Portrait of Julia Hummer

The brilliant and unpredictable autodidact

Julia HummerJulia Hummer. Copyright: 2005 Schramm Film/Photo: Hans Fromm Julia Hummer is a phenomenon: after being discovered by chance on the street, she went virtually straight into an impressive career as a film actress before changing direction suddenly and radically just as she was at the top. Since 2006, Hummer has not played any lead roles but has been concentrating solely on music.

Something always happens when a camera captures the face of Julia Hummer. Journalists and film-makers constantly report the extraordinary metamorphosis that turns a girl who does not particularly stand out into a unique screen presence. “Her face, her eyes, everything is transformed!” is what the director Hans-Christian Schmid discovered when he cast Hummer in Crazy (2000). However the very first person to noticed that Hummer had a special relationship with the camera was a photographer from the magazine for young people, Jetzt. He discovered the 17-year old in 1998 on a street in Munich. Hummer had just abandoned school and was delighted with her fee of 50 Marks to do her first cover page – in a cowboy hat and stars-and-stripes shirt (in fact even today Hummer advertises her MySpace presence with this photo.) Although Hummer never attended drama school, precisely one year after this photo shoot she was able to give a much-praised debut performance in Sebastian Schipper’s film Absolute Giganten (1999). And not long after that she played the daughter of a German terrorist couple who is always on the run from the secret service and lives in a parallel world, in Christian Petzold’s drama, Die Innere Sicherheit (2000). The teenage girl protests that she wants to break out of the prison of the political underground, but at the same time is afraid of losing her parents’ love.

Fleeing to the apartment block next door

Over the next few years, the role of the difficult girl who has not yet found her own way in life turned out to be the role for which Julia Hummer became known: her eyes emit uncertainty, her speech is snottily-cheeky and her unique husky voice indicates sensibility and vulnerability. Her face is sometimes completely static, almost frozen; her aura, brittle and perverse, seems to be in absolute harmony with the sobriety and profundity of the new German wave of films; the movement sometimes labelled the “Berlin School” and considerably shaped by Christan Petzold. Petzold cast Hummer in Gespenster in 2005 and wrote the role to fit her like a skin - perhaps her most significant role to date. Like a sleepwalker, she and Sabine Timoteo wander through a surreal Berlin landscape between Tiergarten and Potsdamer Platz. Hummer plays an orphan who becomes friends with a runaway and is immediately confronted with a mysterious story, which could perhaps be her own. Gespenster begins with a fleeting glance at Hummer’s face that reveals, according to Thomas Winkler in the Zeit, “what is so painful and at the same time what is so exciting about growing up.”

Julia Hummer in Gespenster, 2005. Copyright: 2005 Schramm Film/Photo: Hans Fromm

Gradually Julia Hummer began to realise that acting would never fulfil her completely. She discovered her passion for music, which Felix Randau immortalised in Northern Star in 2003. Hummer plays an uncomfortable girl from the northern German provinces who tries to break away from the oppressive narrow-mindedness there, yet only gets as far as the apartment block next door. Her constant companion on her forays out is a darkly-shining acoustic guitar, and the folk songs she sings on it help her through the day. One of the actual songs she recorded with her band Sgt. Hummer plays during the end credits. Since then Hummer has written over one hundred songs, several published by small indie labels. The spectrum ranges from sympathetic, strummed, feather-light pop songs to quiet folk numbers with a melancholic soul. She sings about boys and curious stories – and sometimes her texts are about drugs.

Guitar-playing for Beginners

Because she is concerned that cinema will not leave her enough time for music, Hummer is avoiding working on set at present. What’s more, she confesses to a “feeling of unease towards authority”, which could also have put her off working with directors. She admitted to the Spiegel magazine that during filming she feels like a “carpenter in a car-repair workshop”, i.e. in the wrong place. Since Gespenster she has not accepted any leading roles and often does not reply to her agent for weeks at a time. Instead, she prefers to live on the money she earned from the Petzold film. She has become a mother and tours with her various bands around German clubs. Of course, she has never had a singing lesson. Even playing the guitar happened by chance. She taught herself from the book Guitar-playing for Beginners. Everything that Julia Hummer does, she does with passion and authenticity. She has all that is necessary to become a glamorous anti-star and unaffected youth idol – a well-planned career as a film actress is the very last thing she has in mind.

Lasse Ole Hempel
is a cultural commentator and journalist. He works as Editor and Reader in Berlin.

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

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September 2008
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