Europe/USA, a return trip
by Valeria Chiari
- The German actress commutes between the United States and Europe for The Bourne Identity and the latest films by Greenaway and de Schubel
We first saw her as a red-head running through Berlin in Run, Lola, Run. It was 1998. Now Franka Potente, 28, has crossed the Pond to join Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity, a tale of espionage set in Europe. Franka dedicated herself body and soul to preparing for this film – especially « body » - and in the best Hollywood tradition engaged the services of a trainer for this athletically challenging movie. In a telephone conversation from her current base in the US, Potente said that when deciding on whether or not to make a film, the language of the script is not important. « Be it German or English, I look at the story and the character I am being offered. »
That said Potente has made some remarkably eclectic choices : after working with her former fiancé Tom Tykwer on The Princess and the Warrior, she co-starred with Johnny Depp in Blow and in her latest film, a romantic comedy entitled Try Seventeen, she is partnered by Elijah Wood. Potente was recently summoned to Europe by Peter Greenaway for his The Tulse Luper Suitcase and Blue Print by fellow German, Rolf Schübel.
Would you agree that your career to date has been eclectic?
“Variety is what I really like about this business. Films are a little like food in that there are various kinds: sweet and savoury and you choose.”
What is your relationship with the north-American film industry?
“I am sceptical about what happens in the United States: the main focus is commercial and industrial while I tend to approach a film project from the artistic point of view. The result is a kind of collision between me and American cinema. There is no doubt that they have some great directors but I am not looking for blockbusters. The Bourne Identity took a lot of money here but I don’t think of it as being a typical blockbuster and that’s why I boarded the project.”
You returned to Europe for a great director like Greenaway, and agreed to play a double role for fellow German, Schubel...
“I feel as if I had never left Europe. This is a job that I can do anywhere. The only difference is the language. I don’t vary my approach to the role; what changes is the character I play in each film.
As far as Greenaway is concerned, how could anyone not want to work with him? He is a fundamental part of international cinema. I first met him right before starting work on The Tulse Luper Suitcase last year. I only worked with him for a couple of days but it was an experience I will always treasure. I also liked Rolf Schubel’s film very much because it gave me the chance to play two parts. The film is about a pianist who’s got MS, and is set in the future. She meets a scientist who offers to clone her. I play the pianist and her much younger clone. The film is a story of love and hate between this pair, and it was very challenging to play two characters who were also different ages. This project was also interesting from the organisational point of view because you have to control the emotions and the way the story develops for each of these two women in very different ways.”
As a European actress working in America, do you think European cinema can gain ground in the American market?
“I think we should not change a single thing of the films we make in Europe. Many European films copy American ones and I think that the reason for this is a lack of self-esteem and of faith in our own stories. Unlike America, Europe does not have a proper film industry and in some cases, this goes against us. However I am convinced that the way around this problem is to find stories, be they political or any other kind, and tell them in a unmistakably European fashion. That will enable us to be more competitive. Language is another big hurdle. Americans hate seeing films that are subtitled or dubbed. That is a major problem. I think that the Internet will contribute to changing attitudes and habits in the future. Today’s kids are used to seeing words and pictures on the Internet and that may help Americans to approach non-English language films with English subtitles. I believe this problem will diminish in the future.”
What do you think about the huge amounts of German money that ends up fuelling American films?
“I think that this money comes from fans. People who don’t have a lot to do with the film industry and invest in American productions because they are seen everywhere while German films will be seen in Austria or Switzerland at best. That way investors are sure of a return but their approach can hardly be called artistic.”
Are there any forthcoming projects that will bring you back to Europe?
“I am meeting a lot of people and I cannot talk about any particular project right now. I am talking to a writer in Germany. But for the time being I’m concentrating on relaxing. I am taking violin lessons, painting my flat and generally making the most of a period of calm.”
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