Watching Nevrland is a dark ride. Austrian director Gregor Schmidinger has always used his work to deal with complicated themes like mental health and LGTBQ+ issues. His short film Homophobia (2012) was celebrated for its raw and honest perspective on issues like bullying or discrimination. His first feature film could not be different.

tells the story of Jakob, a young boy suffering from anxiety and isolation, whose life changes forever after encountering a beautiful and mysterious artist on the Internet. The role of Jakob is complex and melancholic, but as the critics and the viewers say, up-and-coming actor Simon Früwirth was the one destined to give life to the character. Because Simon is also a riddle.

This 20-year-old actor is talented but, at the same time, undeniably mysterious. His presence can break your heart and give you chills, all in the same scene. His screen debut has received unanimous applause, winning the Best Actor Award at the Max Ophüls Festival in Germany. But Simon doesn’t care about awards; he has always been into art. Curious about the world surrounding him, we discuss the stigma around mental health, him dropping out of school to star in the movie, and his future plans.
Since you were a child, you have shown interest in culture, music and art. When did you know you wanted to go for acting?
The wonderful thing about being a child is that you can be anything you want, and I wanted to be everything and everybody. My father was a painter, my stepfather is an architect, my uncle writes, and I have a grandfather who was mainly a musician. My mother says I was a very relaxed child, and that I engaged with myself easily. I was introduced to music and drawing at a very young age, and that’s pretty much what I wanted to do as a child.
Let’s talk about your latest work, the psychological horror film Nevrland. It’s not only your film debut but also the feature film debut of director Gregor Schmidinger, whose previous short films The Boy Next Door and Homophobia accumulate more than fifteen million views on YouTube. How did you get in contact with the project?
Well, of course, I had no clue what I was getting into. The first time I heard about the casting was actually when a good friend of mine mentioned an ad on Facebook that talked about electronic music or film – I am not sure anymore. Anyway, I felt an urge to find out more, and suddenly there was this opportunity to do something more meaningful and fun than school.
You dropped out of school to bet on your passion, and started an internship as an assistant director at the Renaissance Theatre in Vienna. How has your experience in the world of theatre been compared to cinema?
I dropped out of school to fully focus on shooting the film. Once my part of the job was done, the internship presented itself as the best option to venture deeper into the field of acting. It was a really draining experience to sit on the sideline for two months and just observe everything. Nevertheless, it was still very interesting to see the process and being involved from start to finish, leaping this production out of the ground and onto the stage.
The main difference between theatre and cinema is the process of the project. In theatre, you get together in a group and work on roles, on the production as a whole, and there will be many days used for practice. In film, on the other hand, you get cast after the director has probably been working on their project for years, and you come on set and have to be there in that moment. Most of the time, the scenes are not even played in chronological order, which in the world of theatre they are.
Simon Fruwirth Metalmagazine 1.jpg
Would you like to, one day, get behind the camera to become a director?
I certainly am interested in most aspects of a production, however, I don’t strictly see myself in the role of a director. During my time on set, I cherished most moments where I felt intensely involved in the whole process; A word that shines a light to the process as a whole would be ‘hypersensitivity.’ This, together with a sense of ‘becoming’ – that is, one’s growth as a person, actor, collaborator and/or a director.
Nevrland has been your film debut and, in addition, it is also your first leading role. One could say that you have made a grand entrance to the world of cinema. How have you faced this double challenge?
I see it neither as a challenge nor an entrance, but an act of self-discovery. I left school with a sense of direction and the events that happened lent me this newfound perspective. During the shoot, I was aware that we were making a film, but it wasn’t just about the film, if you know what I mean. We were so engaged in the process and the dynamics that emerged from the interpersonal exchange… We were in our microcosmos guarded and lifted by the joy of creating, and it was humour and friendship that guided us.
The protagonist of Nevrland is a lonely guy who works in a slaughterhouse, has a cold and distant relationship with his father, and faces his social relationships with shyness and distance. Is there anything about you in Jakob? And a more important thing, has Jakob stayed with you somehow after finishing the movie?
How I found Jakob was an intuitive process. As an actor, I see it more as a meeting point between the book/the story and myself, the one who is playing and emphasizes the role at the same time the movie tries to impact the audience. It is ambiguous to say how much of the character is in me because he exists only through me.
Simon Fruwirth Metalmagazine 2.jpg
The film deals with the topic of anxiety. What have you learned as an actor and as a person about this serious problem that affects a lot of young people around the world?
The film made me more aware of this issue. With Gregor, I met someone who had dealt with his own anxiety in a very open way. He found himself in a very confrontational environment, wanting to get a hold of his feelings and thoughts. When I read the script, it was very important for me to show that Jakob was not a victim; a mental problem doesn’t make you a lesser person. It should be perceived as naturally as a broken arm: everybody can be affected by mental illness. One should not feel rare or alone while dealing with it, and I feel this should be recognized.
Nevrland is a very dark and intense film experience. It is not the typical queer movie, and it takes a more psychological horror turn. How did this emotional involvement affect you personally?
Personally, it affected me as a viewer. Being in the audience and seeing how people reacted to certain scenes made me believe in the power of cinema. Of course, shooting in a slaughterhouse is rough. It was never the idea just to disturb; what Gregor tried to create is an environment through sound and image for the audience to have a physical experience. Create a reality that feels tangible on various different levels, as well as to stimulate the viewer. For me, it did require a different approach to the film, a situative focus – where am I, what do I want, how do I get there… I kept those thoughts in the back of my mind all the time.
At the last edition of the Max Ophüls film festival, you were awarded the Best Actor award for your performance, how did you feel? How are you managing success?
When I look back on the whole festival week until the moment I went on stage to accept the award, giving a speech and knowing that my little siblings were watching live on television, it felt like a rush that culminated in disbelief. It took a while until I realized that nobody can take this moment away from me, but it was just the beginning of the journey. I had the pleasure of being put on a platform so to speak, giving me a head start into the film industry. Suddenly, I was being seen! Something most actors or people are craving their whole lives.
However, I came to the conclusion that prizes are nothing if you don’t make something out of them. It's nice to be recognized for something and having people applaud your work, but at the end of the day, it is better to be your own judge.
Other projects you have recently participated in are the television series Viena Blood and Tatort. Would you also like to develop your career in the TV world? What are your next projects?
I tend not to differentiate the world of TV, cinema, etc. I see it merely as a field I operate, live, and ultimately have to survive in. Working out of lust and joy is what I want my next projects to be.
Simon Fruwirth Metalmagazine 4.jpg