In the thriller series “Your Honor”, a German-Austrian adaptation of the Israeli series “Your Honor” (“Kvodo”), Sebastian Koch (“The Lives of Others”, “Heimat”) plays the caught up judge Michael Jacobi in his own net of deception as he fights to protect his son. The project was brought to Koch by Al Munteanu, producer and founder of SquareOne Entertainment, and the two worked together to bring the project to the big screen.
Munteanu and Koch showed a convincing combination and aroused the interest of producer Christoph Pellander from ARD Degeto. “‘Your Honor’ is rousing entertainment at its finest,” says Pellander. “The screenplay producer Al Munteanu and leading actor Sebastian Koch electrified us from the very first moment; So we really wanted to produce the thriller series together. In our version, co-produced with ORF and produced by SquareOne Productions and Mona Film, we moved the story to Austria to bring it closer to our viewers’ surroundings and thereby produce something truly unique.”
The project was popularized by Starz, and Jeff Cooke, senior vice president of international programming, quickly became an ally. “We were already big fans of the original Israeli series as well as the US version, and when Al called to say he was doing the German version, we were immediately interested,” he said.
Cooke added: “Once we read the scripts and he confirmed that Sebastian Koch was cast, it was an easy decision. This show fits very well with our brand of bringing bold and edgy content to our subscribers.”
diversity spoke to Munteanu and Koch before the presentation of the German Television Prize.
What was the genesis of this project? And how did Sebastian get on board?
Al Munteanu: I was spending Passover in Tel Aviv and saw a poster and an article and called my friend Donna Stern who ran Yes Studios. And I said, “What is this?” And she gave me the pitch. And it was written by Schlomo Moshiah who is a brilliant writer. And literally within that vacation, that three day span, she sent me a couple of links with subtitles and I was incredibly hooked because the premise is so universal and yet has such a fundamental question at its core. And shortly after that, because Sebastian and I were working on another film together, I called him and said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, stop it. I have that thing for you.”
Sebastian Cook: When I heard the story I thought… it strikes a nerve in our time, this breathlessness of standing in the corner, everything you do is wrong. You made the one wrong, one wrong decision and it messes everything up. You lose yourself in trouble, in lies. And I think we as humans kind of know that. It’s a kind of atmosphere that we find ourselves in worldwide. So I thought okay. Let’s do it. There’s something unique about this story, something important. So I said yes right away, which I rarely do on the phone, you know.
Can you explain your decision to take a darker tone to the format?
Munteanu: When we started the process, we had only seen the Israeli version. Then we found out that Showtime and Brian Cranson were working on the US version and we deliberately stayed away from it. We really wanted to be in a tunnel to focus on our own development. Visually, when we chose David Nawrath as our director, with Tobias as cinematographer, he immediately felt that they wanted to borrow from films like Sicario or Prisoner to have that look and that oppressive feeling. When we then moved to Innsbruck, it’s not a big city, nestled between two mountain ridges… There’s something very oppressive and claustrophobic about it, and that was also very important for Sebastian to have that feeling. And like the Israeli version, we’ve been looking for a place where the characters theoretically know each other, and there’s a kind of familiarity between the characters that then devolves into total and utter distrust.
Did you design the story specifically for the German market?
Munteanu: We said, “Let’s tell this story in the best possible way, while being culture-specific.” So what are the clans that are going against each other? You know, when we originally conceived it, I thought, you know, let’s do it in the big city of Berlin. And then it became an absolute cliché. When we then concentrated on Innsbruck, things became very specific. And in very specific cases, we’re repelling people who weren’t repelled in the other versions, and at different times. So the story takes on different roots.
Sebastian, can you talk about how you approached the role of playing a character with so many inner struggles? How did you bring him to life on screen?
Cook: For me, the relationship with his son was particularly fascinating, you know, because the judge is career-oriented – he doesn’t spend much time with his family. But there is a deep love even if it is not on the surface. It was important for me to show that. And all these values that we have as a society, these morals – the judge lives them. He is like a perfect judge. And then a lie almost got him into a maze, and he gradually lost everything he believed in. It was very important to me to make his story absolutely logical. That’s why I wanted to work with the script and write the final drafts with the writers. I needed to know everything. It was so important to me not to cheat on the stories. If I can explain it to myself, I can explain it to everyone. So that was one of the most challenging things, bringing all the lies to the end.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/global/sebastian-koch-al-munteanu-your-honor-1235373431/ Sebastian Koch, Al Munteanu on the adaptation of “Your Honor” for the German market