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Breaking Baz: German Stars Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller & Leonie Benesch Make Their Mark On 2024 Oscars

Sandra Hüller (a Best Actress nominee) and Christian Friedel, stars of Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest — nominated for Best Picture, Best International Picture, Director, Sound, and Adapted Screenplay — are familiar with Shakespeare’s famous verse from Hamlet: ”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players …” That’s because both thespians have been playing the Danish prince on stages around Germany for years.

Due to Germany’s repertory system in city and state theaters, an actor can revisit an assortment of plays time after time over a number of years.

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Friedel tells me that he first played the Dane in 2012. It’s a sort of rock star Hamlet performed with his band, Woods of Birnam. “It can take years until the piece is really finished,” he explains.

He adds that “It changes as you’re getting older,” an experience he feels with movies as well. The films obviously remain the same, but you relate to them in different ways as you get older. ”If you watch a film again and again after some time,” he believes, “it’s like magic.”

Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Leonie Benesch confer at the German Films Oscar reception. Photo :Baz Bamigboye/<em>Deadline</em>.
Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Leonie Benesch confer at the German Films Oscar reception. Photo :Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

Hüller has been tackling her interpretation of Hamlet since 2019, and a few days after Sunday’s ceremony — she’s a contender for her performance in Justine Triet’s Best Picture nominated Anatomy of a Fall — she’ll be back treading the boards as Hamlet.

Her shows will be in Leipzig and Bochum, while Friedel’s will be in Düsseldorf. “We’re one hour away from each other.” But Hüller laments, they’re unable to watch the other because both will be on stage in their respective productions.

One has to admire the German method of funding the arts nationwide, unlike in my UK homeland, where regional theaters, opera and ballet companies are being cruelly starved of funds because of cuts by local authorities the UK Arts Council and the UK government.

I must say how refreshing it was to be able to have such a conversation smack in the middle of Oscar weekend.

We were at the Oscar Welcome reception for German nominees, hosted by German Films, at Eveleigh restaurant in West Hollywood, just a hop and a skip away from my favorite Book Soup store.

Films being celebrated were Germany’s entry for Best International Film, The Teachers’ Lounge by Ilker Çatak, Japan’s International entry, Perfect Days by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, Best Documentary Feature Four Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania and Nadia Cheikhrouba, and Hüller’s lead performance in Neon’s Anatomy of a Fall.

Ilker Çatak and Sandra Hüller. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/<em>Deadline</em>.
Ilker Çatak and Sandra Hüller. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

One topic being whispered at the soirée was the possibility of Hüller sneaking in and taking the Best Actress crown. “A German can dream, right?” one wag at the party opined.

Guests included Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics, along with Dylan Leiner, their senior executive vice president of acquisitions & production. SPC hold distribution rights in multiple territories for The Teachers’ Lounge. That film’s producer, Ingo Fliess, traveled with a contingent that included Çatak, the film’s lead, Leonie Benesch, cinematographer Judith Kaufmann, and several other members of the cast and crew.

Ingo Fliess and Tom Bernard. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Ingo Fliess and Tom Bernard. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

Wenders was there with his partner, Donata Wenders.

Robert Aaronson, senior vice president of Cohen Media Group, joked he was there for the beer. The group’s movie, Io Capitano, directed by Matteo Garrone, won top prizes at Venice, and is a Best International Film contender.

Wim Wenders and Donata Wenders. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Wim Wenders and Donata Wenders. Photo: Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

My intention had been to stop by for five minutes, but ended up staying for hours. Can’t even remember where I ended up after that, except that I crawled to my hotel well after midnight.

Enjoyed catching up with Leonie Benesch, who was at Telluride when The Teachers’ Lounge was screened there over the Labor Day weekend.

I noted a conversion the film’s producer Ingo Fliess had about the struggles he had to get the film into the 2023 Berlinale, and how there had been no love for it from leadership of the official competition.

Benesch observed that sometimes there are films that people make “with the intention of them going a certain path,” while with this one, “In particular, it was completely impossible to even dream about that, none of us thought it would go anywhere near where it has gone. It’s completely surreal,” she marveled.

Ingo Fliess, Leonie Benesch and Ilker Çatak. Photo Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.
Ingo Fliess, Leonie Benesch and Ilker Çatak. Photo Baz Bamigboye/Deadline.

Ilker cast her as a teacher involved in a situation at her school where she wants “to do the right thing and ends up in a shitstorm.”

The Berlin-based actor has had roles in The White Ribbon and Babylon Berlin, but The Teachers’ Lounge marks a new level of success for her, she says. “What Ilker has done is he’s given me the chance of being number one on a call-sheet, to be in a film where I’m in every scene… To be trusted with that part and then for it to go so well, I think I’m on different people’s radars. I don’t know what that will change, because the jobs I’ve done in-between I had set up before.”

She’s just coming off the back of her last one, Heldin, directed and written by Petra Volpe. Judith Kaufmann, DOP on The Teachers’ Lounge, also shot Heldin. Filmed on locations in Basel and Zurich, Switzerland, Benesch plays a nurse. The film follows her in one long shift as it explores the work of carergivers and medial staff at a time of staff shortages.

Judith Kaufmann, Leonie Benesch and Petra Volpe on the set of ‘Heldin’. Zodiac Pictures/Salvatore Vinci.
Judith Kaufmann, Leonie Benesch and Petra Volpe on the set of ‘Heldin’. Zodiac Pictures/Salvatore Vinci.

Benesch has close friends from London and Berlin in town, and they’re sharing a house in Hollywood for a few days.

Moving here to L.A. permanently is not on her mind, though of course, one day she would like to work here, but not to live.

What seems to be happening at the moment she feels is that “people think that there’s maybe a little bit of a crisis going on in Hollywood when it comes to the arts of filmmaking, not the commerce of filmmaking, and people turn towards Europe, which is quite a unique thing, because that’s not happened on this scale before,” as she listed all the European movies in contention at tomorrow’s Academy Awards.

However, she’s “not opposed to the idea” of being part of a project in Hollywood. “But it’s not the end goal.” The end goal for her is to do work she finds fascinating.

“Listen, I can’t wait for Sunday. So many of my idols are going to be there. I’m just going to be gawking at people. It’s going to be wonderful. I’m a complete underdog, nobody knows me. I’m just going to be sitting there going, ”Ohh!””

European cinema is quite strongly represented at the Oscars, and there’s a reason for that, she says. But there are lots of American directors and actors she’d love to work with, “but there’s a lot of potential back in Europe as well.”

“Sandra is nominated as the Best Lead Actress for a French film, how beautiful is that!,” she exclaims.

Sandra Hüller. Bamigboye/<em>Deadline.</em>
Sandra Hüller. Bamigboye/Deadline.

She studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and recently shot a short film with Nicholas Richardson, who was in her year at Guildhall. It’s directed by his brother, Andrew Richardson.

Imelda Stanton’s also in the short. Benesch studied with Bessie Carter, the actor daughter of Staunton and Jim Carter.

She’s planning a stopover in London to catch Bessie Carter in the revival of Dodie Smith’s Dear Octopus, which is on the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage .

Then it’s home to Berlin to regroup and plan the next stage of what’s been an amazing career.

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