Verena Altenberger: "I'd rather be an idiot than a pessimist!"
Verena Altenberger: "I'd rather be an idiot than a pessimist!"

She plays the fanatics in Jedermann at the Salzburg Festival. Verena Altenberger can now choose her roles. We met the likeable Salzburg woman for an interview.

verena altenberger, everyone, courtship, lars eidinger,
verena altenberger, everyone, courtship, lars eidinger,

Your schedule is full to the brim. Verena Altenberger recently presented a film about refugee policy, now she is playing the fanatics in "Jedermann" at this year's Salzburg Festival. In an interview with WOMAN, she explains why it doesn't always have to be the prestigious theater and why the actress also plays in smaller productions.

According to the press office of the Salzburg Festival, there are over 500 interview requests from all over the world for this year's fanatics. Verena Altenberger, 33, takes note of this calmly. "Really?" She asks at the WOMAN shoot and slips into the various outfits in a good mood. So of course the actress speaks and looks - when it comes to presenting herself, she is also a real professional. The woman from Salzburg is happy about the role of affection and also about the hype that goes with it. She enjoys attention, but in a relaxed way. And she is happy to play with her Jedermann Lars Eidinger. The two know each other from the filming of David Schalko's "M - A city is looking for its murderer".

The 33-year-old is completely exhausted in her roles. And since her breakthrough in the film "The Best of All Worlds", she has been able to choose. There she played a drug-addicted mother who tries to hide her addiction from her son - a great achievement that multiple awardsbecame. She is very funny in the RTL series "Magda is doing it" as a Polish geriatric nurse. Tough also as a commissioner in "Polizeiruf 110". But the thing that is sympathetic about Verena Altenberger is that she also works with smaller productions and even directing debuts join in, like "Under the Skin of the City". There she plays a woman with cancer. And for that, the artist recently had her bald head shaved. She gladly sacrificed her hair, she would not have worked with a wig, it all has to be realistic. Her mother died of the terrible disease five years ago. She is the first to have a short haircut.

We met the currently most sought-after actress at the Diagonale in Graz, where her latest film was presented. A tragic comedy by David Clay Diaz, "Me, We" (from July 23rd). These two words are a poem by boxing legend Muhammad Ali. A film about migration, flight and how we, the Austrians, deal with it. Verena Altenberger plays a sea rescuer and had highly dangerous scenes on the high seasto turn. As always with full commitment and risk.

"I'm looking forward to the hype."

WOMAN: You do a lot of different jobs, the film "Me, We" is just coming out, now you are rehearsing your fanatics at the Salzburg Festival. How do you make your choice to make films or to act in the theater? (Note: The interview took place before the Jedermann premiere on the weekend)

ALTENBERGER: I have to like the book and understand the role that is offered to me emotionally. Emotionally and intellectually, because I see myself as an advocate for the character. Then the audience has to be able to understand why the character feels that way, regardless of whether they are good or bad. And third: who will I work with. Be it the director or great colleagues. Then nothing comes for a long, long time, and then: Where is the film being shot and am I allowed to learn something new and interesting.

For "Me, We" you had to learn to drum …

ALTENBERGER: Yes, I had drumming lessons and learned to drive speedboat. When we were filming on Lesbos, I also got to know real sea rescuers and volunteers from the camps, who taught me a lot. There, for example, there is the organization Lighthouse Relief, which systematically searches the sea day and night for refugees in distress. There are often brief light signals in the dark because people are trying to get coverage with their cell phones. You learn to pay attention to the noises and observe: Is that a foam head or a life jacket? I was also at the Moria refugee camp with volunteers from this organization.

Verena Altenberger during the shooting for "Me, We". It's a film that gets under your skin. Director David Clay Diaz approaches the refugee issue from four different angles. Altenberger plays a sea rescuer who looks for stranded people in the Aegean Sea.

You have declared yourself for the Refugees Welcome initiative. What is it like when you actually meet these people?

ALTENBERGER: I learned on the spot that I have no idea about suffering, fear and hopelessness, even though I had dealt with the subject of asylum policy. Such a camp as Moria - 5,000 people live there under the most adverse conditions - should not exist anywhere in the world. But it does exist in the EU! On a Greek vacation island! A handful of Dixi toilets for hundreds of people, accordingly unsanitary conditions, the women there are extremely endangered. And then years of waiting for an uncertain future, for incalculable decisions by the authorities, every few months a hearing here, a hearing there, and in between nothing but waiting in this camp. Hopelessness is cultivated here in a targeted manner.

