I think every one of my gay friends would be very mad at me if I said, ‘I won’t do this film.’ I owe it to them.
How many openly gay, professional athletes can you count on even one hand? How many exclusive to soccer? Marcel Gisler’s Mario touchingly dramatizes why young, gay soccer players on their way up the ladder and the cusp of unbroken dreams might choose to stay in the closet.
For Mario (Max Hubacher), the blossoming star of a premier under-21 Swiss soccer club, ascent towards a professional sporting career runs completely parallel to his burgeoning homosexuality. His hopes of advancement are complicated by new arrival Leon (Aaron Altaras), a striking striker who, like his peers, harbors major European soccer team dreams—a pathway reserved for a select few. Seeing promising prospects in both Mario and Leon, the club decides to room the two boys together in an attempt to strengthen their on-field chemistry off-field. Few viewers will be surprised to find out what transpires next. The faintest rumor of their romance would potentially ruin their careers, which haven’t even really started yet. What does it take to keep dreams alive? Their moment of decision approaches remorselessly, and the film’s final developments magnify the increasingly desperate and destructive deceptions required to keep a stadium image intact. Mario also catches the net wide enough to critique the impact that retrograde intolerance has, not only on gay players, but on their friends and family. As for Hubacher, the Swiss actor brings a delicate edge to Mario and achieves a tenderness that feels true and fully realized.
Hubacher received the Swiss Film Prize—Switzerland’s Oscar equivalent—for Best Actor this year for Mario. He picked up the same honor back in 2012 for his role in Markus Imboden’s The Foster Boy, for which he was also named one of the Berlin Film Festival’s European Shooting Stars.
Mario is available to view now on all digital platforms.
I was so impressed by your performance in The Captain this year. That was controversial. Now with Mario and Midnight Runner making the rounds, it’s quite clear that you’re out there making really different and brave acting choices. How do you go about choosing roles?
Until now, I think I was really lucky because it wasn’t actually about me choosing the roles. It was more about the directors and the productions asking me to take on these roles. Maybe now I’m in a position to choose what I would like to do. With the previous projects, there was never a question whether I really wanted to do them to be honest. Have you seen Midnight Runner?
I just know about it. I’m waiting for that one to come out in the States.
I hope that it comes to the States. I don’t like to do two roles that are similar. I really like to have challenges and try something new. I’m always looking for challenges so I’m going for a completely new role every time. I was really lucky to have gotten the roles that I did until now because it’s not that I chose the projects as much as the projects chose me.
There’s a thrill in the challenges, but are you also scared to tackle these difficult roles?
Especially with Mario, there wasn’t any hesitation because I grew up with a lot of gay friends. It exists in my family, also. It was never a question that I would do it. What I really liked about the role is that—I’m not interested in clichés. This was just a movie about someone who discovers his own sexuality. The main topic of the movie is about gay soccer players, of course, but the storytelling was so normal and not clichéd. It’s not sensational with big drama and that’s what I really liked about it. It’s not taking something really serious and then selling out with it, you know? It’s not commercialized. I hate clichés. I think every one of my gay friends would be very mad at me if I said, “I won’t do this film.” [Laughs] I owe it to them.
Mario takes place in Thun when we first meet you. Were you familiar with the area?
Yes. It’s not the capital of Switzerland, but a little place in Bern. I was pretty familiar with it because my family has a weekend house there. A lot of people have that there, actually. There’s a big lake and I’ve always been swimming out there.
Did you play soccer growing up? What are the most popular sports for kids in Switzerland?
For most kids, and especially for boys, it’s Judo, karate, and soccer. It’s just between those three. I chose soccer and I think it’s the most popular sport in Switzerland. It’s what you do when you’re a child. I started playing soccer very early when I was 6 years old. I loved it. I played until I was 15 years old. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough. I really wanted to be a professional soccer player, actually. At least I can be a professional soccer player in a movie now.
That’s one of the perks, right? You can live out many different dreams as an actor.
Of course, especially with Mario. I read the script and it was a nice topic. It’s good for society and for breaking taboos. It makes people sensitive to the topic and the fact that this exists even in soccer. And the other aspects of the movie were nice, too—that I can do the work and also play soccer. [Laughs] It’s the best. Usually, I play roles where I always learn something new. With The Captain, for example, I had to learn how to shoot and stuff like this. With Mario, it was nice because I already played soccer. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the director took me on. I played soccer for a long time. I still play!
I understand that you guys had the cooperation of the real Young Boys Bern club on the shoot. They gave you the club name, the use of facilities, and some of their own players to be in the film as extras. That in itself is a huge step forward. Did you talk to the players about what’s addressed in the film?
It’s when we did the research that we really talked to the under-21 players. It was kind of interesting, even with journalists when the movie came out in Switzerland. Everyone was telling me, “I don’t have a problem with it. I would never have a problem with it. No one taught me that it’s weird or strange. No one.” Maybe that’s the problem: people are very afraid of being honest about that stuff because, obviously, part of society is still a bit homophobic. People are afraid to talk about their feelings because that would mean they would have to talk about their fears. If we can talk about this in the open, maybe we can change something. If we never talk about it, it will always be this taboo and things will stay the same. People say, “I don’t have a problem. I love gay people. I love every gay person. They’re the best.” Come on… Not every heterosexual person is cool, and not every gay person is. I think I missed the dialogue, actually. It’s really difficult to get the dialogue. I really missed it, even with the journalists when the movie came out. Almost every male journalist would be like, “So if you were playing a… a… homo—a gay person.” I think we have to change. We can change when we start to talk about it. I think this is a very real problem. That goes for a lot of stuff, too—not just homosexuality.
So when did acting come into the picture for you?
