Do You Remember Til Schweiger’s Film Honig im Kopf?
It was the most successful comedy-drama film in Germany in 2014, albeit discussing a difficult topic: Alzheimer’s.
This week on Friday, November 30th, 2018, Head Full Of Honey, Til Schweiger’s English language remake opens in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York.
“Head Full of Honey” stars multiple Academy-Award® nominee Nick Nolte as Amadeus, a recent widower whose strong personality, charm and sense of humor can no longer mask the life-altering onset of Alzheimer’s. He and his granddaughter Tilda (Sophia Lane Nolte) develop a special bond. Tilda’s patience and affection for her grandfather become his strongest link to life. Tilda tries to help her grandfather, Amadeus (Nick Nolte) navigate his increasing forgetfulness, and ends up going on a remarkable adventure with him.
Among the notable cast are also Oscar nominee Matt Dillon (Amadeus’ son Nick), Emily Mortimer (Nick’s wife, Sarah) as well as Jacqueline Bisset and Greta Scacchi, and others.
Written and directed by acclaimed German actor and filmmaker Til Schweiger and based on his earlier successful German film release, this poignant generational drama marks Schweiger’s English-language directorial debut.
About “HEAD FULL OF HONEY”
A CONVERSATION with Writer, Director and Producer TIL SCHWEIGER
QUESTION: “Head Full of Honey” centers on Amadeus, played by Nick Nolte, who is struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s and all the frustration and confusion that comes along with it. But his experience is part of a larger story. What are some of the themes and ideas the movie touches on?
TIL SCHWEIGER: All the movies that I wrote and directed deal with similar topics, and that’s family values, love, and friendship. We didn’t just want to make a movie about a person who suffers from Alzheimer’s. We wanted to show how this affects the whole family situation and how the different family members deal with that and so, in the end, this is not only a film about Alzheimer’s. This is a film about family, about trust, about connecting and reconnecting, and about love.
I would say the biggest theme is love, and what love can do—not to heal, because this disease is not healable, not now at least, and hopefully one day it will be—but what love can do to ease the pain, and how important that is. In that respect, it’s also about hope and loss, understanding and supporting each other and the people we care about.
Q: What inspired this story? Is it personal to you?
TS: My grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s, although we didn’t know to call it that at the time, so yes, it has touched my family. So, when my friend Hilly Martinek, who is a writer, came to me and said, “I lost my father to this disease three years ago. What do you think if we write a script,” I immediately said, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
Q: Do you think this is something general audiences can relate to?
TS: This is a subject that people throughout the whole world can relate to. It’s universal. Not everyone will develop Alzheimer’s, but certainly, everyone deals with unexpected life changes, either for themselves or the people they love.
Q: “Head Full of Honey” is based on a hugely successful German film you directed in 2014, “Honig im Kopf.” Why did you decide to remake the story in an English-language version?
TS: This film is so important to me and means so much to me, I did it for the opportunity to reach a larger audience. Once I began with a new cast and a new script, and some other small changes, I was able to see it with new eyes and it didn’t feel at all like the same thing.
Q: What differences are there between this and the earlier film?
TS: I think the biggest change from the original is that this goes a little deeper. Also, the role of Tilda’s parents, played by Matt Dillon and Emily Mortimer, is much larger and more significant. I played the father in the original and my part was much smaller than Matt’s.
Q: What kind of research did you do, and what did you learn?
TS: We visited several care homes. We talked to a lot of doctors and nurses and got stories from them. We basically said, tell us the most touching, the saddest stories, and also the most humorous ones—because that’s part of it, too. When we got all those stories, we had already finished the first draft of our script, and we said, “We have that, we have that, we have that, but we don’t have that. That’s great. We have to put something like that in the script.”
I also met with a scientist in this field and learned about the current research. One of the things I learned was that when someone with Alzheimer’s tries to tell you something and loses track, it’s not helpful to say to them, “Hey, I don’t understand. What are you trying to say?” That’s the worst thing you can do because you inflict so much pain on the patient. People going through this realize, especially in the beginning of this disease, that you have your bright moments and other times you feel you’re like falling apart, and it’s hard. That’s why we created that scene with Amadeus’s granddaughter, Tilda, at her doctor’s office. She asks him what she can do to make Amadeus better, and he says slip inside his world. Go into his world. Don’t expect him to come to your world because it’s not going to happen. It happens sometimes, but it’s going to happen less and less. So, you make his life more beautiful if you give him the feeling that you understand him and that you give him a thing to do, so that he feels needed.
Q: It’s a drama and a serious subject, but still with notes of humor. Why was it important for you to include those moments?
