Sandra Hüller
Photo by Julien Mignot

Sandra Hüller: “These doors have opened”

Short Profile

Name: Sandra Hüller
DOB: 30 April 1978
Place of birth: Suhl, Thuringia, Germany
Occupation: Actor

Ms. Hüller, how would you describe your acting technique?

There are so many different techniques of acting and I admire them all. But for me, it's an unconscious process. Most of the time, as soon as I decide to take on a project, I start thinking about it constantly. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I see people or hear music, it’s related to that. But it’s  completely unconscious, it’s not like I would sit somewhere and think, “Oh, now I have to prepare for the movie.” That's what I cannot do, I think my concentration is just probably not enough.

So you couldn’t say which of your roles was hardest to prepare for?

The hardest film? I’ve said it before, but I find moviemaking not hard! It's a very privileged thing to do. It’s sometimes even luxurious because everybody is taking care of everything. (Laughs) The exception is for working on something really concrete, like learning to ride a horse or a certain fighting technique or whatever.

“I think acting has a lot to do with impossibilities, things that I hadn’t thought of, that are alien to me...”

Or like learning a language, which you had to do for your recent Oscar nominated role in Anatomy of a Fall.

Yes, that was mostly a language preparation because I had to improve my French, obviously. I find it interesting that all these things are now possible, that we can mix things up. You can simply learn a language! It's no longer so important that someone speaks without an accent and neither are these boring ideas of perfection, whether something is believable, because we all live in such different places these days and can work in such different places. I find it interesting that these doors have opened!

Your role as Sandra Voyter was an incredibly complex and divisive one, it must have been interesting to play.

That was interesting because of course, I had to understand what was going on with my character — and yet, we never decided if she did it or not. Justine refused to make that point because there comes a moment where it's really not so important. It's more about: what do we assume about people who behave in that way? What do we assume about what are they capable of? Does someone who is sexually free make it easier for us to judge them? All these things were important, not if she killed her husband or not.

Apparently Justine Triet wrote the role of Sandra for you specifically.

That's what she said, yes.

Does that put extra pressure on you as an actor?

No, but it’s risky because sometimes it’s too close to you and there's no friction. But in this case it worked, because she thought about how someone like me could appear in a French film. That was the consideration; I don't know if she thought so much about me as a person, who I am, or what I can do. I think acting has a lot to do with impossibilities, things that I hadn't thought of, that are alien to me or something.

A good example of that would be Hedwig Höss in The Zone of Interest.

Yes, Hedwig Höss was the furthest away, so to speak, and therefore had the most friction. I refused to connect with Hedwig’s psyche or her soul or any of that. It interested me more to understand the body and how a person with so many children would walk.  Would it feel heavy to do all this work like she does? So that was more of a body work than an emotional work.

“With acting, I realized that all of myself was involved: my body, my soul, my voice, my imagination. It was all there.”

Do these important roles change things in terms of your career? For example, when you starred in the critically-acclaimed 2016 film Toni Erdmann, I can imagine that brought about a professional shift.

Well, I don't know, that's only if you’re thinking about it from the outside, you know? From the inside, the way it happened was that it made me feel insecure at first, because I didn't know what else to do. Then there we were in Cannes, it was kind of this huge thing, and somehow I sat there and thought, "What is my job now?" After Toni, I started doing some things that I’d never done before and that I always thought, "I can't do that." Then I did those things. But there were lots and lots of projections from the outside. It's similar now! But I'm still sitting here in the same kitchen. Nothing is changing for me personally.

You’ve been acting professionally for almost 30 years now, right?

I first started acting when I was 14 or 15 years old. I didn't know then if it was my path because other people also have a say in that, it’s not just up to me. But I knew that I enjoyed it and that it was the first “hobby” at school that somehow made sense to me. My facility for observation — I love to watch — became useful because then maybe you can show what you've seen. So suddenly this tendency to watch somehow made sense, and I knew what I was going to do with what I saw. I was always trying to find something to occupy myself with and I never really found anything that absorbed me in the way that others did with sports or singing. With acting, I realized that all of myself was involved: my body, my soul, my voice, my imagination. It was all there.

Do you ever have moments where your passion for the craft wanes?

It’s sometimes like that, especially when you're in a phase of personal development or something like that. That's how I feel when I don't know who I'm becoming. And there are phases in life where you change a lot, or your body changes, or you process certain experiences, or whatever. During this time, I often don't know what I want to say because I am preoccupied with the inward search for who I am. Then it's difficult to act because I can't stand behind anything, because I don't know what's right at that moment. You can only let that through and hope that people don't think you're stupid, that you'll keep getting work in the meantime.