Pretty early. I started when I was a little child. I started to play in theater, like in clubs for children. It was nice because when I was in the 7th grade, I could go do a movie and I didn’t have to go to school. I was really lucky to not go to school and play in movies. That was the moment I knew I really wanted to do this. But maybe I would’ve ended up in a circus or something. [Laughs] I don’t know! I felt so lucky because I didn’t really like school. I hated school until I went to acting school, so that was nice. It was very nice to do something else. That’s maybe the reason I’m still doing it. I also had a lot of luck.
Mario’s mom at one point says, “What we end up doing in life is usually the second best thing we’re good at.” It’s like choosing the stability of being a lawyer over an artist. Then you could contextualize it for Mario as well: he chooses soccer over loving someone. He chooses safety.
Everything he knows and everything he bets on until the end of the movie is soccer. There was nothing else in his life. When you take a look at young soccer players who really want to play and become a professional, you don’t just start in U-21. You start in U-11 or U-12 before joining the Young Boys team. You have to make it through every single year. Every year, some people get kicked out and you have to continue fighting to get where you want to be. There are so many victims in this dream. Now there is something else that Mario wants—Leon, of course—but he has insecurities. He chooses soccer because it’s what he knows best. Maybe it’s not even about the character, but more about our society. Maybe if we made this movie in 5 to 10 years from now, Mario would choose differently. But today, it’s like this. Mario chooses soccer and it’s actually better for the drama and the movie’s story if we don’t have a happy ending where we tell the audience that everything is alright. It’s better than telling you that everything is good because it’s not like that in real life, you know? We still need change. So I think it’s very modern. With a happy ending, everybody will leave the movie and think, “Ah—nice story!” and maybe they won’t think that much about it. They will with this kind of ending because it’s tough.
I have a Swiss friend who had Marcel [Gisler] as one of his professors at F+F in Zurich. He remembers one of Marcel’s big lessons: “Slow it down—there’s not much time,” meaning, rushing things will lead to more mistakes. What did you learn from working with Marcel that’s maybe different from working with Robert [Schwentke]?
They were both great experiences in their own right. It was nice because they trust you a lot once they’ve chosen you for the movie, after a long casting process. Once they’ve decided on you, you get a lot of liberty and you’re free and they’re very open to your suggestions. I love that, you know? I sometimes have problems with directors who tell me exactly what they want because they’re not open to suggestions. I think it’s different with the more experienced directors: they trust you a lot. I don’t have to show them again that they made the right choice in casting me so it’s just about, “Let’s start work.” My experience with Marcel and Robert were actually pretty similar. The scripts weren’t completely finished when we started. It’s when we started rehearsals that we doctored and finished writing the scripts. Then it was a lot about how they talked and heard and sometimes saw important moments, like with Leon when Mario first goes to bed with him. We talked a lot about these things. The nice thing about Marcel is that he’s so open, but when he’s sure of something, he asks you to just trust him. Then you realize, “Ok—he’s right.” This is the balance that I really love. I don’t think it’s a normal process and it can’t always be like this, but I really appreciate it when it does happen.
You picked up the Swiss Film Prize for Mario. You won that same award six years ago for The Foster Boy. It’s like coming full circle. Did The Foster Boy mark the beginning for you?
There were other projects, but little ones. In cinema, it was the biggest thing I had done until that point. Before that, there was a movie about young boys who have cancer and that was my first movie. I was 15 years old and I turned 16 during the shooting. The woman who was doing the casting, Corinna Glaus, kind of discovered me when she took me on for Stationspiraten, that first movie. Then she took me on for The Foster Boy and a lot of other interesting movies. This was so important. I was really lucky that she liked me because she always sent me to castings for roles that maybe mattered for society. She never gave me something where I felt like I was selling myself. I don’t feel comfortable doing that.
I want to circle back to Hannes Baumgartner’s Midnight Runner. Again, this is another brave choice for you to play: a champion athlete who leads a parallel life as a serial assaulter of women. This is a real story that made Swiss headlines in the ‘90s. Did you remember that from when you were growing up?
No, but when I talked to my parents, they remembered. Actually, my parents were the first ones to say, “What? Really? You have to do that? It’s such a horrible story.” That was good because it made me question really early in the process why I wanted to do a movie about this topic. The movie is very violent. But it’s a movie against violence. It’s not taking a positive stance on violence, of course. So my parents remembered the crimes and told me that when I was a little child, when I was maybe 8 years old, they were afraid that something would happen to me and I couldn’t play outside when he was doing this stuff. The whole town was scared while they were looking for this guy. At every screening we had in Switzerland, there was someone in the audience who had known him—this murderer. It was really crazy. Maybe it was good that I didn’t remember because it’s a new generation talking about this. Maybe for someone who was too close to the topic, it wouldn’t be a good idea. The distance is good.
What about playing a Nazi in The Captain? Were your parents concerned about that?
No. I mean, they were very happy that I would work with Robert Schwentke. It’s the biggest movie that I’ve done so far. So there wasn’t any question. Actually, I think my mother was laughing a little bit because she said, “I was wondering when you would play your first Nazi.” [Laughs] In Switzerland and Germany, every young guy with blonde hair and blue eyes plays a Nazi sooner or later, you know? She said, “Oh wow—how did this happen to you so late?”
What different role are you looking at for your next project?
I can’t talk about it because I’m shooting right now. I would love to, but you will hear about it.
Do you have any ambitions to write and direct your own feature at some point?
Maybe one day, but I think it would be much too stressful for me to manage all of those parts. I would love to write something together with someone, actually. I would be interested in doing that. But directing? Oh my god. It’s such a big responsibility. I’m not sure.
I’m sure when the right project comes along, you will know it’s time to direct.
Hopefully! I know a lot of good people in this business so if there’s an opportunity to work with them, I’m sure it would be wonderful. So maybe one day. I’m open for almost anything.