The Swimmers Interview: Matthias Schweighöfer on Playing Coach Sven
The Swimmers Interview: Matthias Schweighöfer on Playing Coach Sven

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with The Swimmers star Matthias Schweighöfer about his role as coach Sven and his meeting with the real person he portrayed. The film was directed and co-written by Sally El Hosaini and co-written by Jack Thorne. The film debuts on Netflix on November 23.

“Based on a true story, The Swimmers follows the journey from war-torn Syria to the 2016 Rio Olympics,” reads the film’s synopsis. “Two young sisters embark on a harrowing journey as refugees, putting both their hearts and champion swimming skills to heroic use.”

Tyler Treese: The Swimmers is such a remarkable true story. What about it resonated with you and made you want to be a part of this?

Matthias Schweighöfer: I first heard about its story in 2016 in Germany. I met the sisters on stage at an award show. I heard about that story, and I thought, “wow, that’s, that’s heartbreaking.” It’s a true story about bravery, dreams, and hope. Then I met these girls, and I thought, “oh my God, this is a story. Someone has to make a film out of this.” Five years later, the director, Sally [El Hosaini], called me, and she said, “hey, I’m doing a film about these swimmer girls. Do you want to play the coach?” And here we are.

I was curious about your preparation for the role you’re playing — Sven, the coach of the girls. Did you get to actually meet the real Sven before this role?

Oh yeah. I met him in Berlin, and he showed me around the pool where the girls lived when they started training for the Olympic Games. He’s an interesting guy. He’s a very calm, very heartfelt person. He’s very understanding. He’s a great coach. And it was funny because he was asking his sister, “Who do you think could play me? Who do you want to play me?” And she said Leonardo DiCaprio or Mattias, and then it was me.

You’re right up there with Leo, so it makes sense.

That’s right!

As a swimming coach here, what is your own athletic background? Can you do the breaststroke? Were you more of a doggy paddle? What is your athletic prowess?

I can float. I can float. I’m really, really good at floating, and I can dive. I’m a good diver. I can dive into the water. People would say, “Oh my God, he can dive, this guy. This handsome dude can dive.” When I was younger, I was swimming for two years. I think I’m good with … is it called breast swimming? Breast swimming.


[Does a breaststroke motion] It looks insane when I do this. Sorry. [laughs]

Playing a real-life figure, how does your approach differ on set? Are you trying to mimic Sven? How does that work out?

Sven, when I met him, that was my first question. “Hey, what’s important? What do you really want to see on screen, in the end, about you?” And he said, “Matthias, feel free to do whatever you want to do. Just don’t make me look bad.” Because still today, he’s a manager for these girls, and he’s a friend. It was always the three of them, Yusra, Sara, and Sven. He just said, “Matthias, feel free [to do] whatever you want to do. Just be part of the story.”

You’re a talented director yourself. What impressed you the most about working with Sally on this film?

Sally is a fantastic director. It was the first time after I did a movie called Army of Thieves as a director. I came on set and it was pretty hard for me just to step back [and] not to be in control, but Sally did a great job. She just said, “Matthias, trust me. I will guide you through the film. Don’t do anything crazy, just trust me.” And she was fantastic. Every day she had a vision and I just followed her.

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