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Young actress Helena Zengel – A typewriter by Tom Hanks: “That was a blessing”

Hanks said of his young colleague that he would also like to act as naturally as she can. He was able to observe Helena Zengel up close when they stood in front of the camera for Paul Greengrass’ “News of the World”. In Nora Fingscheidt’s “Systemsprenger” she had already shown that Helena Zengel does not play typical child roles. In it she plays Benni, who is difficult to train. The film was awarded more than 30 prizes. All of this should only be the beginning, hopes the young actress, who says of herself: “This dramatic subject is what I like, and whatever I will do a lot”.

Kolja Unger: What sucks as an actress and what is great?

Helena Zengel: I think it’s great. Well, I love being an actress and have wanted to be one for a long time, and I’m happy that I have now become an actress. And of course everything about it is great and it doesn’t annoy me. Sometimes the long waiting times that you have on set. But in principle I think it’s just great and also the kick that you get in front of the scene.

Unger: How did you get to Hollywood?

Zengel: First I made a few other films and then “The Daughter” and then came “Systemsprenger”, which became quite successful in Germany and spoke through the media. And by chance the director Paul Greengrass was actually there at the Berlinale and then saw me in “Systemsprenger” and said to his assistant: ‘Look what she can do with her eyes’. That’s very important in the movie “News from the World”, I don’t talk that much. And then we got the request whether I would like to go to the casting. And of course I said yes, it was a great role and then with the cast.

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Riding, school, acting

Unger: How much space do acting, casting and promo take up in your life and how much time do you have for friends, free time and, for example, horse riding?

Zengel: Immediately after the film that just came out, there are of course more and more inquiries about where to do or go to castings anyway. But basically I live my normal life. When I’m at home at school, I’m just a normal 12 year old school kid and go horse riding in the afternoons and still have time to study or meet up with friends.

Unger: Do you have rules in the family so that the stress and fame don’t get too much?

Zengel: I wouldn’t say rules. Of course I can say that if something is getting too much for me or if I don’t want that or I don’t want a role, I can of course say that, it’s my decision. I already have a very structured day and sometimes I have a lot to do. But I like it and I can do it well because I just have a lot of interests and I like to act out all of them. And that’s why my mum helps me a lot because we sometimes also make daily plans and say exactly: ‘Okay, then you do that, then you can play with your friends, then another casting’, so there is always one nice balance.

Daily plans can structure the day

Unger: In “News of the World” you play the homeless orphan girl Johanna at the side of Tom Hanks and he has always praised you in the highest tones. What do you think: What are you particularly good at and what would you like to be able to do even better in acting?

Zengel: The one nice or really great thing about acting is that you can’t really do anything wrong, you can only do it differently. There is a scene and you have to laugh and you laugh all hysterically. The director can say: ‘Wow, I think that’s really awesome. It’s really fun and cool to watch. You are fully in the role ‘or they say:’ No, that’s not quite it ‘. Therefore you cannot differentiate between “I am very good” and “I am very bad”, because it is different for every taste. For example, now I’ve done a western. Before it was a drama.

Unger: Let’s talk again about the two roles that you just mentioned. So Johanna and Benni in “Systemsprenger”. They are both girls who have suffered heavy losses, who are traumatized. What helped you to put yourself in their shoes?

Zengel: With “Systemsprenger” we had half a year in advance of the film. That means, I really talked a lot with the other actors, talked to Nora Fingscheidt, to my mom. We read the script, we made lists of who would react and how. And when I’ve said, folks, don’t scream again now, that wasn’t a problem either. And exactly the same with “News of the Word”. We had already been to America before, I was able to try to adapt to the language, and had Kiowa training for three weeks. And then we worked up for school so that we could always be relaxed on the set. And of course I got to know Tom and the other characters and just beamed myself into the role, talked to the director somehow.

Have a say on the set

Unger: You already said, “System sprinkler”, that was no Pipifax. It was a lot about ticking away and the relatively calmer Johanna was then actually more difficult to play?

Zengel: It is always difficult to compare roles because they are very different. Right here: one is a drama, the other is a western. One speaks a lot and yells around and the other doesn’t speak at all. But for me this is very calm and only showing with your eyes and facial expressions what you want and can do is in a certain way more demanding. And so I think “Systemsprenger” was a bit easier in that regard.

Unger: How do you do that with your eyes

Zengel: It just depends on which emotions you want to convey. When you laugh, you have to try to imagine something funny, have fun on set, all day long, and then get your eyes lit up. And when you’re sad, of course you look sad, you often look at the ground or you even cry. So everyone has their own technique. One is so professional and takes onions and then starts crying and the other can really do it from the inside out because he can just imagine it all so well. I think I’m more the type of guy who says, ‘And please’ and then I have a red tunnel in there and then I know, now I’ll do this and that, and then it’s ‘thank you’. And then I jump around like a rubber ball again.

Crying without onions

Unger: You once said in an interview that Tom Hanks taught you tricks how not to get bored on set. Can you give us one or two?

Zengel: Yeah yeah He gave me a typewriter that I used to write on set. He said, if you are bored, just write down what is close to your heart or what you are about to tell. And that was a blessing. It was great. And my mom said it’s like the old days. I generally like to be a writer and have just started a book in English. I always write in the subway on the way to my horse or I sit on the grass and continue writing. I’m not entirely sure which genre it will carry yet. But then it will hopefully become the script if everything goes well. And if everything goes well twice, maybe one day I’ll play that girl too.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

Sonia Gupta
Soniya Gupta, who joined the Technical University in October 2015, continues his education life at Technical University. As the passion for aviation increases day by day, it has a great interest in technology and gaming.


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