Jennifer Ulrich: “I need to fall in love with the story”
INTERVIEW BY NANE STEINHOFF | PHOTOS: VERO BIELINSKI
Actress, photographer and podcast host Jennifer Ulrich has starred in many varied films and series throughout her life, including in Die Welle and We Are The Night. In this interview, she speaks about her latest project, Die Whistleblowerin, her love for photography, the meaning of home, and more.
DISCOVER GERMANY: How did you get into acting? Was this always your dream job? What do you love about the job?
Jennifer Ulrich: I was actually discovered by a scout in a youth club when I was 15 years old. She was looking for young women to meet the director Maria von Heland who was about to shoot her coming-of-age drama Big Girls Don’t Cry in Berlin. I had expressed my wish to become an actress several times before but I had no connection to the film business whatsoever and in a time when Google wasn’t even existing in Germany and a stable internet connection was a rarity the possibility of ever getting close to that wish appeared quite unlikely. I do not recollect the exact moment when and why this wish of becoming an actress developed inside of me. I just remember that I woke up one day and thought “this is what I want to do”, like it was meant to be.
DISCOVER GERMANY: How do you usually choose your roles? Are there certain factors that you take into account?
Jennifer Ulrich: First of all, I need to fall in love with the story. It should be an interesting, gripping and well-written script with a story that matters, that touches me and a character that resonates with me. I prefer characters that do not have a lot in common with me personally because that means a more intense preparation and on-set work for me. It means I need to learn new things and create a person from scratch, digging deeper into my own emotional spectrum to bring the character to life. The more the challenge of playing a character scares me the more I want to do it. If, on top, there is a political and/or socially relevant message involved I’m completely hooked. I absolutely adore it when films can make a difference, touch sensitive issues and strike a nerve.
DISCOVER GERMANY: Which shoot do you remember most and why?
Jennifer Ulrich: Shooting Die Welle was a lot of fun. We were a big bunch of young actors spending a whole summer together. We were highly motivated, loved the script and were growing together as a group very easily because we wanted to tell this story in the best way possible. We shared the same vibe and spent almost every day together even when we were not on set. I remember this time as a joyful, creative and inspiring section of my life with a lot of smiles and enthusiasm.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What does the term ‘home’ mean to you? Where do you love to be most?
Jennifer Ulrich: ‘Heimat‘ is a German word that has no proper English translation. It describes such a naturally and strong connection to your roots and mostly your birthplace that I actually do not feel to its full extent. I’m a Berliner and I love my city very much. I am thankful that it is my base and looking at the world’s situation I absolutely understand the privilege of being born in Germany, in a time of safety, wealth and social protection. But apart from this I have this feeling of ‘Fernweh‘, a longing for the far away that is really present in my life. It’s a very strong need for exploration and getting in touch with other cultures, people and traditions. But ‘Heimat‘ is always the safe base to come back to, the comfort zone.
DISCOVER GERMANY: In addition to acting, you are also interested in photography. What are you trying to express with your photography? What do you like to capture?
Jennifer Ulrich: Preferably I take photos of people that I meet on my many travels. I love encounters, I love to observe and to be a silent participant of daily but yet for me so special situations. I want to catch moments that touch or impress me in a way. I see a great beauty in human encounters, unknown cultures and how sharing those moments brings us closer together in whatever way. I want people to see the world through my eyes for at least an instant. I think it’s crucial for us to be more open-minded, especially now at this moment, where we tend to isolate and alienate ourselves further from anyone or anything that is not familiar or not fully comprehensible to us. In 2012 I was taken to the Smokey Mountain slums in Manila by an Italian priest who built up a humanitarian organisation for kids on site. What I’ve seen there has left a lasting impression on me and on how I see myself in this world. That’s where my will to share my view on this world was born.
DISCOVER GERMANY: At the end of November you can be seen in one of the lead roles in Die Whistleblowerin. To what extent did you prepare for this specific role?
Jennifer Ulrich: The movie talks about Russian hackers attacking Germany’s health care system by controlling medical clinics and their intensive care units. My character Friederike is the manager and coordinator of the crisis unit of the Bureau of Foreign Affairs in Germany. This is a political world I have no connection to and know very little about apart from what we see on the news. So I needed to get a closer insight into the purpose of a crisis unit, its people, their work and their emotional attachments to the cases they handle. Fortunately, I got the chance to talk to an ambassador who was the head of this crisis unit for many years and has been working in conflict-affected and high-risk areas worldwide. He gave me a very helpful insight of the unit’s structure, dynamics and the characteristics you need to have to mentally endure in a position like this. He also answered a lot of private questions to help me understand the emotional cosmos of a character like mine.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What can viewers look forward to?
Jennifer Ulrich: Die Whistleblowerin is a gripping, suspenseful, political and dramatic thriller that shows us how quickly our safe world can tip over by cyber attacks. It also unfolds a publicly unknown political cosmos that you don’t get to see very often. But all along the director Elmar Fischer finds a way to create empathetic characters that everyone can somehow relate to while watching them acting in this environment of pressure to save human lives and being emotionally involved with participants of the case.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What’s in store for 2024? What can we look forward to from you?
Jennifer Ulrich: For 2024 I’m completely open and excited to see what’s coming at me. I prefer not making too many plans far ahead because as an actress your life can change from one day to another easily if there’s a job coming in. So I learned to be more spontaneous about my life. But I sure wanna do a big travel again in December/January but I haven’t decided on a destination yet. Maybe Indonesia could be an option. We will see where the wind takes me.
DISCOVER GERMANY: What dreams and wishes do you have for the future?
Jennifer Ulrich: Of course, I wish to be part of many more films with characters that challenge me and topics that leave an impression on their viewers. I wish for more female 40+ visibility in films without only being the male support or the mom. I also wish to keep on travelling to faraway places, getting in touch with new, interesting people and maybe work on another photo exhibition to show my photographic works.
Watch on TV: ZDF, 13 November 2023, 20:15 - 21:45
And available to watch online from 4 November 2023
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