You can see in the film that you had to shoot dangerous scenes in the sea

ALTENBERGER: Yes, I was also terrified - swimming, in the open sea, at night. At the same time I knew: the film crew in the boat and rescue divers in the sea are around me. Other people have this fear because their lives are in danger, not because they are making a film and just pretending to be. When I was a little scared about accelerating in the boat, my speedboat instructor said to me: "Look, we're going over the open sea, not much can happen unless you drive over a person. " That is the bitter reality on site.

How would you describe yourself? As optimistic?

ALTENBERGER: Maybe it's idealism too, but nothing else is possible. If you go on, it means believing in something positive. If you are just pessimistic about a problem, you stop working to improve it.

Author Donna Leon recently said you had to be an idiot to be an optimist in these times

ALTENBERGER: I'd rather be an idiot than a pessimist.

When you shoot so much, do you go home in the evening, are you private again?

ALTENBERGER: No. When I play, the role stays close to me throughout. In my last movie "Under the Skin of the City" I played a woman with cancer, and for two months I was practically inaccessible. I haven't met any girlfriends, haven't even turned up the radio and television. The only thing that still works for me is going for a run in the evening.

What do friends and family say about it?

ALTENBERGER: They respond with understanding. Fortunately, I have so many good friendships in which the mutual agreement applies: When the hat burns, I'm available, of course. Otherwise I'll get in touch in a month.

»To be a woman today means: You can be anything! That also determines my feminism."

Then we make a cut here and change the subject: You are happy to be playing the Buhlschaft at the Salzburg Festival. Out of local patriotism? And: what do you think before the rehearsals begin?

ALTENBERGER: I grew up in Salzburg, I cannot ignore the importance of this piece. "Jedermann" is branded in my DNA. For me, the passion is sexy and self-determined and at the same time insecure and in a certain way dependent. I want to try to put a contemporary woman on stage. To be a woman today means you can be everything! That also determines my feminism. I'm not going to defend myself against seduction, but I am against seeing it as the only trait of affection.

Verena Altenberger and Lars Eidinger at the Jedermann premiere on July 17th.

Will death and dying be recorded differently in "Jedermann" this year because of Covid?

ALTENBERGER: I think so, inevitably. For the first time ever, death was more present than usual in so many people. That will be the case in the ensemble and in the audience.

How long did you know that you were going to play in "Jedermann" and couldn't talk about it?

ALTENBERGER: The call came at the end of August 2020, I couldn't talk about it until December 4th. I told my father and sister, but no one else. My best friends were a little pissed off and said: "What, we have to find out from the newspaper!" I didn't dare tell anyone because I couldn't believe it. At the beginning of December we had a kind of video press conference, and until then I was afraid that someone would come and say: "Sorry, that was a mistake, a mix-up. What are you doing here?"

But the passion is also present at every society event. Do you mind?

ALTENBERGER: I know what's going on in Salzburg. And getting attention is something nice for me. That is also a privilege. But I also have my limits, I don't have to be there everywhere, with some things I would be outside my comfort zone. But it's so funny, I have the feeling - and this is not meant in a derogatory way - as if I am the reigning wine queen.

If so, then champagne queen! You have often called yourself a country bumpkin, has that feeling disappeared?

ALTENBERGER: The country egg complex has improved. What is still there is not flirtatious, is my insecurity. I find it difficult to speak in front of an audience. In fact, I am often scared of fainting.

verena altenberger, film, actress
verena altenberger, film, actress

Many generations of women complain that their roles are too small and that there are far fewer. Is that no longer the case for your 30+ generation?

ALTENBERGER: Indeed! Personally, I have developed a status that now gives me a certain degree of security. I can choose the roles and it won't be over the day after tomorrow. Maybe the year after next. (laughs) Maria Furtwängler's MaLisa Foundation has published a study that shows that women aged 35 and over have a downward trend in employment. This is not the case with men. These are facts. Women are not even close to 50 percent among female directors and authors. And not even with the amount of text said, the screen time. Something changes, but in baby steps.

You speak seven languages, practice numerous sports, from kickboxing to golf. What do you want to learn next?

ALTENBERGER: Put aside my insecurity and learn an instrument. Guitar would be very nice.

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