“I started drawing my pension last Wednesday!” At our interview appointment in a café in Berlin-Pankow, this sentence falls quite abruptly, and you can hear from Corinna Harfouch’s laughter that she knows just how absurd it sounds. After all, she’s recently returned from filming in Cologne, and after the interview she has to go on to rehearsals for a musical stage project, and the following day for work on another film (and the obligatory prophylactic quarantine) in Hamburg. Despite the difficult working conditions caused by Corona, her diary is full until the end of the year. Even a pension notice won’t change that.
Harfouch, born in 1954 in Suhl in the German state of Thuringia, has never really been one to stop. It is 40 years ago that she – still a student of acting in Berlin at the time – played her first leading theater role in Romeo and Juliet, and was also appearing in front of the camera for TV productions such as POLIZEIRUF. Her calendar has never been empty for long since then, taking extended breaks is not exactly her thing. And that’s not just because she sometimes says yes rather than no a little too often, as she tells me. It’s because she feels free when she is acting. “That hasn’t changed over the years,” she says. “I started acting as a child and discovered the immense freedom that this space offers me. I love acting, I feel comfortable in it. To this day.”
The list of her works and successes is long, in cinema as well. Harfouch has been in major mainstream productions such as Bernd Eichinger’s THE GREAT BAGAROZY or SOLO FOR CLARINET as well as in smaller, bold productions like SEXY SADIE by Matthias Glasner or children’s films à la BIBI BLOCKSBERG. Her performance as Magda Goebbels in the Oscar®-nominated DOWNFALL caused a particular stir, also internationally. She has shot movies with Tom Tykwer, Caroline Link, Andreas Dresen and Dietrich Brüggemann, but also takes on supporting roles in blockbuster comedies (FACK JU GOEHTE 3) or Netflix series (HOLIDAY SECRETS). And last year she was awarded Best Actress for the title role in Jan-Ole Gerster’s LARA at the Karlovy Vary Festival, 31 years after she had received the award a first time in the same location for Siegfried Kuehn’s DEFA production THE ACTRESS.
She has fond memories of the trip to Karlovy Vary in 1988, when she traveled with her children and her mother in her own Trabant. But actually, festivals are not Harfouch’s favorite pastime: “You hardly ever have time to watch other films or meet colleagues in peace. I find it all rather exhausting, so I prefer to let those who enjoy the occasions do it.” Prizes don’t mean that much to her, either, although she has won just about everything there is to win, from the Berlinale Camera and the German Film Award to the Grimme Prize, the Golden Camera or the Berlin Theater Prize. Actually, the trophies are never displayed at home; she prefers to give them away to friends.
Instead of continuing to think about work that is already done, Harfouch prefers to look ahead. She sums up: “I just like to move on to something new. After all, I want to experience something.” Variety and diversity, therefore, are among the most important criteria when she decides to take on a project. “It really upsets me that I am seen in the same sort of roles far too often for my taste,” she admits quite honestly. She even considered turning down the part in LARA because the character of a sixty-year-old woman struggling with herself and life in general appeared too familiar at first glance. “If it hadn’t been Jan-Ole Gerster, whose OH BOY had impressed me so much, I wouldn’t have accepted.”
She has never wanted to direct a film herself, despite her constant desire to do something new. She recently appeared twice in front of the camera for colleagues making their directing debuts, and each had worked on the film’s realization for more than six years. “I wouldn’t have that kind of stamina,” says Harfouch when she contemplates reworking the same script for years. She prefers a fresh challenge of a totally different kind: recently, the actress – who lives in the Brandenburg countryside – founded a theater in the neighboring village and she is converting an old pub to house it. “I want to do something I’ve certainly never done before, namely to produce theater with amateurs!” The anticipation is obvious in her eyes: “This is a development where I really don’t know how it will end.” That’s one of the reasons why she can imagine acting in front of the camera rather less in future. She says this with a smile on her face, knowing full well that she has agreed already to play a police investigator in the Berlin TATORT series from 2022. So Corinna Harfouch is far from imagining life as a true pensioner.