German talent making its mark

Fest entries show off actors' growing global influence

BERLIN -- German stars are uber all in this year's Berlinale.

From Diane Kruger in "Goodbye Bafana" to Julia Jentsch in "I Served the King of England" to Martina Gedeck in "The Good Shepherd" and Moritz Bleibtreu in "The Walker," Teutonic talent is in demand.

For the first time, German actors are overtaking their French, Italian and Spanish counterparts among international producers combing the globe for fresh faces.

Daniel Bruehl, who appears in Julie Delpy's Panorama entry "2 Days in Paris," believes the recent wave of internationally successful German films -- from "Downfall" and "The Edukators" to the Oscar-nominated "The Lives of Others" -- has opened doors for local talent.

"I was in Spain recently and everyone was interested in German film, in what's coming out of Germany," Bruehl said. "You also see it in the number of young German directors who are going to Hollywood to make movies."

Jentsch's performance in "Edukators" got her the gig for "King of England" after "Edukators" sales agent Celluloid Dreams recommended her to the film's executive producer Rudolf Biermann.

Alexandra Maria Lara's starring performance as Adolf Hitler's secretary in the Oscar-nominated "Downfall" kick-started her international career, leading to roles in Theo Angelopoulos' "The Dust of Time," James Ivory's "City of Your Final Destination" and Oliver Parker's "I Really Hate My Job," which U.K. group the Works is screening at the European Film Market.

Berlinale jury president Paul Schrader said he cast Bleibtreu in "Walker" after seeing his Silver Bear-winning performance in last year's "Elementary Particles." Schrader was so impressed he tapped Bleibtreu for his next feature, the Holocaust drama "Adam Resurrected."

"Moritz's character (in 'Walker') was initially written as a Hispanic, but my casting agent told me about this German actor who had gotten attention playing Turks," Schrader said. "So we changed the role to make him Turkish so we could get Moritz."

The Works Media Group managing director Chris Auty said one of the reasons German talent is going international is that, unlike some of their counterparts in Europe, they tend to have "outstanding English and fantastic acting chops."

"German actors are simply not comparable with their Italian or French counterparts, they are streaks ahead," Auty said. "They grow up speaking grown-up English from a very early age so have no problem."

Kruger, already a bona fide star thanks to roles in "National Treasure" and "Troy," even managed a believable South African accent for her role in Bille August's "Goodbye Bafana." In May, she will host the opening ceremonies at the Festival de Cannes, the first German to handle the job following a long line of Latins.

German talent also has been helped by the realities of the international film business. Having a German star on board, even in a small cameo, can greatly boost a project's chances of receiving funding and distribution in Europe's largest territory.

"I have to admit, having Daniel Bruehl in the cast made it a lot easier to put the financing together," said Christophe Mazodier, producer of "2 Days in Paris."

"I think it has gotten easier for German actors of this generation" said veteran German actor Mario Adorf, also a member of this year's Berlinale jury. "In the '60s and '70s, when I was acting in international films, it was a lot harder."

Language and financing aside, the growing number of international producers choosing to cast German stars agree with August: In the end, it comes down to talent.

"Casting Kruger had nothing to do with her being German or not German," the director said. "It was because, simply, she was the best."

Charles Masters, Nick Holdsworth and Stuart Kemp contributed to this report.