The line sprawling along the corridors and staircases of De Doelen, the heart of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, alerted passersby that there was a star in town. The actor in question? German thesp Sandra Hüller, at the festival to support Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” and to give an in-depth talk about her career and latest projects.
Hüller, who landed her first Oscar nomination for best actress last week for Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” said she is “definitely not” used to the growing attention. “I find myself giggling in the morning because it is so nice. When I walk my dog, people are shouting congratulations at me. People I’ve never seen before!” she added of her array of recent accolades, which include not only the Academy Award nod but a Golden Globe nomination for Triet’s courtroom drama, and BAFTA nominations for “The Zone of Interest” and “Anatomy of a Fall” — with both films also nominated for best picture at the upcoming Oscars.
Speaking about Glazer’s unsettling drama about a family living next to a concentration camp, Hüller said she was reluctant to play Hedwig Höss at first but was tempted by the project after meeting the British director. “[Glazer] didn’t want to recreate a narrative we had seen before, the sort of glamorization that sometimes happens. We didn’t want to do that.”
When asked about how she found an in to the role of Höss, the actor said the character was not “worth” the empathy actors naturally give their fictional personas. “All the anger I have towards these people went into allowing Hedwig to be empty, to not allow her any feelings or connection, any sense of beauty, elegance or love. All these feelings we all have, I felt were not possible when you consciously allow people to be killed next door.”
“I think what was left inside of me was an urgency to talk about fascism and how it is created,” she stated when reflecting on the aftermath of the project. “[Fascism] is created in small bits. Political developments these days go slowly but lead towards this phenomenon. I think that’s what [the film] did, it made it much more important in my life to be outspoken about this.”
Still on “The Zone of Interest,” Hüller spoke in detail about Glazer’s choice to have 10 cameras shooting at all times: “It created something very important for this work which is a sense of surveillance. You are constantly looked at and then, of course, because we are German there is a sense of judgement, which was very interesting.”
“You never spent time with technical interruptions. We were alone in the house with a directing assistant who sometimes told us when they cut and sometimes didn’t,” added the actor. “There were 60 microphones in the house so sometimes we had to communicate secretly when we had a problem because we knew they would use everything we do. The fact you are alone with this creature around you — because it very much felt like a creature or a presence — was very special and I am very curious to see if more people will work that way in the future because you can cut out all the things you don’t like about filmmaking.”
Hüller labelled Triet’s Palme d’Or winning “Anatomy of a Fall” the “perfect script,” and said she immediately wanted to play namesake Sandra, a writer accused of murdering her husband in a courtroom drama that plays with the audience’s perception of the protagonist’s guilt. Of whether she believes her character to be a murderer, Hüller said: “Of course I wanted to know whether she was guilty or not, but my director didn’t tell me. She just said a horrible, horrible sentence: ‘Play her like she’s innocent.’”
Hüller highlighted how much she enjoyed working with the entire cast, particularly Swann Arlaud, who plays Sandra’s charming lawyer. When commenting on the hinted love affair between the two characters, Hüller revealed there was supposed to be a sex scene shared by the duo, which was scrapped thanks to Marie-Ange Luciani, one of the producers of the movie. “There was an actual love scene in the film, we could see their affair, and she said: ‘Please, don’t do it, it’s so 80s,’ which is very true. Why do people always have to prove they love each other by going to bed with each other?! It’s so dull!”
Commenting on how she reconciles promoting two of the year’s biggest films at the same time during the peak of awards season, the actor said it is all thanks to the coordinated efforts of Neon and A24: “The studios who bought the films and wanted me to campaign made sure the publicists made schedules that worked so I could spend equal time on both and I am so thankful that they did. I love both films so much that I wouldn’t be able to decide!”