Gedeck: Woman of substance


COLOGNE, Germany -- In Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Golden Globe-nominated "The Lives of Others," Martina Gedeck, playing the East German actress Christa-Maria Sieland, betrays the man she loves out of fear and for the promise of fame.

Fear and fame are two things Gedeck doesn't seem to worry about. One of Germany's most acclaimed actresses, 45-year-old Gedeck has built her career with a series of unflinching portraits of women on the edge.

In Oskar Roehler's "Elementary Particles" she plays Christiane, a woman dying of an incurable disease who throws herself into a life of swinger clubs and anonymous sex. In "Summer '04" from Stefan Krohmer she is Mirjam, a confident, liberal wife and mother who falls in love with a stranger and finds herself competing with a teenager for his attention.

Even the title character of the romantic comedy "Mostly Martha" (2001) has a somber side. Gedeck plays chef Martha Klein as an obsessive and stubborn perfectionist, with little time for people, or life, outside the kitchen.

"There are very few good roles for women, especially women my age," Gedeck says. "So I try to give depth to my characters by finding out what is really going on in these women's minds, which is not necessarily what we are being told in the script."

Like the chef Martha, Gedeck is a perfectionist. She spends months reading and rereading a script. "Eventually the process gets so boring, I forget about the lines and start to think about the character behind them. What is she really thinking? What does she really want to say but can't?" Gedeck explains. "When I come to the shoot, I know this woman inside out. Only very occasionally does a director object to the character I've created."

Gedeck's characters have won her virtually every major German film and television prize. But her penchant for playing subtle, complex characters has kept her largely out of the public eye. Gedeck is no doubt the best-known German actress who can pass unnoticed in the shops around her Berlin home.

But the actress is now getting noticed outside Germany. It was "Mostly Martha" that brought her first international acclaim. The film was a surprise indie hit, taking in more than $4 million in the U.S. With Scott Hicks' "Martha" remake, "No Reservations," starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the Golden Globe nomination for "The Lives of Others," the demure Gedeck is suddenly in demand.

Robert De Niro picked her for a role in his C.I.A. drama "The Good Shepherd," and the late French director Francis Girod cast her in his last feature, the crime thriller "Un Ami Parfait" (A Perfect Friend).

Slowly and subtly, the world is discovering Martina Gedeck. She wouldn't have it any other way.