For his first major screen appearance in Germany, Daniel Donskoy plays the lead character Maik Schäfer in Sankt Maik and his acting work in the UK has included seeing him in the role of James Hewitt in The Crown, Peter in Detectorists for BBC and Dahan in Strike Back. Also a music artist, Daniel recently released his new single Bring Me Back My Smile and live versions of his previous releases Robbed Me and 24, and he is currently planning on releasing an album. Chatting with us, we found out from Daniel about his new single Bring Me Back My Smile, filming as Maik Schäfer in Sankt Maik and playing James Hewitt in The Crown.
You’ve just released your new single Bring Me Back My Smile, can you tell us more about it?
It was the third of three consecutive singles dealing with my central element of writing – the quest for personal freedom. Bring Me Back My Smile was written at a time when I wasn’t feeling all that good and tried manifestation for the first time. I had written down in my notebook: BRING ME BACK MY SMILE. When I arrived at a writing session a couple of weeks later, I found the melody for the song’s chorus, opened my notebook and saw the sentence. The song was honestly ready in twenty minutes. And I couldn’t have thought of a better song to release right now. We all desperately need our smiles back in this challenging time.
Had the song changed much over time?
Writing the song was easy but when it comes to production I am very much a perfectionist and as I had more to work on it, I unnerved my producers with countless sessions perfecting hormones, atmospheric elements and the beat. But the core of the song didn’t change throughout that time.
How different have you found releasing this single to your previous ones?
Working as an independent artist the majority of work is on your shoulders. It just starts with the writing. Suddenly you find yourself making up release plans, strategies – creating TikTok, IG reels, coming up with competitions, pitching for playlists. For my first single I had an agency work with me on the marketing side, but we parted ways because it didn’t feel natural having someone else coming up with a story for you. After all, it’s my stories and life I sing about, so I want it to be honest. Meaning it’s been a bit more tough this time round, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
You recently recorded live versions of Robbed Me and 24, how was it working on them?
It was all about finding a way to express the stories in the right acoustic surrounding. When I start writing the song there’s just a melody and the lyrics, but once we started to work on the production, things became trickier. I was certain that the songs need to merge a variety of genres, and it was quite a journey to get there. We spent so much time perfecting the harmonies for the choruses, as those are an essential part of my composition. I LOVE harmonic work.
What is your writing process, and where do you get the inspiration from for your music?
Before the pandemic, it would have been easier to answer the question about inspiration. Whatever happens to you on a daily basis is an inspiration. Every social interaction can become a reason to write a song. Nowadays it’s more about diving into memories and bringing the inner parts to the surface to access the same creative flow. I always start with the question: Why are you writing this song? What is the story about and what does the audience get from it… If I can answer that, I proceed.
Was there anything that inspired you to start releasing music and is it something you always wanted to do?
I always knew that I express myself through music in a way that I can’t with speech, but it was for my own personal enjoyment and my dealing with things. Sharing it with the world was a step I was initially uncertain about – but since my first concert, since seeing how your music can reach people right in their hearts and minds, I am certain it was the right decision.
What do you enjoy most about playing live shows, and what are you looking forward to most for getting back to live performances?
The most magical thing is the first moment – you are backstage, and you hear the crowd. On my first tour we had a big build up to the first song, and you can hear the crowd, cheering, clapping along and screaming – it feels like you’re about to go into the ring before a fight. That feeling of utter liveliness, the excitement, it’s priceless. And then you walk onto the stage and see beaming faces – I MISS IT SO MUCH!
As an actor, you play lead character Maik Schäfer in the German TV series Sankt Maik, what was it like booking the role, and can you tell us about your character?
It was my first big role in Germany after having filmed exclusively in the UK. After shooting the very British comedy Detectorists for the BBC, it was fundamentally different to lead a German comedy series. Both have an utterly different understanding of what’s funny… Maik is a small-scale criminal who becomes a priest of a small German village by accident – mainly because he is on the run after a failed coup and a priest dies in his hands. So, he decides to take the priests clothes and disembark from a train – that train stops in a little village – the village that was waiting for their new priest and that is how it all starts. It was fun working on such a layered character who has to uphold a facade at all times whilst dealing with a lot of moral questions about his own decisions underneath and has no-one to bounce off.
How has it been seeing the response to the series, and what’s it like to film?
It was quite crazy actually. All of Germany was full of huge posters of the show. It was the first time I saw myself on a billboard. I was in London at the time and that was good – I probably couldn’t have taken the awkwardness standing at a crossroads and the big version of you in a priest costume is looking down on you with a judging look. The response was incredible. When the first episode aired, my phone went crazy – thousands of messages and followers. It was a lot to take in!
You played James Hewitt in The Crown, how was this?
It was a big achievement for me on a personal level aside from the fact that it was an honour to join an ensemble of Oscar and BAFTA winners. Ever since I first came to the UK, I’ve always wanted to play British characters, which is something that isn’t always possible due to accent restrictions. I worked really hard to perfect my understanding of the British culture and the accent and this was the first time I was cast as a Brit. I was over the moon to be a part of such a tremendous production.
One of your earlier roles was playing Peter in Detectorists, what was the show like to do?
I had a blast. It was my first filming gig out of acting school. My first ever scene I filmed was with Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook. I was nervous but the two of them were the loveliest of colleagues. Honestly, it was the best first gig. I loved the awkwardness of all the characters.
Can you say about some of the other roles you’ve played which has included filming for Strike Back, Crescendo and Victoria?
I’m just happy that I get to play such a variety of characters. From the King of Russia to a Middle Eastern drug lord and a stuck-up macho Israeli violinist. This is why I love this job so much. You get to delve into worlds you would normally never be a part of. Of course, my international background helps with this.
Had you always wanted to be an actor, and how did you start?
I studied Biology for my undergrad – I knew the arts industry was the right one for me, but it took me some time to actually dare and pursue it… I’m glad I did.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch, and what music do you enjoy listening to?
Favourite TV shows ATM: High Fidelity, Years & Years and Atlanta. Music-wise I am obsessed with Frank Ocean, Mac Miller and Daniel Ceasar.
What music and acting plans do you have for 2021?
I have just started filming a show – I am sitting in my dressing room in Munich whilst typing this. It’s a show about a young couple dealing with the psychological effects of the pandemic. I am going to be shooting four more productions until the summer, and I am working on my album!!! Hopefully we’ll also be able to announce a new tour soon.
Let’s see – I’m ready for whatever happens next!
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