HERZSPRUNG, HANNAH – FOUR MINUTES
WHATEVER IT TAKES
She ate a paper ball at the audition, she lied about being able to play the
piano and she cut holes in her good clothes to look the part – and she got the
role. Hannah Herzsprung, who plays Jenny in Four Minutes, confesses to Andrew L.
In the classical but cosy ambiance of a penthouse suite of the Double Bay
Stamford Hotel in Sydney, the effervescence of Hannah Herzsprung seems hardly
contained. Unlike her hard-as-nails on screen character, Jenny, in Four Minutes,
Hannah exudes a youthful femininity, tinged with contempo touches, like the
black hair that’s been given a dark blue electric shock, drawing out her
extraordinary blue eyes. She is casually smart in a deep mauve wrap that half
covers a low cut white top. Gold thongs at the end of her neat, dark blue jeans
show off cute red toenails. Her smile is fresh, natural, genuine. Her career is
now rocket propelled - the total opposite of her character Jenny – spiritually,
emotionally and geographically.
"I just burned to play Jenny"
“You know, after I read the script I just burned to play Jenny,” she says
with animated hands. “I’m totally not her, but I was fascinated by her … what
happened to her to be like that, I kept wondering.” Hannah and about 1200 other
aspiring young actresses burned to play Jenny, as writer/director Chris Kraus
went through the auditioning process for more than a year.
Four Minutes is a prison drama like no other. Former pianist Traude Krüger
(Monica Bleibtreu) has been driving to the same women's prison at Luckau almost
every morning since 1944. She teaches her female students - thieves, frauds and
killers - how to play the piano. Like the convicted, volatile young murderer,
Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), whose short life is already filled with trauma, abuse
and loss. When the 80-year-old piano teacher discovers the girl's secret, her
brutality and her dreams, she decides to transform her pupil into the musical
wunderkind she once was, defying Jenny’s violent temper – not always with
success. Besides, Traude has secrets of her own ….
“Yes, but you know, Monica is really only 60 and she looks 40 and behaves like
20,” laughs Hannah. “So they had to work hard to make her look old!” Monica
Bleibtreu is the mother of famous German star Moritz Bleibtreu (“I didn’t meet
him yet, but like every other German girl, I’d like to!!”) Monica, like the rest
of the film’s cast, is an experienced and respected actor. Although she has
formal training and has had eight years TV experience, this is her first feature
film role AND her first leading role, Hannah felt intimidated until she met them
all and found them warm, caring and professional.
Both Hannah and Monica were nominated in the Best Actress category at this
year’s German Film Awards. “I hope Monica wins,” she says generously. (And
Monica did win. But Hanna won Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in Das
Wahre Leben [Real Life].) Indeed, both roles are acting showcases. For Hannah to
get the part in Four Minutes, she had to start with an audition that required
her to play Jenny in two scenes. In the first, she is having another battle of
wills with Monica’s piano teacher, Traude, who is laying down the law; there
were three rules written on a piece of paper that she wanted Jenny to remember.
At the end of the scene, she scrunches the paper into a ball and hands it to
Jenny, saying: “Eat it!” In an act of acceptance, Jenny does.
"I was the only one who actually ate the paper in the
“What I didn’t know until after I got the part,” says Hannah, “is that of all
the girls, I was the only one who actually ate the paper in the audition!” She
had worn a wig to the audition to hide her beautiful hair, in the style of the
tomboyish, rough and tumble persona of Jenny. “I cut holes in my expensive jeans
and made my jumper all dirty … and I wore my oldest sneakers … that all helped
me,” she says.
In the second audition scene, Jenny lets out her frustration by smashing her
fist into a mirror in the prison toilets. This time, Hannah managed to avoid
really smashing her fist into the glass. But her dedication and passion
impressed Kraus. So did her endless stream of questions. Hannah was in Munich on
the final day of shooting a telemovie, Emilia – The Second Chance. “I was
playing a support role in this drama, and the last day was a very emotional
scene, lots of crying and so on … at 8 in the morning, on the way to the set, my
agent rang me and said ‘You got it!’ and I was so happy I found it very
difficult to do the scene and be all miserable!”
She scampered back to Berlin, where she was to show off her piano playing
prowess to the director and his team. In the film, she has to play a couple of
tricky classical pieces – one of them with her back to the piano. At her
audition, when Kraus asked if she played piano, she had said yes. “I mean, I
thought well, this is a movie…they can cover my playing if they want.” She could
play Twinkle Little Star and another children’s tune – and that’s all. Kraus was
aghast. “What am I going to do with you?!” he moaned. “I’ve given you the role
and you’re perfect … but the piano!” Hannah hadn’t realised how important her
credible piano playing was going to be for the film.
Hannah was sent immediately on an intensive, daily piano course that would have
to get her up to speed in six months. At the same time, because she would be
required to do her own stunts (fights, mostly) she had to get into shape. She
was sent off to kickboxing lessons. The kickboxing piano player was being forged
“I was scared,” says Hannah, “that the audience wouldn’t believe me … that
they’ll see the acting. I’ve seen so many dramatic performances where I could
see them acting, I didn’t want that. I wanted the audience to feel that it’s
Jenny, just as I felt it. But Chris is such a perfectionist, and his belief in
me gave me great confidence.”
Published June 21, 2007
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Monica Bleibtreu, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Hannah
Herzsprung at the German Film Prize award ceremony in Berlin May 4, 2007.
Pic Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke
.... in Four Minutes
... in Real Life