What made you confident you would get this part in Inglourious Basterds? Did you have to fight for it?
I did [have to fight for it] because I wanted this part so much. First of all, the odds were against me. I′m sure you′ve heard that he had someone else in mind (for the role), and at first it seemed there was never even going to be a chance for me to go and audition. But regardless of who it was, it didn′t work out. Even then, when he opened the casting process, he didn′t believe that I was actually German. And I was like ‘Oh, OK’ Then finally, he said ‘OK, she can come to Berlin and meet me’ And that was my chance and I was delighted.
Inglourious Basterds (more photos, videos)
You obviously felt that you were right for the part. Why was that?
You know it′s very rare that you read a script and feel like a part was actually written for you. And I know that obviously wasn′t the case at all, but it just felt so right. The only time that had ever happened to me before was for a movie called JOYEUX NOL (MERRY CHRISTMAS). You don′t know why but you feel like you know the person so well and you can identify with the character so completely. I genuinely felt like I had something to bring to the table with this character. And if I got the opportunity, I just felt that Quentin couldn′t hire someone else because I was so prepared. And that′s what happened. We met for a reading. It was just Quentin and I in the room doing scenes, and it was obvious. So, here we are
You′ve worked with some great directors. Is Tarantino the craziest?
(Laughs.) Oh, they are all crazy. Every director is different. Quentin is the most vocal and the biggest cinephile of all of them. I mean, he is a walking movie reference book, and he is very enthusiastic. He is a very demanding director, and I mean that in a good way. He won′t let you get away with anything. He won′t even hire you if he feels like you are not 150 percent committed to the part and working hard. He does not care if you are Brad Pitt or George Clooney. If he doesn′t think you are right for the part, it doesn′t happen. There are so many directors that hire actors because the studio wants to have box office value or whatever, and I know for a fact that he could not care less about that. I mean, he′s obviously in a good position because he has made films that have proven themselves, but that′s the way he is.
Did you have to talk him around and convince him that you really are German?
Oh no, once he saw me he realized that I was German. I think he had only seen my American films, and I really had spent years trying to get rid of my German accent because everybody kept telling me, ‘She′s good, but she can′t play American.’ But that finally happened and then in typical Hollywood fashion - I asked, ‘What is next?’ ‘Oh she′s German, but her hair′s not blonde enough!’ (Laughs) It was just a stupid thing.
Why did you identify so strongly with the character?
Well, first of all, I′m German but I also love movies from the 1940s. But I didn′t want to do the obvious and play her as a Marlene Dietrich impersonation, and Quentin was very adamant about trying not to do that as well. I don′t know this for sure, but the perception of me is that I′m blonde, small and very dainty looking. But, I really have a lot of strength in me. I think I′m quite an obnoxious character when I have to be (laughs). He was actually quite taken aback by how insistent I was, and the reading that I gave was very much in the direction of how he thought the character should go.
What is it that attracts a modern actress to playing a star from yesteryear?
Well, I think it is nostalgia because women were very glamorous then. I′m sure 20 years from now people will say, ‘We miss people like Renee Zellweger.’ But with those stars from the 40s, I love that era, and it has a lot to do with the clichs and pictures you see.
Would you have liked to live in an earlier period, like the 20s or 30s?
I would say yes because of their wardrobe, but actually women didn′t have a lot of say in those days. And I feel like if I had the same character as I have today, I wouldn′t do so well in that kind of society (laughs).
What was it like socially while you were making INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS? Did Quentin have his ‘film nights’?
Oh yes, every Thursday night. He would show his favorite films. So, I saw THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and we had hot dogs and popcorn and a lot of fun. That′s his tradition. Everybody comes along, and he must have seen those movies a hundred thousand times. And he still sits there, and he still laughs. He does an introduction and tells you why he loves it. And then every Friday, it′s crew drinks at whatever bar, and everybody goes along and celebrates the end of the week. We went to Tarantino′s Bar (in Berlin), and that was kind of crazy. The first time we went in, the owner didn′t even know that we were going to be there, and he is obviously crazy about Quentin so he nearly fainted (laughs). It′s a good bar, actually.
