German-Speaking Actresses in English-Speaking Roles, Part 3

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A Brief History

On August 9th, 1965, Tom Jones’ rendition of What’s New Pussycat?, the title song of the movie with the same name, was released in the UK. It was hugely successful in the music charts, having reached no. 3 in the US and no. 11 in the UK and was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.

Digging Deeper

Two famous German-speaking actresses of the post-war years starred in the film adaptation: Romy Schneider and Ursula Andress. For more on them, please refer to Part 2 of the series. In this article we present German-speaking actresses who have had English-speaking roles in the modern day. As stated in Part 1 of the series, contemporary German models who have an occasional role in movies or tv series will not be considered.

Part 3: The Modern Day

1. Nastassja Kinski (1961- )

The daughter of German screen legend Klaus Kinski, who was famous for his schizophrenic personality, Nastassja had her biggest English-language success with Tess, the 1979 screen adaptation of author Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, and Nastassja won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of the main character. Her fame did not just come from her acting, however, but was also as a result of her affair with the film’s director, Roman Polanski, who had just two years earlier fled the United States after having been accused of drugging and raping an underaged girl of 13. One year prior to the alleged incident, Nastassja and Roman had begun their affair when she was just 15 and he 43. Their relationship ended shortly after filming for Tess was concluded; at 17 Nastassja had probably become too old for Polanski… Nastassja continued to act but, except for her role in Paris, Texas, a 1984 movie that won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, has to date not managed to recreate the financial and critical success of Tess. In the early 90s she was involved with American record producer Quincy Jones who is 28 years her senior. It seems that except for playing Tess and the erotic aura that surrounds her, she is primarily known for the men in her life – her controversial father and two much older lovers.

2. Heike Makatsch (1971- )

Primarily known as the ex-girlfriend of James Bond actor Daniel Craig with whom she was in a 7-year relationship, Heike Makatsch has also starred in some relatively well-known English-language productions. Among these are: Resident Evil (2002), Love Actually (2003) and The Book Thief (2014).

3. Franka Potente (1974- )

Though she may be less known, Franka Potente’s English-language work and screen presence has been nearly prolific as Diane Kruger’s. Franka Potente first achieved international fame in the German film Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) in 1998. In this movie Franka’s character Lola has 20 minutes to obtain 100,000 DM (ex German currency) to save her boyfriend’s life. The movie explores three possible outcomes with three different runs. It was a critical success and won many major awards, both in Germany and out. The exposure got her roles in American movies such as 2001’s Blow with Johnny Depp and as the leading lady and Jason Bourne’s love interest in the Bourne series. In 2007 she starred in the Australian production of Romulus, My Father, opposite Eric Bana. Franka has also done some television work, such as in House, and in 2014 she landed a recurring role in the FX series The Bridge which interestingly also stars Diane Kruger.

4. Diane Kruger (1976- )

A former model on the Paris runways, Diane Kruger had French roles and smaller English-speaking roles before she was handpicked to play the beautiful Helen in German director Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy. She was actually too thin, and the director promised her the part if she would gain some weight. Released in 2004, this epic production also starred Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Peter O’Toole, as well as many other Hollywood and stage greats. After this break, she starred in the National Treasure series alongside Nicholas Cage. In 2009 she was paired up again with Brad Bitt in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, a movie for which she won numerous awards in her role as a German actress working as an Allied spy. She currently stars in FX television series The Bridge.

5. Alexandra Maria Lara (1978- )

Though technically not German (she was neither born in Germany nor born to German parents outside of Germany), Alexandra Maria Lara is a native speaker of German. Her country of birth is Romania, but her family moved to East Germany when she was 4 years old. She has appeared in numerous European productions, the first ones of significance being historical miniseries. In 2002 she had roles in both the series Doctor Zhivago which starred Keira Knightly and in Napoleon as Maria Walewska, the emperor’s Polish mistress. Two years later she played Hitler’s secretary in Downfall, an Academy Award-nominated winning German movie depicting Hitler’s last days in a bunker. This brought her to Francis Ford Coppola’s attention, and he gave her a role in Youth Without Youth. A role in the British-produced Control followed. More recently the most significant productions in which she had parts were The Reader with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes and Rush, a movie about race car drivers.

6. Sibel Kekilli (1980- )

A German actress of Turkish background, Sibel was discovered in a mall in 2002 by a casting director and went on to win the first part she auditioned for. The movie Gegen die Wand (Head-On) proved to be a success and won many awards, prompting journalists to take a closer look at her background, only to find that she had previously acted in  pornographic films. She survived the ensuing smear campaign and ended up winning a German Bambi Award for “best shooting star” in 2004. Additional German productions followed; however, she feels that in many of them she was typecast into Turkish roles. Her first English-speaking role was given to her in 2010 when she was cast as Shae in the HBO series Game of Thrones. She has since become a series regular.

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 Historical Evidence

For more information on some of these actresses, the following DVDs might be interesting:

Akin, Fatih, dir.  Head-On [Gegen die Wand].  Strand Releasing, 2005.  DVD.

Coppola, Francis Ford, dir.  Youth without Youth.  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008.  DVD.

Curtis, Richard, dir.  Love Actually.  Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2013.  DVD.

Tykwer, Tom, dir.  Run Lola Run.  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 1999.  DVD.


About Author

Beth Michaels

Beth Michaels attended a private college in Northeast Ohio from which she earned a Bachelor’s degree in German with a minor in French. From there she moved to Germany where she attended the University of Heidelberg for two years. Additional schooling earned her certifications as a foreign language correspondent and state-certified translator. In her professional career, Beth worked for a leading German manufacturer of ophthalmological medical instruments and devices as a quality representative, regulatory affairs manager and internal auditor.