Sandra Hüller finds herself at the center of two of the most talked-about movies of the year: The German actor gets to show her range (and her facility with languages) in both Jonathan Glazer’s drama “The Zone of Interest” and Justine Triet’s legal thriller “Anatomy of a Fall.” Both premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where “Anatomy” won the Palme d’Or and “Zone” was awarded the runner-up Grand Prix prize. Now, with both films busy on the circuit, Huller stopped by Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast to discuss the passionate responses the very different films are getting. Listen below:
For most Americans, Hüller burst onto the scene with the 2016 comedy-drama “Toni Erdmann,” which was nominated for the Oscar for best foreign language film. Huller’s performance as the put-upon daughter of a prankster father earned rave reviews, and the actor says Hollywood took interest — but not for long.
“I had some meetings, but nothing really came from it,” she says. That may be due to the fact the actor was hesitant to uproot or leave her family behind. Fortunately, there was plenty of European filmmakers who came calling, including Glazer and Triet.
When Hüller was first sent a scene from “The Zone of Interest,” it was merely of a couple fighting. She had no idea the film was set during the Holocaust or that the arguing pair were Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife, Hedwig. Hüller had long shied away from films set during the Holocaust.
“From the fascist side, I didn’t really understand why they should be portrayed over and over again,” Hüller admits. “Because there is this sort of cruelty in it that you just can’t take away, and it does something to you and your body. This sort of re-reenactment of certain behavior, that I didn’t understand why it should be done.”
However, once she read the script and met with Glazer, she changed her mind. “He understood completely because he had the same feeling,” she reveals. “Jonathan found a way to do it that I can’t really explain – it puts it to another level. And it’s a sort of spiritual thing. I can’t really explain it.”
In “Zone,” the horrors of the concentration camp are never shown – though they are heard in the distance as the Hoss family goes about their daily lives in their luxurious house, which includes a garden Hedwig is particularly proud of.
Hüller says Glazer made her feel safe, but it took her some time to trust the process. She also got to work with her real-life dog, a black Weimaraner who plays the family pet in the film – though she insists there was a casting process: “She had to work for it.”
There is also a dog in “Anatomy of a Fall,” a border collie named Snoop who is the companion of Daniel, the 11-year-old son of Hüller’s Sandra. And according to the actor, this dog – real name Messi – is a pro. “He’s a very trainable dog. And my dog doesn’t…she’s just there,” Huller briefly apologizes to her own dog. “I’m sorry, my darling – but she could never have been capable of doing those things.”
In the film, Sandra is accused of pushing her husband to his death. The film never overtly tells the audience if she is guilty or not. While one would assume the actor herself would have a firm answer on Sandra’s innocence, Huller says she preferred to leave it ambiguous. “I think I wanted to create somebody who would be capable of doing it, I wanted certain people to be a little bit afraid of her,” she reveals. “Because why do we always have to be sweet, and good victims and all these things? I had a little fun in leaving it in a dark.”
Asked if she ever made up her mind one way or the other, she replies, “No. Sometimes I wake up at night and think, Oh, I missed something. Maybe she did it. But I don’t know.”
Later, on this episode, “BlackBerry” star Glenn Howerton talks about his breakout role as CEO Jim Balsillie. And of course, his legacy with “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.