him from the cruelties of the Nazi regime. The storyline was a turning point in the series, signaling a narrative bravery that has carried into the show's stellar second season, and it was the hook that drew Liebrecht to Faber. "What was so compelling to me was that, at the end of Season 1, they were more and more showing the Ulli plot line and what really happened in [Faber's] private life," he says. "Like showing him as someone who was, on the one hand, always in control, always composed, but then you see that, on the other hand, it's his whole private life where his heart really is a secret. It was just the sheer complexity and ambiguity that showed within this apparent contradiction where I thought there was very much to explore within his character. I wanted to understand what it is that makes such a person tick, why he's working for this system, what are his convictions, and how can he try to manage the impossible: to keep his family together."
 I was just completely speechless at that moment    X Company  star Torben Liebrecht says of learnin...
"I was just completely speechless at that moment," 'X Company' star Torben Liebrecht says of learning about his CSA nomination via Twitter. "I was so happy and so humbled and flattered to be considered."
Courtesy of CBC Television
When asked if he's come to any understandings on how Faber is able to separate his work with the Nazis from his family life, Liebrecht says, "I'm still searching and the character is still evolving. It's too complex to give an answer to that. I think it's more the things that I feel, you know, where I try to build a bridge to myself. That also means that you have to sometimes travel to dark parts in yourself. And as a native German, I'm very careful about everything that is, you know, right of the middle. Those are very, very sensitive issues, I think. But what mostly drew me to the character is his personal plot line, and ultimately in the second season, how he could cope with the mercy killing of his own son and how he could try to hold on to the last thing that means something in his life, mainly the love of his wife Sabine."
In tonight's pivotal episode of X Company, "Fatherland," Faber intercepts Sabine and Allied spy Aurora (Evelyne Brochu) — who's been secretly using Frau Faber to gather intelligence — on a train. The confrontation is one of the highlights of the season and marks the point when Faber's personal and professional lives finally collide. "It's just mind-blowing, coming into this encounter where [Faber and Aurora] see each other," Liebrecht says of the episode. "What I like about that very much is that, between the lines, they find out that they have a lot in common, although they are ultimately on different sides. It's very well written and it's so complex and it just denies the easy answer."
As the end of the season nears, he says Faber is going to have some big decisions to make. "I think that he's somebody who is not really knowing what to feel and what to believe in anymore," he explains. "Ultimately, he has to ask himself: What is he really fighting for? How can he live with the guilt of the things that he's committed? Is there a way for him to become a good person or to save at least a little part of his soul?"
While X Company fans anxiously await the answers to those questions, Liebrecht will be busy in Germany. At the end of the month, he stars as Rudolf Dassler in the RTL event production Duell der Brüder, which explores the contentious, 30-year battle between the brothers who founded iconic sports shoe giants Adidas and Puma. And he's almost finished editing his film thesis, which will earn him a film and television directing degree from the renowned HFF Munich. "I'm very much looking forward to that," he says. "It took me long enough."
Let's just hope he agrees to submit it.
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'X Company' airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC
Follow Torben Liebrecht on Twitter.
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