Rainer Werner Fassbinder made more than 40 features in his 37 years on this planet, 23 of which starred Hanna Schygulla. The two first met in their early 20s when they were attending acting school in Munich, hitting it off instantly: “It suddenly became crystal clear to me that Hanna Schygulla would one day be the star of my films,” the New German Cinema stalwart wrote. “Maybe even something like their driving force.”
Schygulla was recently interviewed by the Guardian on the eve of an extensive BFI retrospective dedicated to Fassbinder, referring to herself as “one of the survivors” of the “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” and “The Marriage of Maria Braun” director.
“He had a strong smell about him,” she recalls. “He smelled how he looked. Like a spotty rebel filled with angst.” Fassbinder, who died of an overdose in 1982, cast the actress in his debut film. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” says Schygulla of the experience. “We were just playing around….He never explained anything and his direction was never psychological. He was more like a choreographer.”
Fassbinder was known to be difficult to work with — he once threatened to commit suicide if Gunther Kaufmann, his frequent collaborator and occasional lover, wouldn’t sleep with him — but it seems that Schygulla avoided such a fate. “He didn’t torture me. He knew he could only get things from me if he made me feel he liked what I was doing.”
In addition to “Maria Braun,” she also starred in “Beware of a Holy Whore,” “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” and “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” among others. In invoking his legacy, Schygulla mentions one very recent example: “Look at ‘Moonlight’ — it’s about being stigmatised, being gay and black and poor. Fassbinder was always interested in the lives of outsiders and immigrants from the very beginning. He showed how we are all under the tyranny of values that are not even our own.” Read the full interview here.