With appearances in successful theatre productions, hit TV series like Tatort or Die Diplomatin, films such as Vicky’s Nightmare or the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth, German actress Natalia Wörner has proved her worth in a versatile range of roles and has thus become a staple of German and international productions. She speaks to Discover Germany about Berlin, her most memorable roles, the #MeToo debate and more.
Some time has passed since German actress Natalia Wörner was first seen on our TV screens – around 24 years in fact. After all, she filmed her first film in 1993 (Frauen sind etwas Wunderbares) and got roles in Dominik Graf’s Die Sieger and the French cinema thriller Die Maschine alongside Gérard Depardieu right after. Wörner smiles: “I have had the dream of becoming an actress from a very early age onwards but I didn’t really know what it meant. No one in my family had anything to do with it before and I therefore approached this job with curiosity and aspiration. Back then, the driving force that I associated with this job was the feeling of boundless freedom. Today, more than ever, I think that what is so special about this job is that it constantly prompts you to stay awake, to make progress, to go deeper. Nothing is routine, but rather life experience in the broadest sense.”
And Wörner has indeed gained a great degree of life experience: Born in Stuttgart, the actress grew up in a female household with her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother and her sister. “It deeply shaped me. These were all women who exemplified independence entirely free of ideology,” the actress recalls. After finishing school, Wörner completed her acting studies at the famous Lee Strasberg School in New York and today, she lives in Berlin. “My home is still south Germany – the people, the mentality, the landscapes, the smells, the food. I notice this more and more. But Berlin also became my home and this is directly linked to the people in my life. It took a while to arrive in Berlin but today I can’t imagine living anywhere else. From time to time, it’s too loud and rough here, but then I flee to the countryside and simply watch nature. Then I can experience a spectacle that is much larger than all our everyday thoughts and worries,” Wörner says.
Following her drama education, the first acting jobs started to come in. In Germany, for example, the audience got to know her through her first TV role in Nina Grosse’s Kinder der Nacht, or the successful film Irren ist Männlich, directed by Sherry Hormann. Other examples are various theatre productions, the film thriller Vicky’s Nightmare where she played alongside Christoph Waltz, the international cinema production 20 Nächte und ein Regentag, the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth alongside Eddie Redmayne, and she also secured the leading role in the political series Die Diplomatin.
The passion for different genres
From her film portfolio, it can be seen that Wörner has always reinvented herself in various different roles: from playing the love-hungry daughter of a football president in Zum Sterben Schön to the tragic role of a psychologically disturbed victim in Tatort: Perfect Mind. Wörner explains: “I try to avoid repeating my role choices; hence the change of genres and topics. Each character, each story has its very own strength and necessity, and as an actress, I try to reorganise myself every time in the service of the respective story. The last criteria for choosing a role, however, is my intuition. Does it excite me to play this role? Does it immediately give me a special feeling when reading the script? Does this story have topics on offer that currently move and inspire me? Can I deliver something that might even give a different perspective to the movie?”
According to Wörner, one of her most memorable roles was in Tatort: Perfect Mind in 1995. “In it, I play a woman who has a powerful position in a cult and who manipulates her surroundings, but at the same time, she herself is a victim of instrumentalisation and eventually is broken by the system that she herself contributed to. Playing this role was the first time that I felt like I played something that could have only come from me in this very moment. Back then, it was an important step towards artistic freedom. But I also like to think back on the American mini-series The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. The story plays out in the Middle Ages and my character, Ellen, is a healer who lives alone in the forest with her son and who doesn’t care about the church’s conventions that back then defined people’s lives even more so than today. Of course, she offends others and even has to fear for her life. The way this character was written and her courageous actions made me temporarily think that I could learn something from her as an actress instead of providing my experience to her. It sometimes actually is a mutual experience and these are the most beautiful moments this job can offer,” smiles Wörner.
“Evil is in vogue”
Luckily, new projects that we can look forward to in 2018 are manifold. For example, Wörner continues to captivate her audience in ZDF’s successful crime series Unter Anderen Umständen – the most recent episode’s airing in February had more than eight million viewers and dealt with the very topical issue of power abuse, amidst the #MeToo debate. Wörner recalls: “I still find this debate very important and vital, and hope that a new interaction between men and women defines itself. However, the debate’s hypocritical proportion should face internal criticism. I think that everyone kind of stands there and looks at each other helplessly at the moment. At least it feels that way.”
Her new film Die Diplomatin – Jagd durch Prag, was released on 31 March and was described as a “captivating political thriller with gripping political background, remarkable image composition, engaging music and impressive Prague footage” by film journalist Tilman P. Gangloff. Additionally, Wörner shines in front of the camera for the ZDF thriller Gespenster, directed by Sherry Hormann. “Gespenster is rather tough stuff and plays out in Berlin. I play a sort of mafia chick who turns towards the evil side. A very cathartic experience,” she laughs, and adds: “Evil is in vogue at the moment.”
“Furthermore, I will film two more episodes of my crime series Unter Anderen Umständen this year, as well as another episode of Die Diplomatin, which will be shot this summer too, and it is very likely that I will also film a love story in late autumn,” Wörner reveals.
It looks like the actress will be rather busy with roles this year. But, we would also like to know whether an absolute dream role exists for her. “There is a novel by a South American author which I always carry in my heart and not on my tongue,” she says with a wink. And what about other wishes and dreams? “Everything in life is change and if it goes well: growth. With this in mind I still have plenty of dreams and wishes, but I have also learned that life has its very own plan. I, however, have a navigation system,” Wörner laughs.
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF I PHOTO: MATHIAS BOTHOR