After sharing his boyfriend with the world, German actor Jannik Schümann wants the world to scrap the term “coming out”.
In December 2020, the 28-year-old made headlines across the world when he posted a picture of himself and his boyfriend to Instagram. Headlines proclaimed that Schümann had just come out as gay – but that wasn’t the full story.
In fact, Jannik Schümann told his parents and friends that he was gay a decade ago, and he has never made a secret of his sexuality – so he wasn’t exactly expecting a rapturous response when he unveiled his boyfriend to the world.
“I don’t like coming out as a word,” Schümann tells PinkNews. “I think ‘coming out’ is a very traditional, old-style word, and in the society I’m living I want ‘coming out’ to be a term that doesn’t exist anymore. I had my ‘coming out’ if you want to see it like that 10 years ago with my parents, my family and my friends, but this was different. I just wanted to show the world who I love and who is the one on my side, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a boy or a girl.”
Getting to that point of openness wasn’t always easy. As a teenager, Schümann worried that his burgeoning sexuality would hinder his acting career. When he posted the photo of himself and his boyfriend last year, it was in part an effort to reach out to LGBT+ youth – to show them that they can be themselves and still thrive.
Jannik Schümann never felt like he was in the closet
“I never felt like I was in a closet, that was definitely not the point,” Jannik Schümann explains. “I just wanted to protect my private life, I wanted to protect my friends, I wanted to protect my family, and also my partner. I’ve never had the wish or the desire to post couple pictures, but then in the last year, during the lockdowns, I think every one of us used the time to reflect on life, and in the end I decided to do that as a signal of support for the LGBTQ community. I think that was really important that I did that.
“When I was younger, I was lucky enough that I accepted my homosexuality pretty early. But in the beginning when I tried to fight against it – and there were a few years where I tried to fight against it – it was just because I already knew that I wanted to become an actor and I was so sure that homosexuality and being an actor were not compatible. So I did it for all the young boys and girls who want to become actors or actresses who are a part of the LGBTQ community to show that that’s possible.”
Some queer actors have spoken out about their fears that coming out would stop them being cast as straight characters, but Jannik Schümann never worried about that. He is also quick to point out that being openly gay has not hindered his career in any way. Right now, he is playing the Austrian emperor Hans in the series Sisi, who he characterises as “the Lady Di of Austria”. The part is, he says, “a very heterosexual” one, and his next role will be the same.
“I’ve always thought that if people don’t want to see me, or if producers don’t want to see me in this or that role, I don’t want to work with them because then we are not on the same level. There are enough clever and smart people – I always hope that the smart people will be successful in the end and that we all meet together and have the same mindset.”
Jannik Schümann thinks it’s fine for straight actors to take on gay roles
Jannik Schümann is also keenly aware of the ongoing debate surrounding gay roles. Some argue that queer parts should be played exclusively by queer actors – an argument that has stemmed in part from the plethora of Oscar nominations for straight actors who took on gay characters. Does Schümann think it’s OK for straight actors to take on gay roles?
“Yeah, I do think so – because I’m playing straight parts,” he says. “If I were to say that no straight actor is allowed to play gay parts then I wouldn’t be allowed to play straight parts. I really appreciate this discussion and I think we have to be very strict to reach a level base, but in the end it’s important that the best actor for his part will get the role. If you’re straight or gay, I don’t care because in the end I want to see a movie and I want to see into a different world that’s apart from my reality.”
Despite this, Schümann is adamant that the conversation is “important” – and he points out that the focus on diversity isn’t the same across the board – he thinks it’s vital that disabled characters are played by disabled actors. “But when talking about sexuality, that’s something for my private life. For me as Jannik, I don’t want to be cast just because I have a specific sexuality.”
Now that Jannik Schümann is openly gay in his public life, he’s keen to focus as much as possible on LGBT+ rights. He thinks Pride is essential because it allows the community to “respect and honour” those who fought to get us to where we are today. Like many queer people, he is incensed by the brands that put the Pride colours in their logos for the month of June on social media and promptly remove any sign of queerness at the end of Pride Month. “Then it just becomes a marketing strategy,” he says.
He was also careful to avoid taking on any sponsored partnerships with brands to mark Pride Month, explaining that he didn’t want to “use” his boyfriend Felix as a “commercial tool”.
“I hadn’t posted this picture to earn money with any corporation. I did it for myself – not to commercialise anything.”
Like most LGBT+ people, he has been horrified watching Poland and Hungary as they slide uncomfortably into homophobia and transphobia.
“Our rights have improved a lot over the last few decades, but in neighbouring countries – I was shooting in Poland last year, colleagues of mine are shooting in Hungary right now. It’s insane what’s happening in those countries.”
Despite this, he’s adamant that the queer community also needs to focus on the positives where we can see them. He was heartened to receive messages from young LGBT+ people when he shared the photo of himself and his boyfriend on Instagram last year.
“Your life is the most important thing – it’s more important than being accepted by your family,” Schümann says.
“Every gay person should say: ‘I know that this is me, and I’m proud of myself. And even if you don’t accept me I will be strong enough to live my life.’
“One of the best parts of my post last year was that I got a lot of messages on Instagram from younger people, and they were coming out the day after. That made me so proud.”
Jannik Schümann’s latest film Your Color is available to stream on Amazon Prime in the UK now.