"RISING MOVIE STAR: "Kong"Actor Thomas Kretschmann's Faith is Evidence of Things Not Seen
By Stephanie DuBois
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Though he recently played the Pope in ABC's recent telepic "Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II" and stars as the spiritual guide that is an integral character in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of "The Celestine Prophecy," Thomas Kretschmann's brush with true faith runs far deeper than any script he's ever read.
The handsome East German native -- who also co-stars with Jack Black, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody in Peter Jackson's big-screen redux of "King Kong" opening Dec. 14 -- was trained to be an Olympic swimmer before escaping at the age of twenty from his country's Communist regime. Carrying only a passport and a few dollars, Kretschmann made the perilous journey on foot through four countries - one's chances of success were better traveling to Austria through Hungary and Yugloslavia -- to reach the West. The loss of part of a finger due to frostbite turned out to be a small price to pay for his freedom.
"Communism was at its peak when I left in '83," recalls the actor. "It was probably the most difficult time to get out of there because there were basically only three options - get arrested, get shot to death or make it. But I just had to do it."
He says in retrospect, "I kind of knew I was going to make it -- and it was the scariest time in my life. You cannot truly tru...but you have to, and of course, after escaping, my life dramatically changed because everything you go through in life becomes a part of you and defines who you are."
After being granted political asylum, Kretschmann tried his hand at various jobs for a few years before joining the renowned Schiller Theatre, Germany's version of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His star began to rise after making his film debut in "Der Mittwisser," earning his country's prestigious Max Ophuls Prize as Best Up & Coming Actor. He went on to achieve international recognition in such films as "Stalingrad," "U-571," "Blade," "Queen Margot," "Marching in the Dark," "The Stendhal Syndrome" and "Prince Valiant."
Kretschmann says that the greatest lesson learned from his escape was an indefatigable trust that has aided him ever since.
"At certain times and certain circumstances in my life I just know what to do," he says. "That's a pattern that I realized in my life. I don't bother anymore questioning it. I learned to trust my instincts. It's the same way with acting. I couldn't explain it and I wouldn't want to. And always when I trust my instincts I'm kind of right. If I start putting one and one together trying to figure out the best way to do things I'm always getting lost."
Kretschmann stars with Matthew Settle, Annabeth Gish, Obba Babtunde and Hector Elizondo in the upcoming "The Celestine Prophecy" based on the bestselling inspirational book by James Redfield, who's also exec producing the film. He says he didn't read the novel that chronicles the quest for an ancient Peruvian manuscript containing nine insights into true spirituality. "I read the script and went on that. For me it was not 'Aha, now I know how the world ticks,' but its full of basic truths like we're giving and taking energy from ourselves." Claiming no particular religious affiliation, he says, "I'm a little bit like the Native Americans. I believe in nature and the balance and myself being a part of it. And I think there's a spirit which is watching over you but you have to feed it."
He believes, "We have this ability called instinct but as a society I think we've pretty much lost it and all the modern sicknesses we have come out of the fact that we're not centered in this ability anymore."
The actor, who resides with his wife and three small children aged seven, six and three in Los Angeles now, was recently named Man of the Year in Germany in GQ Magazine. When your instincts take you from fugitive traitor to Man of the Year in a twenty-year span that is most certainly the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.