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Sense8’s Max Riemelt talks season 2, full-frontal scenes, and kissing his male co-stars at Pride

By Will Stroude

After a mammoth two-year wait, the second season of the Wachowski sisters’ globe-trotting sci-fi drama Sense8 finally drops on Netflix this Friday May 5, promising even more action, intrigue, and telepathic international orgy sequences.

Season one drew plaudits not only for it’s glossy visuals and high-concept plot – which sees strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become ‘sensates’; human beings who are mentally and emotionally linked – but also for unaffected portrayal of characters of all races, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Among the many fan-favourites is Wolfgang Bogdanow, a Berlin locksmith and criminal played by 33-year-old German actor Max Riemelt – who’ll you’ll be pleased to know was involved in the Sense8 cast’s impromptu man-on-man lip-locking appearance at Sao Paulo Pride last year.

We caught up with Berlin-based star to find out what’s in store for fans in season two, whether he ever had any doubts about going full-frontal for the role, and why he’s pretty much up for anything, as long as it feels right in the moment…

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since Sense8 first hit screens. Is season 2 gonna be worth the wait for fans?

I think so! I’ve been asked what’s new and what to expect from it, and I always say it’s more of everything. More sex, more violence, the characters have been established so we can keep on moving on with the storyline of course but also the characters themselves. There’s so much more to come it’s hard to not speak about it an spoil anything!

So will the character of Wolfgang be explored in more depth this series?

Well I can only work with the stuff that [creator] Lana [Waschowski], and the writers give me, but she’s willingly open to experiment with the characters and we bring our personalities to these characters, so the more we get to know each other the more she’s willing to write scenes or new stuff into the story. It feels more organic to me, because the more she gets to know us the more she knows how to use our skills. My character is kind of dark and also very mysterious because he’s holding back his feelings and not talking so much. So yeah, I get to have more scenes which are shown from a different side, which I think is very interesting for the audience.

Speaking of Lana, fans were quite shocked when her sister Lilly stepped away from the show shortly before the production of season two began.

I wouldn’t say stepped away, I’d say took some time off. She needed some time for herself; especially after such a transition you need to reorganise and re-orientate yourself, so it came quite naturally.

Did her departure come as a shock to the cast though?

Not a shock, because we were still in contact. It ‘s more about understanding each other, and we totally get it. Everybody’s human and needs to go their own way. And it’s not said that she’s not coming back, you know? We’ll see. It didn’t work out this time; maybe next time.

Do you think the Wachowski sisters’ experience as trans women has made Sense8 the show it is? Do you think anybody else could have made it?

Of course it’s always different – it’s not only about the sex or the gender, everybody has a different vision and a different reality they bring with them to tell a story. But Lana’s background story is very important, especially for one character, for… Fuck I always forget the names… Nomi [a transgender hacktivist, played by Jamie Clayton] and her story. Other directors maybe couldn’t feel what she feels. I mean, the understanding they have of the world is a different one: They have to fight for their right to be seen as people. I think [Lana] is meant to do the show because she breaks every wall down.

You mentioned that there’s going to be even more sex in season 2, which seems hard to believe given season one’s international orgy scene! What did you think when you first saw that in the script?

Like I said, there’s going to be more! It’s also the way Lana portrays these sex scenes; it’s more like an oil painting you like to look on, not the physical act of two people putting something into each other. It’s like a melting pot that shows what’s possible when you just think about what you feel when you have sex. It’s not that very simple, single image you have of sex; it describes a feeling you could have when you have someone you feel connected to. It’s a beautiful sex scene, which is really rare nowadays; it’s not something people like to think of as pornographic.

The Sense8 cast’s appearance at São Paulo Pride last year also created some headlines, due in no small part due to your antics kissing Brian J Smith on the float…

It just happened! It was all like in a dream and it felt so good – the response of people was just so energising and took us away. And of course people like to see us making out together and we thought it would just be a nice treat for them.

So it was totally spur-of-the-moment? It was in the moment. [If] you see some people, you connect with each other and you feel something, you should just do it. Like on a party, you try things out and let things happen because it feels right. It’s not that we wanted to show off or show people how we really feel about each other; it’s not about that. It’s more about using this energy that was really heavy at Sao Paulo Pride and giving it back.

It’s still quite rare to hear an actor in your position talk so openly about sexual expression like that. Have you always been so open-minded?

People want to think about you whatever you say: they’re constantly projecting on you no matter what you say. I can describe myself, but you can see the glass as half empty or half-full – it’s all about perspective. Sometimes it’s really hard to describe these things with these little amounts of words that are given in one interview; it’s really hard to get to the point. I’m always kind of diplomatic… because it’s just a moment, and the moment goes over and you will think differently and probably feel differently about certain things, so I just let it happen. It’s always the filter that I have… I want to give the people the right idea but I don’t want to manipulate them that they think of a certain image when they think about me. I want to be authentic but I don’t want to give them any wrong information. And if it feels wrong in the moment then I wouldn’t talk about it so openly, but if I feel like it, I just do it. My life is too short to just behave. I want to be recognised as the person I really am. I have nothing to hide.

You’ve certainly not been shy when it comes to full-frontal scenes, in both Sense8 and German gay drama Freefall. Is that something you ever worried about or were you quite comfortable stripping off in front of the camera?

Of course I’m worried, because I don’t know [in] what context this material will be shown. Will it be something that people will just rewind because it’s so shocking, or will it be something quite natural that is just a pert of a scene that works? At some point you have to decide and I decided to trust the people I work with, and it just so happens the result was so positive that I have no so many problems with it anymore. But I’m still struggling with it, of course. It’s not something that’s so easily done.

You’ve also been supporting a crowdfunding campaign to get a Freefall sequel made: It must be a film that you feel passionately about.

I’m passionate about what we’ve done and the character we’ve established there. It’s something I would like to continue but unfortunately there is no script yet and we’re not that far that I can really talk about it. For me the story is so perfect because the end is open and I like that people think for themselves and have the possibility for participation. I hope that some more people are aware of it now and they support us.

As someone who’s so supportive of LGBT equality, how do you feel about the fact Germany has fallen behind the rest of Western Europe when it comes to equal marriage?

I think it’s just a matter of bureaucracy. Because what I deal with here in Berlin is one of the biggest freedoms you can imagine. Berlin is so easy and open about gay couple and marriages that it’s hard for me to understand why it’s such a problem. I think German laws and the process of pushing new laws through takes such a long time that it’s not been realised yet. But there’s two different realities here between, like, Bavaria and Berlin. I think it’s just a matter of time; but with a new generation it shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

All episodes of Sense8 Season 2 will be available on Netflix from Friday May 5.