They’re both on the wrong side of 40, yet Maria Furtwangler and Veronica Ferres have emerged as the most reliable ratings queens on German television, each drawing top numbers for every film or miniseries for which they appear in their improbable late-blooming careers.
Furtwangler pulled in the highest ratings for an ARD film in the last 10 years when 11.2 million tuned in to watch her as the headliner of miniseries “Die Flucht” (March of Millions) in March.
Even though Furtwangler — a real-life doctor and full-time mother — is only a part-time thesp, every time she puts on her detective badge for “Tatort” (“Crime Scene”), ratings for the ARD series soar by another 2 million.
Ferres, 41, who was the muse of helmer Helmut Dietl early in her career, has grown far beyond the blond bombshell image since she split with him in 2001, with a string of ratings triumphs centered on her forceful character.
“They’re completely different, but audiences love them both. Maybe when younger women watch, they subconsciously think they don’t have to worry about getting older if they can still look like them,” says Dieter Wedel, a top German helmer who has long known both.
“I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s remarkable that their careers are taking off at an age when most actresses are struggling,” he continues. “They’ve got unusual qualities. Ferres is a fantastic actress with great range. Furtwangler is phenomenal. She isn’t even really an actress, she’s a doctor!”
Wedel put Ferres in the center of his last ZDF film, a satire about morally dubious doctors titled “Mein Alter Freund Fritz” (My Old Friend Fritz) that was watched by more than 5 million in February.
The voluptuous Ferres has appeared in nearly 50 films, including Dietl’s 1992 pic “Schtonk” and his 1997 release “Rossini” as well as “Das Superweib” (The Super Woman).
They were far less successful, however, than her TV projects. Minis in recent years — “Der Himmel ueber Afrika,” “Neger, Neger, Schornsteinfeger” and “Die Manns” — all drew smashing ratings between 5 million and 10 million.
“It wasn’t at all a problem hitting 40,” says Ferres, who is sometimes called a German Marilyn Monroe. “It was a bigger crisis for me hitting 30.” She’s been especially busy since leaving Dietl, with 21 films in the last six years and becoming something of an advertising icon.
Furtwangler, by contrast, only drifted back into a long-dormant acting career six years ago after studying medicine, working as a doctor and raising two children with husband Hubert Burda, one of Germany’s most powerful publishing barons.
“I suddenly realized, in the middle of the night while doing about the 15th take on some scene while surrounded by all these weird people in the crew, how much I loved what I was doing,” Furtwangler tells Variety. “It gave me this huge buzz. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Furtwangler, whose 10 “Tatort” films in the last five years all drew sizzling ratings well above 9 million, admits she doesn’t need the money, and limits herself to only a few months’ work per year.
“There’s no doubt it’s an advantage to be able to turn down roles and stay relaxed about it all,” says Furtwangler, a popular talkshow guest who flashes a quick wit and deadpan humor. “It’s a different situation if you have to worry about how you’re going to pay the rent.”
She says she isn’t sure why ratings for her 90-minute “Tatort” films spike up, but Furtwangler, voted Germany’s “most erotic detective” in a magazine poll last year, admits her independence makes her a prickly thesp.
“I’ve come to identify with the character and understand the way she ticks,” says Furtwangler. “I used to have huge fights with the writers and producers. We had big blowout battles at first. I guess I was a big pain in the ass for them. Maybe I had no clue, but I just had a feeling this is the way this detective would be.”
The critics fell silent after her debut got 10.3 million viewers, the highest rating for “Tatort” in a decade. She doesn’t have to argue anymore.