“I‘ve always been fascinated by the process of filmmaking“ says actress Leonie Benesch who came to international attention in Michael Haneke‘s 2009 film THE WHITE RIBBON.
“I was raised in a Steiner home without a television set, but when my father bought a laptop, I would buy DVDs and watch the ‘behind the scenes‘ features rather than actual films. I was fascinated by the idea that people could make a living travelling the world and telling a story together“ the 31-year-old recalls.
Whilst attending the Freie Waldorfschule in Tübingen, Leonie made her first foray into acting after having previously appeared in a children‘s circus. “This was the moment that I realised I enjoyed acting – following instructions, learning lines, working with texts and being a marionette for someone else‘s ideas.“
She admits that being cast as the young children‘s nanny Eva in Haneke‘s award-winning film at the tender age of 17 “is all quite surreal looking back, but it obviously opened up a lot of doors for me“.Indeed, her performance was recognised in 2010 by the Young Artist Award (with co-star Leonard Proxauf) and the New Faces Award which led her to move to Berlin after completing her Abitur in order to learn the craft of acting.
Working with her drama teacher Mike Bernardin, from the UK in Berlin subsequently inspired her to apply to the world-famous Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Her studies at Guildhall, whose alumni include Daniel Craig, Lily James, Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis, lasted three years from 2013 to 2016. Before that she had already appeared opposite both Bruno Ganz in Sophie Heldmann‘s SATTE FARBEN VOR SCHWARZ and Götz George in Joachim A. Lang‘s TV film GEORGE, as well as being cast in Philip Koch‘s PICCO, among others.
Guildhall allowed her a leave of absence in her final year to take up roles as the housemaid Greta Overbeck in BABYLON BERLIN and as Princess Cecilie of Greece in the Netflix drama THE CROWN.
Since graduating, Leonie has moved seemingly effortlessly between projects for both cinema and television, with acting credits on productions as diverse as Hettie McDonald‘s BBC series HOWARDS END, Heinrich Breloer‘s two-parter BRECHT, Vadim Perelman‘s feature film PERSIAN LESSONS, Samiri Radsi‘s Netflix mini-series NEVER HAVE I EVER and Miguel Alexandre‘s ZDF TV series SPY CITY.
Most recently, over 100 million television viewers watched her as the feisty female journalist Abigail Fix circumnavigating the globe with the UK‘s David Tennant (as Phileas Fogg) and French actor Ibrahim Koma (as manservant Passepartout) in an eight-part adaptation of the Jules Verne classic AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS.
And audiences will soon be able to see her in İlker Çatak‘s new feature film DAS LEHRERZIMMER as well as the eight-part international series THE SWARM based on Frank Schätzing‘s 2004 bestselling environmental thriller.
“What comes first in my decision-making process about an offer of a role is always the script, the part and then who else is involved; who‘s producing, who‘s directing and who else they‘re looking at for the cast“, Leonie explains. “It‘s never just one thing – it‘s always a combination of factors.“
And preparing for a role can vary from one project to another, she says. In the case of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, Leonie avoided turning to the original novel because she thought that would be counterproductive. But she did read a lot about women like Jane Digby [the English aristocratic adventurer played in the series by Lindsay Duncan] and [the American investigative journalist] Nellie Bly “who had the kind of spirit Abigail was to embody.“
Another element in her preparations was doing speech exercises with readings of difficult poems such as Keats‘s Ode To A Nightingale.
“That really helped me a lot because my character just talks non-stop!“, she chuckles.