Louis likes to “drift away”. For a few minutes, it is as if we are surrounded by German girls in puffer jackets with oil-slicked hair smelling of pungent perfume, then back to our Zoom screen; to the warm dusty belly of Louis’ cat, back to our Zoom screen. Some days, an outfit - wide-legged and effortlessly cool - makes him feel like a band member. He talks about music like the melody really did carry him somewhere then placed him back, softly. No matter how far he may drift, he doesn’t seem to think he could ever lose his own character. He just adds to it, like layering more cream onto his already rich personality (even if he jokes that he needs the plants and frames behind him to create one for him).
When we talk about acting, he’s brought back to learning as a child, with a coach whose words have reverberated in his mind: “It’s all in your thoughts. When you’re thinking the right thought, your face will tell. Your eyes will tell.” And somehow when he acts, the vivid world in his mind can find itself shrunk into a single translucent raspberry-shaped tear (‘tear’ mostly alluding to the roles of his he calls “tortured and sad” but tears of joy also apply). There is something so unforced about Louis, and our chat takes on a similarly lovely character.
'All The Light We Cannot See' is out now on Netflix.
Your Zoom background looks so cute!
Thank you. It’s my home. [laughs]
[laughs] I love when people have a decorated background because a lot of the time people are sitting against a white wall.
I always like to put a plant in there somewhere or a frame, something that adds to my personality. I also need plants and frames to create a personality for me.
[laughs] Your personality is plant.
Anyway, let’s get into it. This conversation is going to be a bit different, since we aren’t here to talk about any acting projects. I want it to be more personal so we can really just get to know you a little bit better, even apart from acting. I know you used to make Spotify playlists each season. I listened to the “Late Spring” playlist the other day and I really enjoyed it. I think the music someone listens to says a lot about them - what do you think it says about you?
It’s funny that you say that because I don’t really post on Instagram, but I think when people go to look someone up on Instagram, they kind of want to get a feeling for how they are personally. Since I don’t really post any pictures, I wanted to create something personal to put out there for people to connect with me in some way, I suppose. It is something very personal, and I put out four - one for every season. Now I’m stuck with that because I’ve done the whole year, and am not quite sure if I can release another one. [laughs] I’ve got this complete collection now. But I think the music says that I’m a dreamer - it’s all very melodic. I’m a dreamer/procrastinator that sits down and listens to music and drifts away. I like to map out and create visions of what is going to happen in the future or what has happened and have that underlying everything.
What I listen to changes constantly. I listen to some different music now - I got into post-punk since I moved to London. That has been such a revelation to me - seeing those young and thriving bands. I love doing that in the past year. My goal is that, in how I dress, I want to look like a member of a band [laughs] so it’s not only about who I am as a person, but who I look like.
It’s interesting how a playlist says a lot about a person or it makes you assume a lot about a person. When I listened to it, to me your taste feels cinematic, artistic, and almost ghostly.
Oh, ghostly! I’ve never gotten that before.
Yeah, it has some sort of beautiful eeriness to it. As you bring up concerts, what is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
I think it has to be the Bon Iver concert that I went to. It was like going to church. It was such a special vibe. I can’t really describe it.
Have you ever heard of Dermot Kennedy? He has a similar vibe to Bon Iver, and his concert was the best I’ve been to - it was also like going to church.
I haven’t heard of him. I’m going to write that down. Isn’t that amazing? With that concert, everyone was so quiet and concentrated. Whenever someone got out their phone or started chatting to someone, there’d be people being like, Shhh, focus. [whispers]
Exactly! It was the same thing there! It was one of the only concerts I’ve been to where I felt completely in the moment. Normally after a concert I regret having not savoured it, but not that one.
That’s cool, yeah. Speaking of what I’ve seen lately - I went to the concert of a band called DEADLETTER. They are English, based in London. That was one of the most amazing concerts. They’re not a big band yet, but that was very, very, very different from Bon Iver because they’re post-punk and it was just about having a dance and being really sweaty. But also what they had in common was letting me be in the moment and very present.
Do you tend to be a very in the moment person or are you always thinking about the future and the past?
I’m always thinking about the future and the past. I think that’s also what is underlying my music taste. As you say, the sort of cinematic element to it is quite telling in terms of drifting away and revisiting moments of the past. I do struggle a bit with being in the moment and therefore I cherish those moments even more when I am in the moment.
So then in terms of how that sense of escapism might relate to acting and playing a role, do you feel like yourself as Louis is drifting away as you start on a new project? Is it a separation?
