Princess and the Warrior
coolest couple in movies, Tom Tykwer and Franka Potente, have ordered
iced coffees from room service.
After talking to interviewers all day, they need a boost. When the drinks arrive in tall glasses, topped
with whipped cream, we all three ooh and ahh. They still take delight in
filmmaker and actress grew up in small German towns, the
thirty-six-year-old Tykwer in Wuppertal, the twenty-seven-year-old
Potente in Münster (so small that there
were no movie theaters). She became interested in acting on stage from an early age, and she attended
New York's Lee Strasberg Theater Institute, before she became a professional
actress in 1996. Since that
time, she has made thirteen German films and TV movies, and then, in 1997-98, Lola changed her life
-- not only did she meet Tykwer, but she also became suddenly recognized
around the globe and opened the
door to big US-made movies. Earlier this year, Potente appeared in Blow, as Johnny Depp's dead girlfriend,
and will be seen this fall in The Bourne Identity opposite Matt Damon. But
she's not interested in
moving completely into the Hollywood mainstream, and
it's clear why: mainstream: Potente and Tykwer share a sincere intimacy and mutual appreciation, not to
mention a visible passion for what they do together.
their new movie, The Princess and the Warrior, Tykwer and Potente worked
together on the script,
developing the complicated relationship between her
character, the psychiatric nurse Sissi, and an emotionally damaged ex-soldier named Bodo (Benno
Furmann). They fall into a peculiar romance, initiated when he performs an
emergency tracheotomy on her, on
the pavement under the truck that has just run her down. Though he takes off after performing this
miracle, Sissi becomes determined to find him, to
embrace what she sees as their shared fate.
two movies that you've made
together are very different romances, from each other,
but also from the usual movie romances.
I'm so uncomfortable, especially in
emotional situations, having to say sentences that don't feel right. As an actor -- or really, as any
kind of person sensitive to it -- we know how
[romantic] situations feel, because they affect us so much. When the writing is not good, I feel almost
raped. With Tom, there was never a problem because
he's not asking that from you: his writing always feels right. Of course, that can make it harder too,
because you have to be very true to it. With this
movie, once the train was set on the rails, there was no way back. Once we established that it was going to
be intense, honest, and real -- and therefore painful -- then you can't go
back, you have to stretch for
every scene. And to do that, you have to have someone,
a partner and a director, who is with you. If the writing is not like that, then it doesn't matter how
you stretch, and you can actually do wrong by
stretching. You can't turn it into something highly intellectual if it's meant to be Scream.
Tom, you seem to have an affinity for characters who are complex but who don't say much. How do they
come to you?
It's not verbal. For instance, Sissi and
Bodo have an extraordinary body language, that screams
the contradictions and different energies they represent, how difficult it will be for them to get
together, but also how great it will be if they do.
They're absolutely complementary, and that's why they're good for each other. They're like twins or
mirrors of each other, but have a hard time finding
out about that aspect of each other. That was something we constructed in the writing, because
Franka was there when I was writing it.
Also, we were translating it, to understand ourselves what it means.
I was typing and she was walking up and down, like, "You think this way?"
It works in this absurd way. I think if somebody watched all of us on set, it would be hard. Because as
Tom says, the characters are not "out-spoken," and that makes it harder to
communicate what they want to
express. It's more about suggesting.
I think it's also about getting a collective understanding of the film's mood. The basic thing that
transports you, or asks you to join, in a movie, is an
atmosphere. Here, it's strange, the combination of the fairy-tale-ish part and the reality-based part; it's
so much about the toughness and sadness of real life. And you have this
character, Sissi, being this totally
weird mixture, half naive and half extremely experienced. She has a specific experience, with
strange and special people [her patients], but she has no idea what the rest of
reality actually is. When
[viewers] relate to the film in a strong sense, they don't point to a certain idea. They more often point
to the ambience, the general approach of the film, which takes you on a
On that point, can you talk about the hospital scenes, which have a more intense "feeling" than many
psychiatric ward scenes in movies.
This intensity is what we both experienced, because we both spent time in psychiatric wards for
research, and my impression was that so few films
represent the normality of that. People live there and
use rituals, like any family has its rituals. Most of the time during the day at the hospital, not very much
happens, but there is a potential that everybody
carries around inside of themselves, a potential that
anything can happen. There's a low-key high tension,
and you have no idea what's going to happen next. I think there's a strong connection between the asylum
and the film's structure that I subconsciously
of the more startling moments comes when
Werner [one of Sissi's patients] comes out of the dark
and hits her, and she handles it without missing much of a beat, just asking, "What is it this time?"
And you know, this is how it is. You have to be prepared all the time, and the people there sense
that. Boom. There's a high energy, and doubt, about everything.
For the first two days I was working at the asylum, I was so exhausted. I was working as a
"nurse": they slipped me in with glasses and a new
name. Soon I started feeling a little more comfortable, because I saw what the other nurses did.
Then I decided to sit in the patients' seating area, to expose myself toward
them, just a little chitchat
here and there. And all of a sudden this guy turns toward me and starts telling that he just ate yogurt,
and it's diffusing in his blood right NOW. I was taken aback, like,
"Really!?" Then he said, "You have cameras behind your
eyes." And I didn't know what to
say: it didn't match, what he was saying, and I was trying to make sense of it. Was it because I was
wearing glasses? That sort of thing was constant, you have to have all these
reflexes: Get up NOW. Turn
around NOW. Don't say anything NOW. I was so exhausted.
