Portrait of Moritz Bleibtreu

The Powerful and the Sensitive

Motitz Bleibtreu. Photo: Jörg Carstensen. Copyright: Picture-Alliance
Motitz Bleibtreu. Photo: Jörg Carstensen. Copyright: Picture-Alliance
Moritz Bleibtreu began his film career playing three halfwits. He was Karl, the gay cabinet-maker with the trusting hangdog eyes in the rom-com Stadtgespräch (1995), the wannabe crook Abdul in the road move Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (1997), and, last but not least, Manni in Tom Tykwer’s pacy episodic film Run, Lola Run. In 1998 he won the Ernst-Lubistch Prize for Comedy Performance for the first two roles, he had his breakthrough with the third. His Manni in Run, Lola Run is a lovable loser, who as a messenger boy for an organised car theft ring leaves a plastic bag full of 100,000 Marks in the underground. Get the money or die, that is the stark choice facing Manni, and so because of him Lola has to run, to rescue her beloved. Within weeks of being released in 1998 the film was charging up the German cinema charts, and went onto become a huge success in the States.

'What I find interesting about an actor’s profession is the feeling that I can get something across,' Moritz Bleibtreu said in an interview. 'Besides, it’s wicked to be able to play someone who in fact you are not.' When it comes to enjoying role-play then he has role models in his family. Moritz Bleibtreu was born in Munich in 1971 as the son of two actors, Hans Brenner and Monica Bleibtreu. When Moritz was two years old, Brenner left the family and his mother moved to Hamburg. And so the Schauspielhaus theatre became the young boy’s second home. 'I never even considered another option,' said Moritz Bleibtreu about his choice of career. 'Ever since I was small, I wanted to be an actor.' He left school in year 11 and went to work as an au-pair in Paris. He lived in Rome and New York, where he took acting classes but never got his head around Method Acting. 'If I want to play a role, I don’t have to scrabble around in my past in order to produce certain emotions. The viewer doesn’t care whether my tears are real or I have rubbed onions in my eyes. The main thing is that it comes across as real.'

Success without Method Acting

Szene aus Im Juli mit Moritz Bleibtreu, Mehmet Kurtulus (links).  Copyright: Picture-AllianceOver the past thirteen years Moritz Bleibtreu has been successful without going down that road. Film directors Detlev Buch, Fatih Akin, Helmut Dietl and Hans Weingartner all want to make films with him. And foreign directors also took notice of him early on: he played a German-American officer alongside Harvey Keitel in Istvàn Szabós drama Taking Sides – a film about the classical music conductor, Furtwängler (2001), and Steven Spielberg chose him for the role of a Baader-Meinhof sympathiser in the political thriller Munich (2005). However Bleibtreu does not feel pulled towards Hollywood. 'I prefer to act in German,' the actor said in an interview, 'because my emotions are connected more powerfully to my mother tongue.'

In the interim the 37-year old has become one of the most sought after German performers, with a wide repertoire: everything from children’s films through a few duds to gangster films. He appears more interested in playing broken heroes rather than pure winners or losers. In the impressive psychological film Das Experiment (1999) by Oliver Hirschbiegel, Bleibtreu plays Tarek, a broken journalist who, for the sake of a good story, takes part in an experiment that gets out of control and lands Tarek in a vicious circle of psychological terror and violence. Until that point Moritz Bleibtreu had always been viewed as a comic actor, but here he revealed a dark and vulnerable side – plus a readiness as an actor to go to the edge.

Taking it right up to the edge

The powerful and the sensitive – both of these things are reflected in his appearance. Bleibtreu is no giant, but he has great presence and something of Moritz Bleibtreu always remains in his characters. In terms of type he is southern-looking, his eyes are dark and his lips sensual. Fatih Akin – with whom Bleibtreu has a close friendship – cast him as the son of Italian immigrants in his film Solino (2000), and in Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door he plays an Arab. Some prefer to see a self-confident guy in the actor, others more the sensitive, romantic lover. Bleibtreu can do both and is at his best when he plumbs the depths of a character.

The director Oskar Roehler, best known for his study of psychological depths, has cast Bleibtreu twice: in Agnes und seine Brüder (2004) as well as Elementarteilchen (2006), the last based on the novel Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. In the latter he plays Bruno, a frustrated teacher and poet with a broken marriage and a terrible mother complex, who appears about to burst with anger and testosterone and finally ends up in a psychiatric unit. According to Bleibtreu, roles like Bruno are his 'luxury'. He won Best Actor for this role at the Berlin Film Festival in 2006.

Szene aus Der Baader Meinhof Komplex mit Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek. Copyright: Constantin Film/dpaA particular challenge to him has been to play the terrorist Andreas Baader in Uli Edel’s political drama Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex (2008). Bleibtreu was only six years old in 1977 when the terrorist shot himself in his prison cell. How can he possibly play such a historical and controversial character? Bleibtreu explains, 'It’s my job to interpret, not to imitate. The most important thing was that I tried to do justice to the spirit and the power of this legend.' In another interview Bleibtreu also said that it is particularly important to him that he stands by what he does. In which case, he has the right name: 'Bleibtreu' means 'to remain loyal'.

Kirsten Taylor
works as a freelance journalist and film editor in Berlin.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion

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Oktober 2008
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