Encounter with Paula Beer, a member of the Un Certain Regard Jury

Paula Beer - Photocall © Gisela Schober / Getty Images

A multilingual actress, Paula Beer has worked with an impressive number of filmmakers for such a young talent: Chris Kraus, who provided her with her first awards, but also Andreas Prochaska, Theresa von Eltz, François Ozon and Christian Petzold, with whom she has made three films. The German actress discusses her working methods.

You started very young in theatre and this experience seems to have been decisive in your learning process. As the years have passed, what impact does this foundational period have on the kind of actress you are today?

I was 8 when I got on stage for the first time and 14 when I shot my first film. Up until then, I was at the Friedrichstadt-Palast, the big theatre in Berlin. I went there every evening by train after school. This experience taught me my way of working, but also that the profession of actor must above all remain a game. I love losing myself in the imaginary world of a film. The result is that I don’t feel a lot of pressure when I’m on set, even if I’m playing a leading role. And I always say that if the result is not up to snuff, it’s because the director chose the wrong actress! Before shooting, on the other hand, I’m always a little nervous. I always ask myself if I am well prepared. But when it starts, I feel freed.

How do you choose your roles?

When I read a script, I need the general atmosphere of the film to speak to me. I need to be touched emotionally and to feel something deeply about the character that I’ve been offered to play. I really need to know that my heart will connect with the subject but also, of course, with the director and the other actors. Making a movie means spending a lot of time on set and I like to ensure that I’m going to be surrounded by others with whom I know that things will go well. I don’t really need the traits of my character match my own. On the other hand, if it’s the kind of character that I’ve already played, the project interests me less. In general, I never shoot more than two films a year. For me, opening up to a character requires a lot of energy. I always give everything that’s in me to my characters.

How do you prepare your characters?

It’s never completely the same process each time, but I always begin by dissecting the screenplay in a very simple way to have a good overview. I’m interested in its structure so that I don’t forget a scene and so that I know where my character is going. That helps me a lot to not lose myself in the story during shooting. Then, everything depends on whether the role requires any specific learning. Finding out the costume I’m going to wear and the hairstyle I’m going to have helps me a lot to find a manner of giving my character a way of moving about. I learn my lines by heart when I’m preparing scenes. I don’t feel any difficulty learning them.


I sometimes have the impression that roles come to me when I’m ready to receive them as a woman.


What importance do you give to body language when you’re on set, in front of a camera?

It’s very important for me to bring my character to life with my body, but that requires a lot of work. I believe that our bodies have a natural way of moving that can only be modified by a lot of work. Our bodies follow our emotions and if I’m able to feel the emotions of my character, I know that I’ll succeed. But for that, you have to create a space, to empty out your mind. This work helps me a lot to inhabit my character. It’s an approach that is essential for me.

Who, between the woman that you are and the actress, has brought the most to the other?

I sometimes have the funny feeling that roles come to me when I’m ready to receive them as a woman. Sometimes, when I accept a role, I say to myself that at other moments of my life, I would have immediately rejected it. It’s a story of synchronization, of two paths that meet at the right time! There are sometimes roles that are made for me. And sometimes, it’s who I am as a person that’s perfect for the role!

Is there an actor or an actress that inspires you particularly?

Without saying that she’s a constant source of inspiration, I’ve always been very impressed by Meryl Streep‘s performances. For me, she’s the queen! She has a way of giving everything to her characters that is truly formidable.

You have worked a lot with Christian Petzold. What aspects of your craft has he allowed you to develop?

Christian has a very singular way of working. With him, you feel that you have all the time in the world to make a film. He never pressures us and gives us complete freedom of movement. I think that that’s essential to have trust in the present moment. Through working with him in this way, I’ve really succeeded in freeing up my craft. We’ve just wrapped our third shoot together and I have total confidence in him.