Heike Makatsch

The Nation’s Big Sister

Heike Makatsch bei der Pressekonferenz zum Hilde, 2008. Copyright: 2008 Warner Bros. Ent.
Heike Makatsch bei der Pressekonferenz zum Hilde, 2008. Copyright: 2008 Warner Bros. Ent.
Heike Makatsch is one of the most sought-after and prize-laden actreses in Germany. She was nominated for an Emmy, has received several Bambis, and played the title role in one of the biggest German cinematic productions ever, Hilde, a film about the life of that iconic German mistress of the chanson, Hildegard Knef.

There has barely been a German cinematic production that was as expensive nor a film that was so tailored to its main star than Hilde. Whoever goes to the cinema goes mainly because of its star, Heike Makatsch, and the film marks the highpoint of her career thus far. The actress worked extremely hard for the role: she took singing lessons for a year in order to hit the same tone as Knef, she researched and she got to know each gesture precisely. She became mistress of the brisk walk, the contagious laugh, and the smoky voice of Knef.

What’s more, she looks unbelievably like her, with her blonde hair, luminous eyes and striking features, all of these Makatsch’s own distinguishing features. Yet on screen there is not a trace of Makatsch; Heike became Hilde, though at one time it was her own personality and her naturalness which made her famous.

In touch with her generation

Makatsch was born in 1971 in Düsseldorf, the daughter of a teacher and an ice-hockey goalkeeper. At the age of 22 she became the face of the music channel Viva. Throughout the nineties she romped her way through young people’s television - a carefree young woman with brightly coloured hair. It wasn’t just her novel, fresh style of presenting that stuck out, above all she was very close to her audience.

Szene aus Hilde. Copyright: 2009 Egoli Tossell Film/MMC IndependentWhen she spoke, one felt she was not merely trying to be genuine. It wasn’t just what she said but how she said it, and the fact she had the courage to talk openly about her own dreams and fears. Again and again she touched the pulse of her generation. It wasn’t long before the girl with the brightly-coloured plaits and the motormouth became a style icon and the ‘nation’s big sister’.

Her first role: a lisping gangster’s wife

Despite her popularity and her success, Makatsch decided she wanted to do more than present. Director Detlev Buck was the one who enabled her to leap from TV screen to the big screen when he cast her in a role in his 1996 feature film, Männerpension. And the big sister turned out to be a not half-bad actress. In Buck’s comedy she plays Maren, a lisping pop babe who falls in love with a jailbird. Makatsch managed to remain as sympathetic and unaffected in the role as bubbly presenter Heike did on the music channel. Despite only playing minor roles she stood out and was soon making her way as the shooting star of the year. For her role as the gangster’s wife she received a Bambi and the Bavarian Film Prize.

Buck’s film was the perfect springboard for her acting career. She was offered other roles. After appearances in films such as Doris Dörries Bin ich schön? Buck’s Liebe Deine Nächste and Max Färberböck’s Aimee and Jaguar, the international film scene began to take notice of her. In the film Love, Actually she played alongside international stars such as Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and Keira Knightley.

Stand-out minor roles

In most of her German and international productions, Makatsch often played minor parts and frequently characters that corresponded to her own unaffected nature. It is precisely because of this that she conferred on them an authenticity that made her stand out.

Finally it was German director Dieter Wedel who viewed Heike as more than a nice cheeky girl for a minor role and saw her potential to be a serious character actress. He cast her in his TV-series Die Affäre Semmeling, her first lead role and a decision that would – in the truest sense of the word – strike gold: the story of a political family and the vagaries and confusions of their private and working lives helped her win the most important German television prize, the Golden Camera. This was followed by several more historical TV series with her in the main role.

From girl to leading actress

Whether in Das Wunder von Lengede, in which she played the wife of a miner buried alive in the story of a dramatic rescue following a pit disaster; or in Margarete Steiff, in which she played a 19th century physically-disabled woman who, despite much opposition, managed to make a career for herself by producing stuffed animals, Makatsch makes all her characters believable - and all of her films receive prizes.

Her filmography over the past few years does not just show a steep climb up the career ladder but reflects the rising demand for her. And one thing is certainly clear: the girl from the music channel has finally grown up. Although she began her career as a teenie idol in the Bermuda Triangle of fame, musical television and girl power, she is now a much in demand character actress.

Quiet life instead of red carpet

There is no doubt she can reckon on receiving prizes and awards for her portrayal in Hilde, but Heike Makatsch sets herself well apart from it all. “When I am out and about, if someone says to me that they thought my last film was very good, I am delighted, but immediately after that I have no idea what to say. That sort of thing unnerves me,” she confessed to a newspaper.

Szene aus Hilde. Heike Makatsch und Willi Forst. Copyright: 2009 Egoli Tossell Film/MMC IndependentToday Heike Makatsch lives in Berlin with her husband, the keyboader player of the German indie band Tomte, and her two-year old daughter Mieke-Ellen. Not much more is known about her private life. She much prefers to be pushing the stroller through a city park than posing on the red carpet for the press. Perhaps this groundedness is the secret of her success: because that element of naturalness that set her apart on music television and made her seem the ‘nation’s big sister’ also makes all her characters believable, is what she has been able to maintain.

Sonja Halbherr

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

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May 2009

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