TS: When Hilly and I first traded stories, we laughed a lot because as serious as this is, a lot of stuff that happened was just funny, and we put much of that into the film. Our intention was to take away a little bit of the fear and the stigma. This is such a horrible disease that nobody wants to talk about it and people push it away. Why show only the sad and horrible moments, when there are also the loving and positive moments and the opportunity to laugh at what’s happening—and we see this largely through the eyes of the young girl, Tilda.
Q: How does Amadeus come to this point?
TS: Amadeus used to be a very strong man, very energetic. He used to be a veterinarian. As he began to feel the effects of the disease, bit by bit, his beloved wife helped him make up for it. She wrote him notes about what to do and what things were, and so she helped him cover the fact that he was ill, because he didn’t want his son to know. Eventually, she passes away, which shatters him completely and that’s how the movie starts. His son comes in from London, sees the situation for himself, and takes Amadeus back with him to live.
Q: What was it like working with Nick Nolte?
TS: Nick was my first choice for Amadeus. I worked with him in 2000 on an Alan Rudolph film and I was so impressed by him. I’ve never seen an actor who’s better prepared. His screenplay looks like a scrapped continuity script with gazillions of notes.
I met with Nick at his favorite breakfast place in Trancas Canyon in California, to talk about the project. He’d seen the original and told me he cried so much he missed the end credits. It’s a part he hasn’t played yet, but he saw the material and said it was an awesome part and he really wanted to do it.
Being an actor myself, I can give very precise and very short bits of direction, and Nick Nolte is such a brilliant actor, that’s all he needs. He asked me in the beginning, “Do you want me to play the character exactly like the original?” I said no, I just want you to be Amadeus. You slip into this role, and you bring what you have to bring, and I knew what he would bring because he’s one of the best actors I know. He’s just terrific. So, I didn’t do much directing. I said do a little bit here. I think here you should take your time, and this could be more angry, more upset, or this could be a bit more on a lighter note… stuff like that. But that was just like a little painting. His performance made me cry several times—not only me but the whole crew. That’s not a surprise because I’ve seen him in so many different parts and he’s always great, fantastic. Plus, he’s a wonderful human being; no ego, no star behavior. It was easy to work with him.
Q: This is Sophia Lane Nolte’s acting debut. How was she cast?
TS: Sophia Lane is Nick Nolte’s real-life daughter, and in the film she plays his granddaughter. I didn’t even know Nick had a daughter. After we met in Trancas Canyon, he invited me over to his place. It was Halloween Day. I knocked at the door, and the door flies open, and there’s this little vampire with a white face and blood and sharp teeth and a black cape, and she says, “You must be Til.” And I said, “How do you know my name?” She said, “I saw bits of your movie. I loved it, but now I have to go,” and off she went.
I asked Nick, “Who’s that lovely girl?” He said “She’s my daughter. She’s 10 years old.” And I said “Nick, I think I just had an epiphany. I’m on the way to audition girls for this role, but I think she could be Tilda.” He had the same thought himself, already, but said, “There’s just one problem: her mother. She doesn’t want her to be in front of a camera.” I was like, “OK, give me three days. I’m going to build a case and then I’ll talk to her.” So, I sat down with her mother and we talked for maybe three hours. I told her about my own experience, how it was to shoot with my daughter, Emma, who had the role in the original film, and about the quality time you get working with your own kid and, well…in the beginning I thought it wasn’t going so well, but, at the end she hugged me and said “Thank you.”
Sophia is a natural. Plus, she’s so intelligent and clever and funny. And quick to learn. At one point I asked if she knew what a double take was. She said no, so I explained it to her. You see something, but you don’t fully see it, then you realize suddenly you saw something and you look back again. In this case, it was the scene where she’s on the train and her grandfather wants to go to the loo, but instead, he exits the train and walks down the station platform. The train starts moving and she spots him from the window, and I said the longer it takes for you to realize that you just saw your grandfather the funnier it is, and she nailed it on the first take, like spot-on.
Q: Do you think audiences will feel the bond between their characters?
TS: To watch them together on screen, like when they sit there on the bench in Venice and he has his arm around her and she snuggles up to him… To watch that is just beautiful. The relationship between Tilda and her grandfather is so important to the story, everyone was telling me how hard it would be to get that chemistry. Sure, Nick Nolte is great, but to find a young actress and build this relationship between strangers so that it feels right on screen, that’s not going to be easy. So, I think this was really meant to be.
What Nick did, when they weren’t both in the same scene and it was a scene with her alone, he always left the set. He didn’t want to put that extra pressure on her.
