Liv Lisa Fries (it rhymes with ‘please’) has a long day of BABYLON BERLIN interviews and posing for photos ahead of her, but this is the first one and she is as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and eager to trot as any actress poised on the edge of her international breakthrough could be. She also looks stunning, her hair in a 1920s style as befits the event and, apologies to Audrey Hepburn, is giving those three seemingly innocuous words, ‘little black dress’, more meaning than you can imagine.
To get the formalities out the way: Liv Lisa Fries was born in Berlin in 1990 and took up acting in 2005, her first starring role being in Torsten C. Fischer’s SCHIMANSKI: DEATH IN THE SETTLEMENT for television, alongside Götz George. She quickly gathered acclaim, most notably for SHE DESERVED IT, in which she plays a schoolgirl who bullies her classmate to death. Talk about gritty, but it also won her the Günter Strack Television Prize in 2011 and was awarded the Golden Camera Award in 2012.
Liv Lisa Fries from the FACE TO FACE WITH GERMAN FILMS campaign (© German Films/Mathias Bothor)
Her first major role on the big screen was in the 2010 award-winning youth drama STRONGER THAN BLOOD. Others include a title role in Germany’s top cop TV-series, in TATORT: ZIRKUSKIND, a young rape survivor in THE DAM, and a young patient suffering from cystic fibrosis in ZURICH, for which she was awarded the Bavarian Film Prize 2013, the Max Ophüls Prize (one of the most important awards for young German-language cinema) and the German Director’s Prize. For THE DAM and ZURICH she took home the German Film Critics Award.
Most recently she was seen in an episode of the ARD TV feature film trilogy about the NSU neo-Nazi murders NSU: GERMAN HISTORY X, an award-winning series that has been sold all over the world, and premiered on Netflix throughout North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand in July 2016. Americans will also see her again next year in the Starz sci-fi thriller series, COUNTERPART.
So yes, this Variety 10 Europeans To Watch 2017-listed actress can act! But let’s get to the lady herself, the who and what is Liv Lisa Fries, what motivates and makes her tick?
“I’m interested in the sense of self,” she says, smiling. “Of finding the center of being able to listen, that core authenticity and honesty, listening to yourself and what you want so you can feel good. That means you then have the grounding and competence to be open to other people and things. I admit, it’s a hard question to answer and I’m still trying to find out!”
Liv Lisa Fries from the FACE TO FACE WITH GERMAN FILMS campaign (© German Films/Mathias Bothor)
But, as evidenced by her choice of roles to date, “I find it exciting and that’s why I love the profession: I want to find out what people want to say. Life’s a kind of journey and on the way we look at what happens, how people live, how we want to live, we’re always looking for answers – I’m just not always sure if I want them! But I am interested in what drives people, gives them joy or fear, the tension between thought and feeling. It’s not so much what I want to say but the search for it!”
It all starts with a script, of course, and the one for BABYLON BERLIN, a rip-roaring, multi-part, event-TV crime and drama series set in 1920s Berlin, could have proven more than daunting, but the first thing Liv Lisa Fries does is ignore the size and “look for the movements, where the character goes, where does she come from? It’s an emotional analysis of the character, her underlying emotions and impulse. There was a starting phase with BABYLON BERLIN where I concentrated on the character’s fear and neurosis, and what was beneath, why she was sad. I believe in human complexity.” And her character, Charlotte Ritter, the female lead, playing opposite Volker Bruch, “is most definitely complex.”
She doesn’t have a standard approach, taking each character as she comes, so “sometimes a diary works, sometimes not because the figure is closed. I read the script, basically it should all be in a good script, then I understand on a certain level. I try to understand them emotionally,” she explains. “I look at what she says and ask what is actually meant: she says A but means B. Why is she like that? But maybe the character herself doesn’t know, so how does she deal with it and how do I as an actress deal with it too?”
Method actress? Yeah, sort of, maybe, it all depends on the role, she laughs. “I played a terminally ill woman in ZURICH, so I accompanied a woman suffering from cystic fibrosis as part of the preparation, but method means you are always in character but I’m not that radical.”
