Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hanna Schygulla on her Career

My career has started quite late because I hadn't made up my mind to become and actress. As a child I was dreaming of being a dancer. I was this girl in my class that was so pretty and danced. I was brought up after the war and TV hadn't yet arrived so it was still radio so I dreamed about becoming a singer at times especially when I was all alone listening to these voices coming out of the radio. Some of them were already from abroad, American and Latin-American. I was just jumping on the voices. This was infantile dreams.

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Hanna Schygulla being interviewed in Taormina


Then I studied philology because I was grateful to my teachers. They were always encouraging me saying "We know that you will become something special". I needed that kind of confirmation because it was not in the tradition of my family to become something special - they were working class people. Thinking of my teachers I thought it would be good to become a teacher because you can be important to children’s life. So I studied for that.

When I was almost at the end of my studies – it was philology because I wanted to teach literature and a foreign language – I felt becoming an intellectual was not what I wanted in life. I didn’t want to always go into analyzing. I learned at university to read books – I could just look at a page and decide if it was worth reading or not. I felt this was a deformation, also when it came to talking. I was talking intellectual language which made me feel quite far away from what I wanted to feel like.

I didn’t want to disappoint my parents who had made great efforts to finance my studies. But then the first occasion came along. I was making some extra money serving in a restaurant and met another girl who said she was using the extra money for going to acting school – it is really interesting, she said. So I said: I will come with you. A couple of days later I was in there.

I see this boy that didn’t look like anybody else – he had this kind of Asian face almost, these eyes that were so slim, also his behavior was not like everybody – a mixture between very shy and very provocative. This was Fassbinder.

As it always is when you do something for the first time you are really good but when you go into the trouble of learning it you lose it. I decided this was not for me, so I left school.

Fassbinder had a sudden flash saying that this girl in his class would be the star in his movies. He already knew he would do movies. He was in acting school because they refused him in directors school for lack of talent. I was out of the school after a couple of weeks, then he came to me. He joined an underground group, he remembered me, he looked for me, found me and then I joined the group as well.

We started with very experimental theater work. He was already doing these as he would be doing movies – small units of scenes - three to five minutes. Soon afterwards, he started doing movies. Since I have been talking about Fassbinder all my life, I don’t want to say too much. He worked a lot in 13 years, he did 40 movies in 13 years, and I was in half of them.

At the end of the time with Fassbinder, I had offers from other directors. “Maria Braun” had quite an impact; it was shown in many festivals. Goddard and others asked for me. When Fassbinder died, at the same day, I had an appointment with Marco Ferreri. That appealed to me right away because he was such a phenomenon. I was always attracted to this kind of cinema which is unique. He called me and said he was so sad that Fassbinder had died; I knew this was more than empty word. So we took another appointment, and I did "Storia di Piera" with him. That got the best actress prize for me in Cannes. So I thought it’s going to be a new phase in my life.

But very often, the highest peak is already the way down. After the prize in Cannes, I had less offers, because everybody thought I was very expensive and having offers all over the place, but it wasn’t like that.

Then something happened in my life that took me out of movie making for a long time. My mother fell into old age in a very dramatic way. I stayed with her for eight years. Then my father got to an age where he couldn’t walk alone so I dedicated lots and lots of time to these two people that I owed my life to, and that had not been too happy in their lives. So I thought I could contribute to making them happier, and to make up for something.

During that time in order not to die as an artist I had started to develop my own stage programs which were one-person shows. I went into music. I finally fulfilled this child dream that I wanted to sing. Of course, I’m not the only actress doing this. Of course I didn’t want to train, but just sing as it came out of me. I took a lot of pleasure in just taking off into music. I wrote the programs myself. I did seven of them. I could do them because I’m not a perfectionist.

This was also part of Fassbinder training: what you cannot do this time you can do next time. Every approach of doing something has something interesting as long as you don’t look into perfection and inhibit yourself. I was doing these concerts for eight years.

Then when my father passed away, all of a sudden new offers came in. I always felt: when it is supposed to come back, it will. Sometimes people approached me and said: Frau Schygulla, what happened, it has become so silent. And I said: yes, it’s like that today, but tomorrow it might be different. And it came back. Of course I switched into another age. It started not with being a protagonist, but playing a mother or a wife of somebody. I’m drawing now into the parts of age.

The young generation is coming which are no more inhibited about or frozen about this label “Fassbinder actress”. The very young ones think that Fassbinder is a good reference again. The last picture I did was with Fatih Akin. What impressed me the first time I saw him on television was the way he was spontaneously showing his excitment. I immediately felt this was somebody I would like to know closer. Also for the mix of two cultures.

I was always attracted by foreign things. It is part of art, this foreign look. What you are used to see does not wake you up anymore. You are so used to it that you are almost blind to it. I always wanted to meet foreign mentalities which I did a lot in my life. I was very often adopted by foreigners.

I hope my life is not just going back, but going forward too. I’m still very curious about everything that is new, that is a step into new things.

I have done an experimental movie. Fassbinder once offered me to not just be his actress but to co-direct and co-write a movie on a novel written by a German artist living in Paris during the time of surrealism. She had schizophrenic delusions. In one of these, she had a dream of being pregnant with a unified Berlin. That was ten years before the wall come down. But then ten days before we wanted to start, one of Fassbinder’s friends died, and Fassbinder felt like not doing this movie anymore.

So we did “In the Year of Thirteen Moons” and I was very disappointed. A neighbor suggested that I should do this on my own. I didn’t do the same movie. I had a couple of night dreams written out. I was always surprised what kind of poet everybody is when they are sleeping and dreaming. I took these notes which I called called “protocol dream records”. I shot this thing all with myself It was really video of the first generation. It was me reliving these dream protocols with my eyes open.

I had the material in a suitcase. In 2005 I had a retrospective in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And they said I should how something that people don’t know. So I took the material and edited it. The Director of the film department suggested that they keep it in their collection.

I think there is a lot to do about representing age in a way that makes age not something to run away from but to go into it. I can see that there can be some work for me there. I hope that will be better photographed than in the last movie. But I must say that when I see these pictures I wish I had a cameraman that does better at lighting. When I saw myself on screen I thought: my goodness do I really look like that! I know I’m not as photogenic as I was when I was young, but I don’t look that bad. But it seems that the audience does not care. I got so much positive feedback that I now think that I can still be there - I have a presence that can convey things.

I don’t know what to teach. I have always avoided learning things in the proper way. I’m stronger if I don’t have to go through disciplines, and learning things in a traditional way.

I don’t think acting is that difficult. Acting is about being present in the moment when you are doing something. In that way, everybody has to be a good actor to live a full life.

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