Q: Tell us about Matt Dillon in the role of Amadeus’s son, Nick.
TS: I was always a huge fan of Matt Dillon’s acting, and in this film, he is amazing. It has many layers, his role. You totally believe that he’s this man’s son. You totally believe that he loves his father and looks up to his father, and that he lives in denial because he doesn’t want this to happen. The fact that his father is losing his strength and his independence, it hurts him to bits and you can see that pain and frustration in his face. What else can I say? Matt Dillon is fantastic in this film.
Q: Tell us about Emily Mortimer in the role of Nick’s wife, Sarah.
TS: The difficulty about playing this character is that you have to be the antagonist. Emily has this natural gift that no matter what part she plays, you like her. You can’t learn that quality; you just have it, or you don’t. And she has it big time. So, on the one hand, she’s the antagonist, but on the other hand, she’s the realistic one in this family. She sees the truth.
Emily is a truly brilliant actress and so much fun to work with. She’s a writer, herself. She and Matt always came with fresh ideas.
Q: Why do Amadeus and Tilda go to Venice?
TS: This is also a little adventure story. Alzheimer patients often lose their short-term memory, and the things they can remember best are from the past. In the film, Tilda learns this from her doctor. There’s a scene where she’s looking at this old picture book of her grandfather’s and she says in voiceover to the audience that he showed her that book so many times, she knows every picture by heart, every story by heart, but she would look at it with him again anyway because it made him happy. That happened to me in my own life. My grandfather had several stories he kept telling again and again, and we just listened to those stories again and again. And this is basically what created that scene. But to answer the question, she knows how happy he once was. He fell in love, and he married his wife in Venice.
So, she says let’s go to Venice, because she learned from the doctor that he needs a purpose or a job to do. She says, you show me Venice. You show me where this was, where this happened. And he says, no, I’m not good anymore, I can’t go there. I can’t even find the way. And she says, I will find the way. I will take you. And she sneaks out of the house with Amadeus and goes on a very adventurous and spontaneous trip with him to Venice.
Meanwhile, the son and daughter-in-law, they’re very busy. They love their daughter, Tilda, but they don’t have a lot of time to spend with her. When Amadeus comes to live with them, they really don’t need that. It’s just another problem. But through this trip that Tilda takes with her grandfather to Venice, she also helps her parents put a lot of things into perspective and reconnect. That’s not her purpose, but it’s something else that happens as a result of her taking this journey.
Q: What would you like audiences to take away from this?
TS: There’s a crucial scene in the film when Sarah calls her mother, Vivian, who is played by Jacqueline Bisset, and says it’s so frustrating. My husband keeps his eyes shut. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, and I don’t know what to do anymore. Vivian tells her, you have to look at it with humor, with wisdom and humor, and this will help you. And it does. It helps Emily to understand a little bit more what’s going on, the denial and the dynamics between the father and the son. And that, to me, is the message we want to convey.
After the original movie opened, I got so many emails—hundreds of people from German and Swiss and Austrian audiences—saying thank you for this film, I learned so much. Some people wrote, “I wish I could have seen this film before my dad passed away. I would’ve done things differently.” People told me what they did wrong. And I wrote back and said I did the same stuff wrong. Don’t feel sorry. You didn’t know better.
This is an illness that affects whole families and there are difficult decisions to make. Maybe you don’t want to put your loved one into care, you try to keep them at home. But the day may come when that isn’t enough, and you can’t provide everything they need. You need help. And it’s OK to get help. This is the essence of the scene with Eric Roberts, as the doctor, Nick consults after his father’s examination. Nick goes to talk with him and the doctor says, look, it’s OK, I know what you’re going through.
So, my hope for this film is that it will remove a little bit of the fear that comes with this diagnosis and suggest that we try to look at it, if we can, with humor and wisdom.
Head Full Of Honey
Directed by | Til Schweiger
Screenplay by | Til Schweiger and Lo Malinke and Jojo Moyes, story by Hilly
Martinek and Til Schweiger, based on the 2014 picture “Honig Im Kopf”
Produced by | Til Schweiger, Christian Specht
Executive Producer | Kimberly Hines
Starring | Nick Nolte, Matt Dillon, Emily Mortimer, Sophie Lane Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset,
Head Full of Honey opens in select theaters in LA/NY on November 30th
Visit for more:
- Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/HeadFullOfHoney/
- Twitter: @Headfullofhoney
- Instagram: @Headfullofhoneymovie
- Official hashtag: #HeadFullOfHoney
This film is rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material and thematic elements.
Credits: ©Warner Bros. Pictures ©TilSchweiger