'Life' is beautiful

Germany's 'Betty' no ugly duckling

Who says life doesn't imitate art?

In "That's Life," the German version of the hit telenovela "Ugly Betty," actress Alexandra Neldel played Lisa, the glamour-free wallflower who turns into a beautiful bride by the end of the series.

In real life, the show's success has turned Germany's Ugly Betty into a star. Neldel has gone from being an insider's tip to become one of the country's most bankable talents.

Neldel's phenomenal success — 7.4 million viewers, a 26% share, tuned in for her final episode on "That's Life" — has also spread to France. TF1 has scored jaw-dropping ratings of up to 53% for their dubbed version of the German series, and Neldel has become a household name from Calais to Marseille.

"I was in Paris recently and women just came running up to me shouting 'Lisa!' 'Lisa!' and waving autograph books," Neldel says. "I'm used to being recognized in Berlin but it's very strange when people you can't understand — I don't speak French — start telling you how much they love your work."

It's a feeling Neldel better get used to. Her rising star shows little sign of fading. Already a ratings guarantee on the small screen, Neldel is making the leap to film.

Indie giant X Filme — producers of "Run Lola Run" and "Good Bye, Lenin!" — signed her for a supporting role in Vanessa Jopp's holiday movie "Meine schone Bescherung" alongside local cinema stars Martina Gedeck and Heino Ferch.

The producers were so impressed, they cast Neldel in the lead in another X Filme feature: Martin Walz's musical comedy "Marzmelodie" (March Melody).

Both films seem designed to shed Neldel's Ugly Betty braces-and-granny glasses image. In Jopp's Christmas film, she plays a vamp tempting Gedeck's loyal husband (played by Ferch). In "Marzmelodie," Neldel is a schoolteacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown who only expresses her true feelings in song.

"I had always wanted to work for X Filme because it's a company that stands for a certain special kind of filmmaking," Neldel says. "But I was a bit nervous because there are all these musical numbers (in 'Marzmelodie') and I can't sing! Luckily, although we sung on the set, it was all lip-syncing. I just made sure the music was on really loud so no one could hear my voice."

The music might be canned but Germany's film industry will be listening closely to see how audiences react to "Marzmelodie." The movie will be a true test of whether Neldel's small-screen appeal can cross over into boxoffice success.

When the film bows Jan. 17, X Filme will be hoping for another Alexandra Neldel Cinderella story.

They could do worse than to bet on Ugly Betty.