Trust, as you would imagine, is key to Liv Lisa Fries’ work. He first main role, the brutal, killer schoolgirl Laura in the award-winning and much-lauded SHE DESERVED IT, who is then visited in prison by the victim’s mother, “was the first time I had the feeling I was trusted greatly and that enabled me to repay it. So when you work with great colleagues, when they are also there for you as well as themselves, when their acting influences yours, that is also life because, as people, we interact with each other.”
It isn’t all Sturm und Drang, by the way, she played quieter characters in THE DAM and ZURICH and, a lover of singing and dancing herself, played a music student in Sabrina Sarabi’s upcoming PRÉLUDE, alongside fellow FACE TO FACE WITH GERMAN FILMS colleague Louis Hofmann – all of them “films in which life is observed. Life as I perceive it.”
What’s it like for the person who gets to say “Action!” and “Cut!” to her? “Ooh,” she says, gaining even more fizz, “I like talking! A lot! About everything! Every detail! This way or that, why do I do or not do that? I need to know the director knows what they want! Not always, but at least they have a game-plan! And that’s how it was on BABYLON BERLIN. Sometimes, when I have the trust, they can just tell me and I can also do things that I don’t understand!” An actress who can take direction, then: “I’m interested in an outside input. That can be a crazy feeling, doing something you don’t know you can or understand, that you would not normally do, but you are also in a safe space when you have a smart guide who understands it. Who understands how I am and work.”
Liv Lisa Fries’ life, when not in front of the lens, features “dancing, I love contemporary dancing!” For her, free time is about “being free, letting go, seeing friends, travelling, cycling, swimming, reading, chatting, also having quiet time, being in the countryside, for example.”
Her mentors and inspirers (it is a long list and in no particular order) include Romy Schneider, BLUE VALENTINE (starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling), Xavier Dolan, and Andrea Arnold. Then come films with “radical and existential performances”, such as Fatih Akin’s HEAD-ON, Luc Besson’s LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, Peter Bogdanovich’s PAPER MOON. And then the actors’ names themselves: “Birol Ünel, Sibel Kekilli, Josef Bierbichler, Hanna Schygulla, Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Romy Schneider, Klaus Kinski and Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, whom I find very inspiring. Wong Kar-Wai’s films fascinate me visually and with their music,” she continues, “and last but not least, American independent films by directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino or Jim Jarmusch are excellent.”
Back to the big boy on the block, BABYLON BERLIN, the X Filme Creative Pool, ARD Degeto, Sky and Beta Film production, where she worked with three of Germany’s very apex writer-directors, Tom Tykwer, Henk Handloegten and Achim von Borries.
“BABYLON BERLIN was an immense experience,” she says. “We spent four months prepping, then seven months filming. I’ve never had such preparation before! We had rehearsals of every kind! There was lots of dancing and I had to learn the Charleston, and that was very tiring but also great to learn!”
What was it like having three directors on the one character? “Well,” she explains, “although Tom, Achim and Henk are very different, they are all going in the same direction.” Here she gets demonstrative, turning her whole body, arms, and hands. “It’s like you are driving. Do they take the left lane, the right one or go straight ahead? They all had different priorities with the character. It’s like when three people describe one and the same person, but you can end up with three different people! It was like having three different spotlights on the same person.”
“It was very challenging,” she goes on, “and some scenes were very hard, where I really had to do things I would have preferred not to because I was scared. But then we worked it through and it was great! I had worked before with Henk, so I knew him already. Tom works the way I’d always imagined it to be, whereas Achim gave me lots and lots of space. On one scene, where I had to cry, which still wasn’t working after a couple of takes trying, he just broke the tension by being kind and trusting me.”
With her CV essentially drama, Liv Lisa Fries admits “it is my world view, but it is not a pessimistic one and I don’t look to set it up deliberately. I would love to do a comedy, but also keep the observational aspects. I get offers I can’t anticipate, so if I get action or comedy and like the character, then yes! I’ll do it. BABYLON BERLIN just happened to me. And I would love to work with American directors and actors because of the way they influence me: I’ve seen so many and want to learn their methods and ways of working.”
And then she bravely wrestles with a very reluctant pen to autograph the glossy press folder before dashing off to the second appointment. A big day, a big project and a very talented, lovely young lady with big things to come.