Some years ago, Lilith Stangenberg’s agent asked her to name five film directors from anywhere in the world that she would most like to work with. A few days later she actually wrote a list of five names on a piece of paper: Khavn de la Cruz, Lars von Trier, Park Chan-wook, Takashi Miike and Michael Haneke. First of all, you’d find it hard to find a second German actress who even knows about these five filmmakers, let alone has seen a film by them. But you need to know that although Stangenberg became famous through theater, especially her time at Frank Castorf’s legendary Berlin „Volksbühne“, where she was permanently engaged from 2012-2016, she is primarily a film buff: "I’ve been watching a film every day for years," she says in conversation, as if that was the most natural thing in the world. And for her it is: names like Bunuel and Truffaut suddenly pop up in conversation, not to show off, but because they and many others are part of Stangenberg’s everyday life: „I am a cineaste“.
The story with the list goes even further: afterwards, she wrote an email to Phillippino director Khavn de la Cruz, who replied. They met and the result was the film ORPHEA, a female version of the Orpheus myth, set in the underworld of Manila’s slums. “The shooting was an incredible experience for us,” Stangenberg remembers. “I’ve never known anything like it. Khavn is always looking for a level on which something gets out of control. We shot more than 24 hours straight, it went on and on.“ In particular, it was the uncertainty of the situation and the self-abandonment that made it such a great experience. Vice versa, her director is also full of praise for his leading actress: “She is even braver than me. She did things in Manila that would be too dangerous for me – for example, she suddenly jumped into a rather dirty river. She said, ’This is necessary for the film now.’” In 2020 ORPHEA, which Cruz shot together with Alexander Kluge, was premiered at the Berlinale in the new section „Encounters“.
Loss of control – that is exactly what attracts Lilith Stangenberg to her profession. She is a “loose cannon” in the best possible sense. In the film world, she often sees too many bureaucratic mentalities. „Interestingly, especially among the younger generation, it is often very bureaucratic. I once shot a short film with students, and the atmosphere was the least creative.“
But it could also be that Lilith Stangenberg is unaware of how much she intimidates those around her. Her impact is unique, whether on stage or on screen. Dazzling and enigmatic, a will-o’-the-wisp combining innocence and strength. Many have described her as “a little crazy”, “naive” or as weird. Certainly as special.
Her roles in the few cinema films she has shot so far also bear this out: In WILD by Nicolette Krebitz she played the main character, a young woman who falls in love with a wolf, takes it home with her, and lives with it in her apartment. In Michael Klier’s IDIOTS OF THE FAMILY she was Ginnie, a mentally handicapped young woman whose four siblings areconsidering moving her to a nursing home. Both were roles that appealed to her because there was nothing restrictive about them.
In Angela Schanelec’s I WAS AT HOME, BUT..., on the other hand, she only made a brief appearance. Stangenberg’s breakthrough in cinema came as early as 2014 with DIE LÜGEN DER SIEGER by Christoph Hochhäusler. “Christoph works very well with his actors,” she recalls, “he allows them a lot of freedom.” She believes that too much control and a rampant puritanism, on the other hand, often limit the possibilities of German film.
But Lilith Stangenberg – who has just turned 31, attended a Waldorf school as a child and never had professional training as an actor – can still be seen mainly on German theater stages. Recently, she has also done some television work. In addition to major roles in series such as TATORT, she played a leading role in the horror series HAUSEN, developed by Till Kleinert, which will be launched at the end of October 2020 (director: Thomas Stuber).
Increasingly, she is turning her attention to international projects. Recently she was in Los Angeles to work with video artist Paul McCarthy on a variation of Liliana Cavani’s THE NIGHT PORTER. It was “extremely challenging” and “elementary”, she said. German film alone would be too limiting for this actress. If a German name had fit onto Stangenberg’s piece of paper, it would have been Werner Herzog. He has lived in Los Angeles for many years.