Interview: Hannah Herzsprung on WHO AM I, BELOVED SISTERS And More
I've become a huge Herzsprung fan, ever since I saw her brave performance as a deeply troubled young piano prodigy in prison in her feature debut Vier Minuten (Four Minutes) some years ago. I was really thrilled when I found out that she would be available for an interview for her new film Who Am I: No System is Safe, a stylistic cyber thriller, playing at KINO! Festival, here in New York. I tried very hard not to be a fanboy during the interview and it was very hard. Herzsprung turns out to be the most gracious, warm and open-hearted actress I've ever interviewed so far!
Herzsprung will be on hand for Q&A on Wednesday 4/15 screening of Who Am I: No System is Safe. Please check KINO! 2015 website for more info.
ScreenAnarchy: Hannah, I have to tell you that I'm a big fan.
Hannah Herzsprung: Yeah?
Ever since I watched FOUR MINUTES. What a performance that was!
I'm glad to hear that. You know I am working with the director (Chris Kraus) again after exactly ten years. The shooting starts next month. It's called Blumen von gestern (Flowers of Yesterday). I've been waiting so long...because he does movies like every four years. He did one in between called Poll, have you seen that?
No. I haven't.
Oh you should watch it if you really like his work. It's an amazing movie. Also it was with this amazing young actress (Paula Beer) he found, she was 15 - 16 years old. So I could't play that role. I was too old. (laughs) But she did an amazing job. For Bluemen von gestern, he picked Adele Haenel, the French actress?
She is great and also plays a great, strong character. I'm very excited to work with him again. But thanks for mentioning Four Minutes. It was such a once in a lifetime opportunity that can never be duplicated.
You've played a lot of different roles. You've done physically demanding films (FOUR MINUTES, HELL), romantic comedies (TRAUMFRAUEN), period pieces (BELOVED SISTERS, HABERMANN)... Do you have any preference in choosing roles?
Honestly, I am just happy to get these great scripts and offers. I count myself lucky getting all different roles after Four Minutes. Getting that range of experience is the best I hope for an actor. And you can pick among all these roles. It's not that I have thousands of offers and I can choose this and that.
Oh I just assumed that would be the case for you.
No no, that's not the case at all. (laugh) I have to say every character I played just came at the right place and the right time. Of course I read a lot of great scripts and auditioned for the roles but didn't get them because there were a lot of great actresses out there. But I love acting. It's definitely my favorite thing in the world. I'm a happy person.
If you could choose a character among you've played, which character resembles the real you the most?
Oooh. You can't hardly compare those characters with yourself. Obviously you play with your experience and all the feelings and emotions. You have to cull it from somewhere within you for sure. Of course it's great if you have a lot of experience where you can pick from. But I wouldn't say it's easier or harder if you have memories for characters all by yourself. It's the first decision you make when you read the script and you have the feelings for the character or not. Then I have to determine 'oh, do I have a feeling now because I am just happy to have it and to use it. I don't really bring myself in the character because it's not necessary really.
How was working with director Dominik Graf in BELOVED SISTERS?
It was amazing. You know in Germany Dominik is known as an actor's director. I don't know how he does it but he is a master of bringing out the best in you. He has that...
That's right. He has that right feeling about someone and he gets it. He doesn't rehearse that much. You talk about it a lot, and in this case because of Beloved Sisters is a period piece and all.
We talked about language, we talked about the film not getting too theatrical. He was very strict about how we said the lines. But then, when on shooting days, of course we discussed everything- what you do and what's happening, but he never really rehearsed the scene perfectly before he shot it. Because he doesn't want to miss those magic moments. And they happen, because he gives you that opportunity to let go.
He creates this base...a room and which he protects you. You know what I mean? You feel so free and you do things as an actor that, for me, sometimes after doing a scene, I was like, "did I really just do this? oh my god." It just happened because he gives you so much space. It's really hard to explain how he does it. It's just...Dominik being Dominik. it's really just him and communication between him and actors. You know, you can feel him what he wants. He protects you and you feel so brave to do so much. And that's why those magic moments really happens in his films. That's why if you watch his films, all the actors are brilliant.
Obviously Baran Bo Odar is a different director.
He is also amazing but in a different way. He is different but the same because he picks you and he knows what he wants from you. His scripts are very exact so you feel you know what exactly you have to do. But you can ask him everything. And if you do something and if it's not right, he immediately tells you. Then you change it and that's it.
He has such a watchful eye. Our job as an actor is being seeing. But I don't want to see myself from outside, thinking what I'm doing, never. I just wanna let go and go crazy on my little stage where it says, "actor".
When I first heard that you were gonna be in Baran Bo Odar's film. I was hoping that you'd be the protagonist. I thought, wow, it would be cool to see Hannah as this cool hacker.
Haha, that would been cool. I'll talk to him about a sequel that there is another twist that it's all Marie (her character)'s doing.
Thinking about the technological world in Who Am I, how techno savvy are you?
Oh no, it scares me. That's why I loved playing Marie. I learned so much more. Jantje Friese who co-wrote the script with Baran did an amazing job. She was like, "I really want my mother to understand how this all works." I said, "Not only your mom but me also!" (laughs)
I mean the underground cyber-world and envelope exchange and masks - it's such a great idea. And just visualizing it, Baran really did a great job.
Living post-Edward Snowden era, how worried are you about your personal information being stored in some virtual cloud?
Yeah I mean, of course, if you read all the news and you get to hear what's happening, it really scares me. But I think you just have to be careful. And you just have to hope that you will never be too famous that people will care about you so much that they will try to find out everything about you. (we both laugh)
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com