Benita Bailey: ‘THERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF YOU IN EVERY CHARACTER’
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF I PHOTO: PHANIE ÉTIER
Actress Benita Bailey has been a staple of German TV for a while now. She talks to Discover Germany, Austria & Switzerland about how she shares her life between Toronto and Berlin, her latest role, her job at the UN, and much more.
DISCOVER GERMANY: How did you get into acting? Has this always been your dream job?
Benita Bailey: For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actor. I went to the theatre a lot with school and always found it to be a magical place. We also had our ballet performances in the Stadt-Theater back then – so I was already on stage as a little five-year-old girl, had started playing the piano with performances in large ballrooms and played in the nativity play every year. Performing in dance and music has always been a part of my life. My fascination with theatre somehow led me to acting later in life, but I got there.
DISCOVER GERMANY: You have also made a name for yourself as an actress in Canada. To what extent does the German acting industry differ from the Canadian one?
Benita Bailey: In many respects. The theater culture is different, it is definitely much more diverse on the stages and also in the films. Diversity isn’t really questioned, it’s just the way it is. We still have to get there in Germany. In Canada, for example, the plays are played ‘en suite’ in the theatre, i.e. all one after the other. There is no schedule in which the plays appear again and again and there are only private theatres. There are no state theatres like here in Germany. They are all private houses, but they receive state funding. And as a result, the actor is never really in the employed situation or really only for the piece contracts. I think it’s a bit more difficult as an actor to live and survive in Canada than in Germany. And many do other things too: they direct or pursue other things at the same time, have a part-time job or hold other positions at the theatre or on the set.
DISCOVER GERMANY: After your studies you worked for the UN. Another dream job for you?
Benita Bailey: Yes, it was totally a dream to work at the UN. One of the nicest things was that all my colleagues came from different countries. During the lunch break, many called their friends or family members, so you heard many different languages every day. It felt like the whole world was in one place. We also learned a lot about other cultures, different foods, different customs, holidays and religions. To experience this up close was enriching and very great. But of course the content of the work as well: incredibly exciting and at the same time of the greatest relevance – actually the best combination. Because I always wanted to make a difference in my job. If you then talk specifically to rebel leaders in crisis areas and try to persuade them to end the conflict; I think then you have the feeling that you are doing something important and the right thing.
DISCOVER GERMANY: You commute between Toronto and Berlin. What does home mean to you?
Benita Bailey: For me, home means coming to rest, memories and love. I feel at home where I can just be. I don’t have to do a great job, I’m just accepted. And when you come back home to your parents as a young adult, you can just let yourself fall on the sofa and it’s ok. When I come to Berlin, I am happy to see my friends. I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces, coming into my apartment and being in these familiar walls and in this home. When I’m in Toronto, I look forward to my children, my husband and the beautiful home we have there. And the nature that is there.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What do you love about Berlin? And what about Toronto?
Benita Bailey: What I like about Berlin is the cultural offerings and the lovely people who live here, whom I was fortunate to get to know. So much is possible professionally in this city. What I like about Toronto is the diversity, the different cultures, the many good, great restaurants from all over the world. Lake Ontario, which is so big I feel like it’s a city by the sea.
DISCOVER GERMANY: Let’s talk about Die Pflegionärin. What do you love about this mini-series and your role in it?
Benita Bailey: What I like about my role is that it is pragmatic. That Caro Lacher, as the character is called, didn’t fall flat on her face. That she can be happy with all her heart, is a very warm person and speaks Thuringian. And that she sometimes does things that she might regret afterwards, because sometimes she acts a little faster than she thinks.
DISCOVER GERMANY: Do you have any advice for young actresses who want to land their first role?
Benita Bailey: My tip for actors who want to get their first role is first and foremost to take the craft and acting seriously. Not chasing fame, but really looking: do I feel like doing this job, this craft, am I really learning it and sticking with it? And if you don’t have acting school, you should definitely learn through further education and courses. It is also important: look for a good mentor who can prepare you well for the auditions at the acting schools, who will guide you and prepare you well for the castings. And then just give it your all, 100 per cent and try not to pretend too much, but try to put something of yourself into each character. There’s a little bit of you in every character.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What are you up to in 2023? Are there already exciting projects that you can talk about?
Benita Bailey: I think 2023 will be a very exciting year. Among other things, I am part of the jury for THE POWER OF THE ARTS award ceremony. And then there are some projects that I am not allowed to say anything about at this point.
DISCOVER GERMANY: Other wishes and dreams for the future?
Benita Bailey: Oh, there are so many wishes and dreams for the future. I wish that something would change in the long term. And not only in our branch of film and culture, that it is cast more diversely, that all people can be seen who can also be seen in the population and also behind the camera. And I’m also happy when there is more tolerance, more love and more togetherness in society.
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