I’m not sure if I’d call it a separation. I find myself experiencing life in a way that the character maybe would during that time of filming in terms of starting to listen to different types of music or starting to dress differently - maybe starting to speak differently. Funny enough, that never really worried me because it never seemed like it would prevent me from going back into myself as Louis when I was done. It’s more like I really enjoy diving deeper into the character and taking elements of the character to sort of embrace them in my normal life. Well, it’s not really normal. When you film somewhere else, it’s like a different world. It sounds kind of like escapism. [laughs]
Speaking of getting into a character’s mindset, I saw something the other day that really interested me - it was an acting coach who said that people’s choices are often more irrational than rational, so actors should make irrational choices in their portrayal of characters. I wanted to ask for your thoughts on that because it was interesting to me, even if I’m not sure how much I agree with it.
I think I do. I feel the safest when I do as much prep as possible. That amount can be different depending on each character. But it’s doing all that prep and then going to set and sort of forgetting everything. I do feel like it can be a little boring when you already map out all of your choices and reactions in your head. That doesn’t mean you’re in the moment. Listening is so important to me, and I think to every actor. It’s crucial in making a scene work. If you’re actually in the moment, those choices, I think, will always be somewhat irrational.
In acting, but also in life, what emotions tend to come most naturally to you?
I can really easily be very happy - joy, excitement, enthusiasm - comes really naturally to me. I am really emotional. I can be sad and I can be very, very happy. But when I am one of those things, I am them fully. [laughs] So, on the other hand, melancholy, sadness, and grief come quite naturally to me too.
You have said in other interviews that you have tended toward roles in which the character is more introverted and quiet. Do you think there is any first impression that you give off personally that might make you so well-suited to that character type?
I think I give off a sensitivity and that often leads to roles that are tortured and sad [laughs] because apparently the sensitive ones are the only ones who can feel sadness and torture. I think that’s where it comes from, but lately I’ve been doing a few more extroverted and joyful characters and that is also so much fun. It’s also a much easier time while filming and gives me life as well. I don’t want to be stuck playing a tortured character because the audience would get tired of it.
Personally, are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
I don’t think I’m an introvert, no. [questioning] No…mm…no…mm? I don’t know, I can be exhausted after a day of socialising but I guess everyone is. But I love socialising and I love being with people and making them laugh and smile and having them make me laugh. So I don’t think I’m an introvert. I don’t think I was ever asked that. But I guess I’m also quite good at being empathic and maybe those characters need a lot of empathy so I bring that along. That introverted-being comes quite naturally to me in terms of channelling it for the characters, but it’s not like I’m like that in my personal life.
I was watching an interview with a director you recently worked with who said that you have such an understanding of how little it takes to really show something on screen. Is this something you are aware of when thinking about your own performances in general?
Yes I am aware. [laughs] I always wonder if it’s too little, too much, good, bad. I do think about that and that’s very lovely of him to say. I grew up adoring the work of a German actor named Tom Schilling who is someone who also very subtly conveys emotions and played those quiet, introverted, mysterious characters. I admired the way he acted. I’m not sure whether I saw that and wanted to act like it, or I liked what he did because that was my way of acting too.
When I got my first lead role as a kid, my first coach for child actors was phenomenal. When I was 13, she told me, ‘It’s all in your thoughts. When you’re thinking the right thought, your face will tell or your eyes will tell.” So that was always my approach - to think the right thoughts. Then I will feel what the thought will make me feel, not what I’m supposed to feel. You can only go wrong when you’re pushing for a certain feeling.
Speaking of acting since you were a child, is there a feeling you had in acting early on that you’re still chasing? When you are younger, you experience things for the first time and they feel so new and so I think sometimes people are searching for that newness and child-like joy again.
No, I’m not chasing something that I felt as a child, but 100% it is a rush. Whenever something unpredictable happens there is a rush that I am chasing. But it’s not something that I felt when I was very young. That is a point that I only got to after working for a few years and developing my acting skills, so to say. I remember one certain moment in 2021 when I was 23, I think, 24? Doesn’t matter. [laughs] I did a film and did a scene with my scene partner and she said something and I got goosebumps listening to her delivering the line. But it was as the character. That was something that never happened to me before in any way. I know that I’m not capable of creating the feeling of getting goosebumps. Something so innocent is being touched there. Ever since then, I've been chasing that feeling.
Speaking of childhood before though, what are some things you tended to or tend to be most inquisitive about?
I did question death quite a lot when I was younger. [laughs]
Oh, god! [laughs]
Sorry. [laughs] That feeling of not existing anymore, which is just the weirdest indescribable feeling when you imagine it for a second. That was a big question for me, ‘What happens when you die?’ I haven’t found it out yet. [both laugh] I have no answers. But apart from that, I don’t know. That was something big for me - I had a lot of nightmares when I was younger as well.
Yeah, I think the age that people start thinking about that can be very different. I think for a lot of people it starts when they experience their first big loss and it makes you see everything so differently.
