Screen talks to actor-turned director Karl Markovics, whose directorial debut Breathing picked up the Europa Cinemas Label in Cannes last week.

Austrian stage and screen actor Karl Markovics, best known for his turn in Oscar winner The Counterfeiters, makes his directorial debut with Breathing (Atmen), the story of a young man trying to re-integrate into society after serving time in a juvenile detention centre for murder. The first-timer talks to Screen about his childhood fascination with inventing, and what the chances are that he’ll finally get to act in or direct a comedy.

Where did the inspiration for this film come from?

It was a strange event. I have always made up stories and written scripts, but only for my own pleasure. I never had the courage to come out with them. This story came from a central idea about death and people whose job is closely associated with death – people who work in cemeteries or with bodies. That was just the idea. Then a young guy appeared in my mind and it was like the play from Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search Of An Author, in that this character appeared and wanted to be in the story and I had to deal with him, but I didn’t know how to manage it because it didn’t fit with my story.

How was the transition from acting to directing?

It’s all about imagination and putting one’s own imagination into the minds of others. I was always fascinated by this, especially as a child. As you know all children invent and play. This was all I ever wanted to be – a sort of pretender. For me, the easiest way was to become an actor. But in the back of my head I knew that this wasn’t enough. I knew that one day, I would create my own story from zero. It’s taken a long time but here it is.

Were you tempted to cast yourself in the film?

Never. There was no idea to do that, no moment when I thought it would be nice to be in my own movie.

How does this film represent you as a filmmaker?

It deals with life and death. It deals with big topics but in a very every-day like style. The people are average human beings. Most of the time they don’t make a great deal about the meaning of life or death but in this situation they are forced to.

What’s next?

I’ve been in Romania where I’m acting in a Dutch-Belgian movie – Suskind. My character is called Aus der Fünten. He was a chief of police in the SS in Amsterdam, responsible for the deportation and transportation of Jews to concentration camps. He is the antagonist in the film who gets close to the protagonist Walter Suskind until he realises that Suskind is using their relationship to save Jews.

Not too many comedies for you then?

No, that’s right. Comedies are surely one of the most difficult things to do in this job. There aren’t as many comedies out there because there aren’t enough Billy Wilders in the world. And it’s a tough job. I’m not sure I’d have the courage to try one but I’d like to.

Will you direct again?

Yes, I’m working on the script for my next movie. I have more courage now. This first movie had such a good life that I hope to shoot my next one in 2012. It will be shot in Austria with be the same production team as Atmen – Epo Film. In Atmen I explored the mother son relationship, in the next one I might explore the father son-story. And then I hope my third film might have nothing to do with me or family and might even be a comedy!