Our interviews with stars from the worlds of film, music and sports have been a core element of Lufthansa Magazin since the very beginning. A selection of the most compelling portraits and best quotes.
Are you a fearsome dictator on the set?
It’s important for a director to convey calmness and a quiet strength. I want actors to trust me, not be afraid of me! But I can also be extremely intimidating if I want to be. I practice in front of the mirror to get it just right. No one can put fear into people the way I do! I’m an actor, after all.
You once said that a woman director has to be about four times as assertive as a man. Is this still the case?
In France, a woman needs to be only about three times as assertive as a man. In the U.S., you have to multiply it by ten because women directors are still so rare. That’s partly because making films in Hollywood is much more of a business than in Europe, where you will still come across people who think filmmaking has to do with art. I think that once women make it as far as the director’s chair, they are more demanding than men. And they bring their emotions with them onto the set, so things don’t always run smoothly. That can be risky when you’re running a business.
Are you still grateful to Richard Burton for persuading you to become an actor back in the 1970s?
No, grateful is the wrong word. But he left his mark on my life. I met him by chance at an airport in Mexico. I was still hesitating about going into show business. I thought to myself, he’s a famous actor, maybe he could answer a few questions about what it’s like as a job, so I went up to him and asked. Besides, he had led a life full of quarrels, divorces and other dramas. I wasn’t looking for dramas, so I asked him: ”Can I be an actor without the nasty bits?”
And what did he reply?
He looked at me and said: “You have green eyes.” Then came a long pause before he went on: “Yes, my boy, you can lead a life without any major upsets. But there are always going to be some cuts and bruises. Those can never be avoided.”
What drives you?
The greatest thing about music is its inimitability. If I play the same piece two days in a row, I’ll discover something new during the second evening – even if it’s a mistake
that I won’t repeat. The sound has gone, and I start over from scratch. It’s this renewal that drives me.
Have you ever thought of quitting? Why quit?
People keep telling me that when you’re 70 you’re still young. Every year, I give a little party on August 19, the day I performed on stage for the very first time – August 19, 1950. I usually tour with the East-Western Divan orchestra in August, so after the concert I’ll invite all the musicians to whom I have a personal or musical relationship to join me for a bite to eat, a glass of champagne and a cigar. Those are my statistics.
You once said that the German classics and the German language were what kindled your interest in literature …
I grew up in Missouri and wanted more than anything else to get away. What Europe seemed to have was what I wanted: an old civilization where they took good ideas
seriously, good coffee, good wine and good beer. When I reached an age when books become more than just fun to read and I realized there was more to it than simply turning the pages, I had a German classic in my hand. That was a coincidence. The Germans are great: very well suited to my character.
What does applause mean to you?
I’m very thankful for it, but I don’t judge an evening by the applause. What’s important to me is the special moment when everyone is connected – every fiber, from the stage to the auditorium. Nobody is thinking about anything else, nobody coughs or whispers, no one checks their phone. That makes me happy. It’s my reward.
Have you ever experienced an evening without that moment?
(She ponders) Rarely. It sometimes happens that it doesn’t come until the very end. Or you think this is it – and then it perhaps isn’t … The recipe for a successful evening is a mystery, but that’s what makes it so special.
As a singer, don’t you try to eliminate such uncertainties?
A singer who wants to be in control all the time has chosen the wrong profession.
How did you come to be a detective?
Publishers weren’t exactly forming lines to make me rich and famous. So I nabbed pickpockets in movie theaters on Times Square while Star Wars was flickering across the big screen. Later, I hunted down runaway teenagers.
You also led safaris in Africa for a long time. What did that experience teach you?
That what you see, for instance a herd of fleeing giraffes, is the result of what you don’t see, for instance a lion. You learn to deduce what is going to happen next, just like playing detective or surfing. When you look at the ocean, you see the waves, but not what makes them move. Surfers and detectives have to know what’s going on beneath the surface because that’s where the danger lies.
What was the biggest risk you took in 2017?
I fell in love and accepted the fact. I usually always stay on the safe side emotionally and try to control everything, and I have always been the stronger partner in a relationship. The man has to be obsessed with me, and I am the boss. I have never risked having someone leave me. But now I say f*** it! I don’t want to be the kind of person who always plays things safe. How bad can it get?
Where did you find the courage to open your heart?
I had this vision of me as an old woman. I don’t want to look back on my life feeling that I missed out because I was always such a fierce rebel. It may sound unconventional, but you can easily get used to playing that role. I don’t want that kind of control anymore, even if it means I end up getting hurt. That’s what life is all about. And now I am giving myself a proper shake-up.
People who know you always mention your typical North German humor. You learly have a funny streak. But do your films raise a laugh?
I don’t really give a lot of thought to humor. But I do try to see the funny side of things that would otherwise infuriate me.
The tendency of some people to be what I call armchair experts! The kind who always want to look good, who stand for nothing, always take the easy route and never take risks. People like that really get my goat. You’ll find them everywhere: in the film industry, in the press, in hospitals.
The Happy Prince was your directorial debut, a film in which you also played the lead. Was it very difficult doing both at once?
I was the best director I ever had (he laughs). I was never particularly happy with my performance during the shoot because I kept having to jump back and forth between directing and acting. But during the editing process I was able to put the scenes together in such a way that I looked good. We actors like to complain about directors always using our weakest moments, but this time I was able to pick out the best ones myself.
Can you describe what happened during that magical first piano lesson and at what point, exactly?
The teacher took me over to the piano and showed me where to put my hands. We played some notes and produced some sounds. Then we played a harmony, nothing special, nothing classical, she took my hands, both of them, and guided them gently over the keys. What I heard transported me from pain to peacefulness. It was as though all the particles that had been chasing around inside my head had suddenly fallen into place, aligned as if by a magnetic
force. It was as though a door had opened onto a world that irresistibly drew me in, entirely without force. When children are prevented in one way or another from exploring their possibilities, it damages them. I was very lucky.
What constitutes an adventure for you?
An adventure is nothing more than a crisis that you accept. Put another way, a crisis is nothing but an adventure against which you try to defend yourself. Adventure begins the moment you leave your comfort zone. You say goodbye to habits and security, and use your questions and doubts to stimulate creativity. You don’t need a spectacular aircraft to do that. All you need to do is to switch jobs, move to a new place or learn a new language. We should never underestimate the small adventures we encounter every day.