German born and raised actress Diane Kruger once revealed that Quentin Tarantino was reluctant to cast her in Inglourious Basterds. She had spent so long trying to lose her German accent that the director didn’t believe she was German.
While Kruger’s list of credits isn’t exactly full of German language roles, it brings up an interesting point. There are a number of actors and actresses that you may already be familiar with that you aren’t aware are German. Or Austrian. Or Swiss. In short: German is their native language.
Maybe it’s just me, but I get excited and pleasantly surprised when I see, unexpectedly, an actor, whose work I’m familiar with and enjoy, in a film. It offers a certain level of comfort and confidence. It is even more entertaining when the actor is one I know from German language cinema and the film is in English. And bonus points if the German actors are speaking English without any noticeable German accent. Double bonus points if the role isn’t that of a Nazi or it’s not a film set around World War II.
It goes without saying that using German language films is a great way to practice listening comprehension when you’re learning German. But it can be difficult to know which movies are for you and to get comfortable when you don’t fluently speak the language and the culture. That is when a familiar face can go a long way. Maybe you don’t even know they natively speak German until you see them in a German language film. I’ve put together a list of German language actors and actresses that you don’t know you may already know.
The Tom Tykwer directed Run Lola Run (or Lola Rennt, if you prefer) did more than just top critics’ lists and remind everyone just how innovative the German film scene could be. It also launched, for all intents and purposes, the career of Moritz Bleibtreu. Since then, the actor has shown himself to be versatile. In one film (Lammbock) he’s a stoner who likes to party (or maybe more than just one film…) and in another he’s, controversially, Goebbels (Jew Suss: Rise and Fall / Jud Süss – Film ohne Gewissen) and in yet another he’s a notorious German leftist terrorist (The Baader Meinhof Complex / Baader Meinhof Komplex). He’s even managed to get himself into German rapper Bushido’s big screen bio pic, Zeiten ändern dich.
Bliebtreu has also appeared in a number of Hollywood films. Recently, he can be seen with Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren in Woman in Gold, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate and in World War Z with Brad Pitt.
One to Watch: The Experiment / Das Experiment
Til Schweiger is everywhere in the world of German entertainment. The hard-working actor/director/producer has multiple film credits to his name each year so it’s no surprise that he’s considered the most successful German actor of the last decade.
The list of titles to his name in American films is nearly as lengthy as that in his native German. You might have caught Schweiger in Hollywood films like King Arthur with Clive Owen in the title role, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life with Angelina Jolie, the star-studded New Year’s Eve, This Means War with Reese Witherspoon, and, of course, Inglourious Basterds and Muppets Most Wanted.
His German language films in recent years have become increasingly family-oriented in more ways than one. In addition to them being family friendly entertainment, Schweiger’s own children have acted in his films, such as Schutzengel, Keinohrhasen and its sequel Zweiohrküken, Kokowääh and Phantomschmerz.
One to Watch: Keinohrhasen
Daniel Brühl hasn’t let languages or cultures hold his career in film back. The accomplished actor has done films in German, English, Spanish, and French. He has the kind of knack for language learning that the rest of us can only dream of.
He was Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush, Daniel Domscheit-Berg to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate and he was in Inglourious Basterds, The Bourne Ultimatum, and A Most Wanted Man, the latter being one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films.
While Brühl has made some lighter films, he seems to lean towards more thought provoking films. In The Edukators / Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei he is one third of a group looking to shake up the rich by reminding them their lives aren’t quite as secure as they think. For Good Bye, Lenin!, he portrays a young man after the fall of the Berlin Wall going to extreme and comical lengths to ensure his ill, proud Communist mother isn’t aware that the DDR no longer exists. In Lila, Lila, he passes another author’s manuscript off as his own in order to impress a girl.
One to Watch: Good Bye, Lenin!
You might be more familiar with Franka Potente as Lola in Run Lola Run / Lola rennt, in Blow with Johnny Depp, in several of films of The Bourne Ultimatum franchise with Matt Damon, or from her appearances on American television shows.
But before her cross-over to English speaking audiences, Potente made several highly respected German films. She stars in the German horror film Anatomy / Anatomie and makes a brief appearance in its sequel (Anatomy 2 / Anatomie 2). In addition to the Tykwer directed Run Lola Run / Lola rennt, she starred in The Princess and the Warrior / Der Krieger und die Kaiserin with Benno Fürmann while The Elementary Particles / Elementarteilchen saw her play the sexually liberated lover of Bleibtreu.
One to Watch: Run Lola Run / Lola Rennt
Photo of Til Schweiger from his official Facebook page; photo of Daniel Brühl from his official Facebook page.