So, it′s fair to say that this was a very different experience than your other films?
Yes, it′s fair to say I won′t be the same after this. Quentin is a very demanding director, but in the best possible way. The way that he imposes on each actor, how he helps you prepare your character, is so unique and different. He′s so involved. Usually you show up on set and you do your work and you get ‘directed,’ but he is very much involved from the minute he auditions you to the day you finish. He′s very hands-on. He feeds you with information, feeds you movies he wants you to see, and he talks to you at length about how he is expecting the character to turn out. I′ve never felt the same way about all my other films as I did with this one. I feel like I′ve matured. I feel like something clicked. Maybe it′s just confidence that you feel when a director like that not only has hired you but also appreciates the work you put in. It helps you feel more confident.
How does feeling mature manifest itself?
I just went for it. I think when you first start out as an actor, you try things, and you go to a certain place. And then, someone like this comes along who demands more of you and pushes you beyond a certain point.
Inglourious Basterds (more photos, videos)
You′ve worked with Brad Pitt before, on TROY, and now again on INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, correct?
I didn′t get to do any scenes with Brad on TROY, but obviously I had met him. So this time it was nice to be in a room with him and actually have to do the work. It was actually all about making the film. And it was nice to see him, the actor and the man, as opposed to ‘Brad Pitt’ that sort of omnipresent tabloid and magazine fixture. It was actually nice to see the actor and get to do some work. He′s a very nice guy and an exceptional actor, too.
You have a big, key scene in this film. Let′s call it the “bar scene.” How long did that take to shoot?
It was a long time. First of all, we rehearsed it with everybody for two weeks before we started shooting, and it was like a play. And then, we shot it over ten days, maybe two weeks. It′s a long scene, and it actually got trimmed. The scene in the script was about 25, 30 pages, and I have 15 pages of dialogue in that scene. He is famous for doing 10 or 12 minute takes, so it was tiring because you are on all the time.
Do you live in the U.S.?
I was born in Germany, but I′ve lived half of my life abroad. So, I guess I feel really European. But I′m very fond of America, and I spend a lot of time there even if I don′t truly see myself as living there 100 percent. I really enjoy the American way of life for sure.
What does that international lifestyle give you?
I think it′s a big advantage. The fact that I can speak different languages and make movies in different countries is really rewarding. So far, the better parts I′ve been able to get have definitely been in French movies. I love French cinema. It would be great to make a German movie.
Has your faith in America been boosted by the election of Obama?
Yes, but I have to tell you for my generation, I felt like this was the first time we could make a difference. For my generation and younger, we grew up without one figure we could admire. We didn′t have Martin Luther King; we didn′t have people that we believed could actually make a difference. And I have to say, I was in New York on Election Day, and I have never felt so much hope about and belief in the future. I think it′s amazing, and I have to say what a great country America is. I mean, it′s a country that George W. Bush ran and is so afraid of terrorism, and then they elect Obama! I think that′s fantastic.
Going up the red carpet in Cannes for a Tarantino movie must have been a surreal moment in your life?
Yes, and we hadn′t seen the movie yet, so I was so tense walking up that red carpet. Can you imagine? It was awful and exciting at the same time. As you know, Cannes is a very tough audience and very vocal about whether or not they like a movie. And with all those people there I′ve had films here before but that was craziness. It was overwhelming to see the actual movie. You can′t really watch it because you are looking at yourself and how it was cut and edited, and the reaction of the audience was very overwhelming. I couldn′t believe it. I have never had a movie that was received like that.
So, watching yourself on screen is hard for you?
Oh, it was awful, and it′s always terrible. It′s always terrible because you remember what you shot, and you just can′t watch it as a film, not for the first time anyway.
This is a slightly odd question, but is it true that Tarantino has a fixation with feet?
(Laughs). He would deny that! First of all, I must be a really bad fan because I hadn′t heard that. But then on set, I thought ‘It′s funny, I actually do have a foot scene’ And we did shoot with more close-ups on my foot than my actual face, and I though, ‘Well, maybe’ And then, I brought it up with him, and he was like ‘Oh no, it′s completely untrue.’ I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ (Laughs)