It is like there's a continuous present, no past, no future.
And no borders. It can be like, you're far away from someone, then the next minute, it's vhhooop --
you're right next to one another.
Some of the sets in the film also seem to externalize that kind of speed and immediacy, like
that super-sleek bank.
[Laughs.] That bank is like science fiction from the seventies, like The Omega Man or something. It's
actually a building from the seventies, and it's the
biggest bank in that town. I used to go there when I was a boy; it's my hometown [Wuppertal].
So this film involved digging through memories for you?
In a way, yes. But not so much being nostalgic about the place, but about what you do to a place when
you look at it in a certain way. We were trying hard to get a strong
subjectivity into the movie, for both
characters. Sissi walks through this city with these children's eyes that transform it into a fairy tale
forest, where everything is to be discovered, and
there's no prejudgment about everything. She meets
Bodo, a guy with guns who's obviously not a nice guy,
but she doesn't think he's worse than all the other guys she already knows, so why should she be afraid of
him? It's something I admire, an ability that you have when you're a child,
because you're under-experienced.
Of course, it has dangers, but it has something that is amazing, this power of ...
Yes, it is a disarming power. And, it is a strong connection to your fantasy, and your beautiful picture
that you make yourself from the world, related to your dreams. The most stupid
streets that you walk on your
way to school, when you were seven or eight or twelve, as you
walk, half-asleep, the trees can turn into wonderful forest and dangers waiting for you: it can be a
mythical, mystical place. But everybody who came with
me [to Wuppertal], the crew, they said, "What? We're
going to stay sixteen weeks here!? Hell!" And then, with
[working on] the film, they slowly started to be taken into Sissi's perspective, transforming the town into
something more magical and beautiful. That's like the
characters, who aren't the great guys on first sight. It was an issue for the film, to get the audience to
take time to get to know somebody, and not make them be shiny super-heroes on
first sight. I think it takes
three-quarters of an hour to see them. I feel like the
breakthrough scene, when I see it with an audience, is when Sissi goes to the gun shop and makes the blind
guy fall down and pretend to have a fit, and suddenly, people are thinking,
"Wow, she's amazing!" For the
first time they really enjoy her. And it's wonderful to enjoy someone that you've had time to get to know.
You know, because in a regular drama, you have to love somebody before you know
him: "This is the hero, so
shut the fuck up and love him!"
[Laughs.] Because of a certain outfit, or hair color.
Exactly. Let's dress her in a way that you have to care for her. So we didn't do that with the make-up
and the hair. [Laughs.] It wasn't washed very often.
Your career choice seems like a way of revisiting that sense of wonder. Did you both know early what you
wanted to do?
I did. Mine is one of those ridiculous careers where I didn't seem to have a choice. The only things
that I learned were about films. I'm a specialized person, and luckily, fate
welcomed me and said, "There
is a path for you to go to become a filmmaker." That's
what's similar with us; she was a clown early on.
I always performed when I was a child. My parents got very annoyed, because my brother and I had our
little bedrooms upstairs, and I would plaster the
house with posters with arrows pointing upstairs: if
it was Easter, the signs said, "Easter Show!" Or for
Christmas, "Santa Claus Show!" We'd put up dances and
performances. Without being conscious about it, I had
to do it. It wasn't a choice.
How do you like doing the behind the scenes production and writing now too, with Tom?
I love it. He's really the only director with whom I've enjoyed it. Usually I'm just the actress. I don't
think of myself with being a writer, I'm so concerned with my own shit,
concerning my job, I don't want to
take away somebody else's. I think make-up should do make-up, costumes should do costumes. I really respect
all of the departments. So this turned out to be luxurious, and really
important for the character.
Sissi was the hardest character to get to know, of all the characters I've played so far. And I needed that
extra time to get into her shoes, for preparation. Other roles, you can
learn tae-kwon-do or visit an
asylum for a week, I've done that. But she needed special treatment. And I couldn't have done it without
Tom, or Benno, really. The character is not like other characters, where I can
base them on a friend, or a
smell, whatever. For this one I didn't really have anything on my mind. You had to be brave enough to do
these weird things, and you can't watch yourself at the same time. You need a
third eye, a partner like
Benno, to give you room but also to stand up as support.
It's a complicated structure in the film too, because both characters are equally important, equally
The balance was an issue for me. I didn't want the film to become [tilted] to one character, though I do
think that the whole film is influenced by Sissi.
She's pursuing Bodo, so we wait for him to open up to her. Even though she is very close to me, he is the
male part of me. I know about his obvious problems, this whole anxiety to
open your wounds again, these
walls you build when you've been hurt once and don't want to repeat that. This whole idea of not showing
emotions, I understand this. That's a very common male attitude, by nature.
But you seem open to the "female" part too.
Absolutely, I'm not trying to say what people should be like, but to observe how people are. I'm
trying to show male and female behavior and how they struggle with each other.
Franka, how are you feeling about your career now, after becoming so visible with Lola?
I've done this job now for six years, and I'm getting closer to finding what I want or don't want,
which is always influenced by what I just did. But my longings don't change
because the American market is
opened up now for me. I've done two movies in America now, but I still did what I know how to do. I didn't
change anything, attitude-wise or work-wise. It
sometimes collides with your partners, because they do
it differently. But you have to have a thick skin. You
have to say, "Look guys, there's something else that I
know and that works for me." It's like being an exchange student. But I couldn't handle it in any
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