“When I was eight years old, my Christmas wish to my parents was to become an actor,” says Katharina Stark. Her parents, a pastoral counsellor and a chaplain in a hospice, had no idea what to make of their middle child’s wish. The family, who live in the small Allgäu community of Fellheim, had no connection at all with art or theatre. “But my parents gave me a voucher saying that they would give me unconditional support to help realise my dream.” 17 years later, the 25-year-old’s Christmas wish has certainly been granted. The newcomer received excellent reviews for her leading role in the Disney+ mini-series DEUTSCHES HAUS (THE INTERPRETER OF SILENCE). At the Berlinale 2024, she will be one of ten candidates for the EFP (European Film Promotion) “European Shooting Star” award. This is all the more remarkable, since very few people had heard of Katharina Stark before her role in the acclaimed series.
She graduated from the famous Otto Falckenberg drama school in Munich eighteen months ago. However, there was no indication that fame would come so quickly. If things had followed the usual pattern in the industry, which relies on well-known names and faces to promote expensive films and series, the tall young actor with the dark-blonde curls would probably have had no chance of getting the job. But Annette Hess, author and showrunner of DEUTSCHES HAUS, and Isabel Prahl, director of three of its five episodes, were looking for an actor with a very special charisma. Stark was cast in the role of a young interpreter at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials in 1963, when a group of possible perpetrators, 22 defendants in all, were tried for the first time in Germany over a period of 20 months. Eva Bruhns, Stark’s character, interprets the statements by Polish witnesses in court; and in the series, as representative of many Germans, she recognizes the extent to which the Holocaust has been suppressed in West German post-war society.
“I never asked why I was chosen for the part after three intense rounds of casting,” Stark recalls –and incidentally, she spoke no Polish when she was accepted. She did her swotting up on Polish before and during filming. “I only read later, in interviews with the makers, how I had radiated the hope that was needed to carry such a difficult story. How they believed I could take the audience by the hand with the combination of naivety and ruthlessness that was vital for the role.” Stark found out about her “lottery win” getting such a breakthrough role when she was living in New York, where she was intending to continue her studies at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute after graduating from German drama school. “There were so many missed calls from my agent on my mobile phone when I got up in the morning that I thought the news couldn’t be totally negative,” she recalls, laughing. The five-hour series was filmed mainly in Poland a few months later, from August to December 2022. “Most of all, it was a learning process in complexity and acting logistics, as I had never acted in anything longer than 90 minutes before, not even on stage,” Stark tells me.
Meeting Katharina Stark, you encounter a hugely life-affirming, art-loving individual. Someone who was so good at school that she skipped a year and graduated at the age of 16. A young woman who makes music, playing several instruments and singing, who has been known to attend a two-month hip-hop dance workshop in London in her free time, or who works on scripts and future film projects with her younger sister. At 17, she was already living largely independently in Munich after her parents “let her go” so that she would no longer have to commute the 130 kilometres twice weekly to acting workshops and youth theatre engagements in Munich. Those were the projects Stark pursued while other youngsters of her age were thinking about their outfits, make-up or first visits to the village disco. Katharina Stark, who comes across as down-to-earth nonetheless, started thinking big very early when it came to acting – and that has obviously paid off. Now, she is sure to be on the radar for upcoming German and international film projects.