Jürgen Prochnow, Schauspieler, fotografiert für Sonntag, Tagesspiegel. Foto: Mike Wolff

Wolfgang Petersen and I share the same birth year, 1941. He was three months older than me, I was born on June 10th. That year, on that day, he called me from California. He said nothing about the fact that he was seriously ill, suffering from pancreatic cancer. That’s why the news that he died threw me off my feet.

Our collaboration began when we shot the crime scene “Jagdrevier” in 1972. Peter Zadek had just brought me to the Bochum Schauspielhaus. Klaus Schwarzkopf, Commissioner Finke in the NDR thrillers, recommended me to Petersen. I played a convict who escapes from prison. Later we always said: We shot a Western in Schleswig-Holstein.

As a theater person, I never dreamed that I would become a film actor. Wolfgang contributed a lot, he showed me how to act in front of the camera, what a close-up is. When we saw the samples from the shoot in a cinema the next day, he would motivate the team and the actors, saying: That was great, but it could be done even better.

When Wolfgang Petersen offered me the leading role in the film “The Consequence”, I had reservations. I was supposed to play a homosexual and didn’t know if I dared to do it. But Wolfgang sent me the script and convinced me. During filming, he always stood next to the camera, observing closely, there were no monitors behind which directors usually hide themselves today.

I recently saw the film again, for the first time in 45 years. “The Consequence” is a film that testifies to Wolfgang’s great sensitivity and knowledge of human nature, quite unlike the action hits he later directed in Hollywood. I am a “lewd” sentenced to two and a half years in prison under Article 175. At the time, the film was a big gamble, and a scandal broke out when the Bavarian radio station switched off the TV broadcast. Because they thought that homosexual love could not be expected of viewers. Fortunately, the film then came to the cinema and also ran in Bavaria. He was celebrated, I got the German Actors Award.

Four years later, in 1981, fame increased even more when “Das Boot” became a worldwide success. Which we didn’t expect at all. The shooting lasted a whole year, in between the film was on the brink several times. In La Rochelle we had to stop work because the boat that had been replicated for the exterior shots was wrecked in a storm.

Nothing worked for two weeks, we went back to Munich and continued with what was left of the boat and patched up. “Das Boot” required tremendous logistics, but Petersen was a super director. Wolfgang was able to lead teams and push them to turn a five-day week into a six-day week, and we ended up working on Sundays as well. He had charisma and was an outspoken seductive personality. At the same time not a dictator, but a lovable person.

“The Boat” brought us both to Hollywood. Petersen filmed the “Neverending Story” in Germany, then the thriller “Enemy Mine” in America. I got an offer from Michael Mann, I did the horror film The Keep with him and soon after that I did Desert Planet with David Lynch. A flop then, a classic today.

I worked with Petersen again in America. He called me in 1996 and didn’t even dare to ask me at first. It was about a role for which they actually had no money. That was “Air Force One,” the action thriller starring Harrison Ford and Glenn Close, in which the US President’s plane is hijacked by terrorists. I had a small part as the villain, the dictator of a post-Soviet state that the Americans had arrested.