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In writer-director Todd Field’s awards season favorite Tár, Cate Blanchett’s performance as the (fictional) world-famous conductor Lydia Tár is the thespian equivalent of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: as full of monumental gestures and emotional bombast and just as impossible to resist. She’s the first woman to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic and an EGOT winner to boot, but she’s also a monstrous genius who has clawed her way to the top of the classical music world with little regard for the people she has used and abused along the way. Over the course of the film, like the plot of any good opera, Lydia Tár’s heroic triumph is followed by her tragic fall from grace, as the maestro becomes a victim of “cancel culture” and, more accurately, her own egotistical excesses.
Against Blanchett’s symbolic cymbal crash of a role, as if in musical counterpoint, we have Nina Hoss as Sharon Goodnow, the Philharmonic’s first violinist, Lydia’s wife and full-time mother to their daughter, Petra.
While Blanchett’s Lydia is all nerves and naked ambition, Hoss’ performance is pure pianissimo. Sharon seems perpetually tired, apparently resigned to her fate as the maestro’s long-suffering housewife, accepting Lydia’s frequent affairs with young protegées. But, with just a few minutes of screen time, Sharon holds her own against Lydia. Hoss runs the gamut of emotions, from love and vulnerability through anger and grief, to a steely resolve that belies the superficial self-effacement. She may even be Lydia’s secret enabler, the power behind the throne.
“You could play Sharon like the abandoned, betrayed wife, but I found it more interesting to think of her as someone who helps keep the power system intact,” says Hoss, “one who decides when to look away, when not to ask questions.”
Seen through this lens, Sharon is the eyes and ears of Tár, and Hoss the heart and soul of the film. As the concertmaster and first violinist, Sharon literally sets the tone for the orchestra. And Hoss, often just with a gaze or a raised eyebrow, exerts power over the orchestra and over Lydia. In Hoss’ first scene in the film, Sharon, apparently distraught, tells Lydia that Petra is coming home from school with bruises on her legs, likely the result of bullying at school.
“I don’t know if Todd meant it that way, but I read something into that scene — that Sharon knows what she’s doing,” says Hoss. “She knows what Lydia will do with this information.”
Cut to Lydia tracking down the pint-size bully in the schoolyard: “I’m Petra’s father,” she snarls in German to the terrified little girl. “If you don’t stop, I’ll get you.”
Hoss says, “That was the moment I realized who and what Sharon is. She enjoys the power and privilege that being married to Lydia brings, but she doesn’t want to do the dirty work herself.”
Field offered Hoss the role after seeing her in 2019’s The Audition, co-written and directed by Ina Weisse, in which she plays an obsessive violin instructor whose life is slowly unraveling.
“He knew I could play the violin, but he had seen my other roles, too,” says the 47-year-old actress of her first meeting with Field. “When we spoke, he said: ‘I have a role, but I don’t know if there’s enough meat here for you.’ “
In German cinema, Hoss is used to playing the lead. She’s best known for starring roles in six movies by director Christian Petzold, including Phoenix (2014), Barbara (2012) and Yella (2007), and is often credited as the director’s muse. (Less romantically, Petzold once described Hoss as his Bausparvertrag, or building investment contract, meaning that she’s the investment who has yielded great returns in his films.) After Phoenix, in which she plays a Holocaust survivor who undergoes plastic surgery and struggles to reconstruct her identity, Hoss took a creative hiatus from Petzold. “It was just time to take a break,” she says, “and be open for new things.”
Those new things included American films and television. Before Tár, Hoss appeared in Anton Corbijn’s 2014 feature A Most Wanted Man alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and played the German agent Astrid in three seasons of Showtime’s Homeland. She also starred in Netflix’s short-lived period crime thriller Shadowplay with Taylor Kitsch and Michael C. Hall, and will feature in the upcoming third season of Prime Video’s Jack Ryan. But, she notes, it was Tár “that really opened the door” to Hollywood. “It was like seeing me in that role, alongside Cate, made people understand my other German performances, and how they could fit me in,” she says.
In September, Hoss signed with CAA and, for the first time in her career, she is actively taking meetings with the likes of HBO, Apple TV+, Fox Searchlight and Focus Features (which distributes Tár).
“The projects I’ve been talking about have this same sort of finely drawn characters, stories that go deep and are challenging, the kind of thing where I like to lock in,” says Hoss. After 25 years in the business, getting her big break now “feels a bit surreal,” she says. “But it’s also incredibly great. I didn’t think, at this stage in my life, this would still happen to me.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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