“The name’s a mixture of confusion and furious.” Henriette Confurius jokes, having first peeled off so many layers against cycling across the city in the Berlin cold it was like watching an automated Russian matryoshka doll. But if there are two things the diminutive young lady sitting opposite is not, they are confused and furious. Level-headed, measured, self-assured, mature, humorous, yes, but definitely not some kind of bewildered wolverine.
Born in Berlin to Dutch parents, the middle child to an author father and theatrical actress mother, Confurius admits “I still don’t really know how I started as an actress. I was always surrounded by film or theater people, though, and got my first role when I was eight, in an Uli König film.” But her first real film memories kick in a few years later “when I did Anna Wild’s first three films, a short called NACHMITTAG IN SIEDLISKO, BALLET IST AUSGEFALLEN and then MEIN ERSTES WUNDER.”
In a departure from the ‘normal’ route to stage or screen, Confurius “didn’t go to stage school. I didn’t want to learn acting at all. I studied hat making and tailoring and then learned how to restore furniture. It’s a hobby and I’m good with my hands.”
Having got used to moving around at a young age, and a country girl at heart, Henriette Confurius found “school was a disaster.” Packing it in after tenth grade, “I went to Ireland aged 17. I lived in a small village, where I worked on a farm. It was very beautiful. And I quickly learned Irish English” (there is still a lovely lilt to her voice) “and how to drive a tractor. I went to school again, a very strict school, and graduated from there. It felt good to know I could do that.”
She returned to Berlin in 2009, filmed, amongst others, the TV-movies EICHMANNS ENDE – LIEBE, VERRAT, TOD; HERRENABEND for the TATORT crime series; and the feature film AMEISEN GEHEN ANDERE WEGE, and then in 2012 DIE HOLZBARONIN (a two-parter directed by Markus O. Rosenmüller), which won the Rockie Award for Best TV-Movie at the Banff World Media Festival 2014. Then she moved to Vienna where she spent the next two years.
“I first lived in a very simple apartment with no heating or running water,” she says. “In the middle of winter. With showering at the local swimming pool soon losing its attraction, “I found another place and also started learning Viennese netting.” At which point she shows me a photo of her latest furniture project, a woven, cane backed, child’s chair. “I had a good time in Vienna but still soon missed Berlin and came back.”
TANNBACH (photo © ZDF/Mathias Bothor)
Acting taking priority once again, she played a lead role in Dominik Graf’s BELOVED SISTERS. “I had started acting when I was eight,” she explains, “and it took me some time to start asking if I wanted to do it or not: I just did it. I think school did suffer a bit as a result and I had to be grown up so young and felt a lot of responsibility, hence I often had the wish to try other things. But I always went back to acting sooner or later.”
It’s a pattern that Confurius still continues: “I know that I want to work as an actress. I really like the job but I also like to have the opportunity to take a break from time to time. I need that and I need to try other things.”
“I guess I’m not the most comfortable person in the film world,” she elaborates. “I tried to avoid film events and press work. But acting itself, especially with a director you can trust, you forget yourself and the work becomes the thing. I learned how to push and overcome boundaries.”
In terms of genre, Confurius loves historical drama: “It’s exciting, especially to take a time trip to tell a real story, also learn some history, work in an appropriate setting and wear great costumes.” In BELOVED SISTERS she played Schiller’s wife. Two years earlier, in 2007, she was in DIE WÖLFE: “It was about a group of children calling themselves The Wolves, living in post-war Berlin. I was one of them and got singing lessons for the role. It was wonderful and I was impressed that I can actually sing.”
When it comes to roles Confurius likes to identify with the character, “to understand why this person does what they do, even if they are unsympathetic.” Thus in FOG IN AUGUST (Kai Wessel, 2015) “I played a nurse who euthanizes children in Nazi Germany. I was asked a lot if it scared me to play a role like this. I didn’t condemn her from the outset but sought to understand how and why she does what she does. It’s too easy to say afterwards that it was just wrong: she needs to be given some humanity,” she continues. “If you just say someone is good or bad then you end up with a two-dimensional cartoon character.” The film won the German Cinema Award for Peace 2016 and the Bavarian Film Award for Best Direction 2016.
As usual, the first thing that happens is that she is given a script to read, which Henriette Confurius then proceeds to color. “It’s true,” she explains, “I divide the role into various colors. I take four or five and mark all the scenes where my character has a depth, or cares, or is free (that’s yellow, by the way), fear and self-suppression get red, and funny is blue. This way you quickly find out where the various emotions are.” And then she meets the director, “who has a completely different idea. And it can all change so quickly. I need one who can guide me, not take over the role. But when I have confidence in the director I can change colors, so yellow can become blue.”
A keen cinemagoer herself, she cites Philip Seymour Hoffmann as an actor who impresses her, “although I also found him scary. Most of the ones that impress me also scare me. Joaquin Phoenix, for example, gives himself totally to the role. Natalie Portman gives me the same feeling, although she can take care of herself – I think.”
On her wish list is a science fiction film: “I’d love to do one of those,” she says, and her hobbies and interests keep her active: “I like traveling alone, often where I can go hiking. I like cycling, I like to have time to do sports. I also like painting: my father did a lot with us as children. And furniture restoration, don’t forget.”
Oh yeah, she also won the Bambi 2015 for Best Actress for her role in TANNBACH – SCHICKSAL EINES DORFES as well as being nominated in the same category for the Bavarian Television Award. Directed by Alexander Dierbach, with the next three episodes airing in January 2018, “this is the story of a German village from 1945 to 1968,” she explains. “I was playing a young girl aged 17 in the first part. In the last one I was 40 and the mother of three children.”
“The village is divided by the Iron Curtain. One side builds socialism, the other does not,” she continues. “There are no good or bad people, just the village history from so many perspectives. People behave according to their previous experiences and convictions. I was born after the Wall came down so had no idea what it was like. My grandparents, for example, they never talked about the past.”
And then we enter the surreal ... “When I learned I was nominated for the Bambi I was very flattered but also a little scared. I was sent a beautiful dress, got picked up by a limousine, and the closer the whole thing came the more I didn’t want to go. So I wore jeans and a T-shirt, thinking I had no chance and then security told me to get off the red carpet and stand behind the rope, so I did. And then I won, had to go on stage and was so unprepared I forgot to thank all the amazing people that also worked on TANNBACH. It wasn’t my best performance and I’m sorry. But I was really honored and love my little Golden Bambi. I will do better next time.”
Another self-taught lesson well learned with the right conclusions drawn then, and that, if anything, is Henriette Confurius’ ability, to strive for continuous personal and professional improvement, the philosophy and art of Kaizen as the Japanese call it. And then it is time to put back on all those layers of clothing and get on her bike, literally, because there is a child’s chair that still needs her urgent attention.