Well my grandparents died when I was quite young. I’m not sure whether I was a curious child in terms of wanting to know how everything works. I wanted to be good at things that I could do. I wouldn’t be interested in, for example, how does a lake happen to be there in the middle of mountains? I was interested in music, football - things that were fathomable and that I could become better at and have a tangible feel of improving. That was always very important to me. I played the drums when I was younger, one year of violin [laughs], the piano, I sang, I played in a football club, I played tennis, I did skateboarding for many, many years. So that was what interested me when I was younger.
Wow, that’s a lot! [laughs]
Yeah, a lot of activities. [laughs] At some point, my parents taught me that I had to decide: Do you want to play tennis or do you want to play football? I decided to play football but then at some point acting took over. That’s also one of my happiest memories in my childhood - I was between ten and twelve and every weekend we would go to some tournament playing football. The mix of the smell of grass and sausages and oil - you know, they would always sell Bratwurst and fries - so the mix between the grass and the oil is a scent that I will always keep in my mind as something dear to my heart. That was one of the times that I was really, really happy as a child.
Yeah, I love asking people what scents they would bottle associated with specific memories of theirs because it just brings up something so natural that maybe they hadn’t thought of in forever. I want to know two more scent related memories now!
Before I tell you two more, I just want to add to the other one! I was at a car boot the other day and all of a sudden I said to my friend, [sniffs] ‘Ah, this smells so much like home! I feel so happy about this smell, what is that?' And he was like ‘Yeah, they’re just grilling over there’ [both laugh] - it was just some sausages on the grill. That’s only when I found out that sausages were part of the smell [associated with home]. I always thought it was just the grass.
I think a really big smell for me is also my birthday cake. Coming downstairs seeing the decorations and smelling the cake which I got every year from my parents - it was a chocolate base with cream and raspberries. It wasn’t like a fudge. It wasn’t juicy, it was dry. But then the cream would make it juicy and the raspberries. That smell is a lot like home to me. And I remember moving to Berlin after I finished school at 18 and I remember having that cake for my birthday every year - I would just bake it myself to experience the sensation of home.
I’m not sure where I have a third one, but I’ve got a smell story for you. It’s not like I’ve been very aware of how smell is connected to my memories, but I remembered a story when I was really young - about two or three. We were on holiday and my mum had to leave a few days early. We were going around in our camper van and we missed our mother so so much. She had left one dress of hers so my brother and I would go to that dress every day that we missed her. That would give us so much comfort. It was crucial to our happiness on that trip to be comforted by the motherly smell. [laughs]
That is the sweetest story. It’s funny too how scent can trigger very negative things. The other day I sprayed a perfume that I had forgotten about and immediately it just reminded me of getting ready for school when I was younger. I was so quickly anxious, like no one can ever spray that near me again! [laughs]
I have that too with a perfume! It’s a women’s perfume...well, that’s how they sell it. It’s so strong and I have no idea how to describe it. It’s been following me around in my life! In my neighbourhood, girls would wear it with slicked back hair, big puffer jackets, big Nike Air Forces - you getting the vibe? It was on my bus to school a lot. And as much as I hated the smell - like really hated the smell - it was also a little intriguing to me. Every time I smell it, it takes me back to going to school as well.
Exactly! The one that I’m talking about is really sweet - when you’re a young girl you just gravitate toward sugary smells. I think it’s called ‘Pink Sugar’. It has these pink and white stripes around the bottle…
Ooo I just remembered another smell!! The smell of my cat. The fur of my cat when she was younger. She always smelled a bit like dust and I don’t know why. But it was so comforting. [both laugh] I remember being a child and just taking her and smelling her fur.
[laughs] Smell of dust? Does dust have a smell? Like mildew?
Like a dusty pillow maybe. Maybe she smelled like a dusty pillow. [laughs]
I weirdly think I know exactly what you mean.
Like a room that hasn’t been cleaned…that’s terrible. [laughs] I just loved it. [laughs] She was also very cute so when you link that to the cuteness of the cat, the smell didn’t really matter. The sweet cat had a sweet smell.
What type of cat?
Some black stray cat. She had kittens three times so we had a total of twelve cats, not all at the same time. We had our first one then she got that cat that I was just talking about - she was one of three. Then we kept that cat. The first one was run over by a car. The one I was talking about had kittens twice - four and another four.
Have you had dogs?
No, but my Godmother had a dog - that was like my second family. I would always go on holiday with them and their dog. I loved their dog as well.
Cute! Okay now to wrap up on a peaceful note, what do you consider your place of solace?
I always thought it was the ocean when I was younger, but lately I’ve been going on hikes quite a bit and realising that the mountains offer a lot of peace. The woods and the mountains offer a lot of peace. I once did a camping trip on my own and stayed in the middle of nowhere - it’s really, really calming.
Oh wow! I love the mountains, but that would terrify me.
Yeah, the perks of being a man. [laughs]