European Film Promotion spotlights 10 talented actors

European Film Promotion once again spotlights 10 talented actors from across the Continent, as chosen by a jury, ready for their Berlin closeups.

PILOU ASBAEK
Denmark
Physically imposing, with the intensity of a young Russell Crowe, Asbaek’s starring performance in Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm’s hard-hitting prison drama “R” commanded instant attention from viewers. But for the 28-year-old, it was merely the latest in a string of emotionally charged roles — from crippled Iraq veteran in the acclaimed DRTV series “The Killing II” to the boyfriend of a cancer patient in “Crying for Love.” After such trials, the domestic fireworks of Pernille Fischer Christensen’s “A Family” (a competition entry at last year’s Berlinale) must have seemed like a Sunday picnic.
Asbaek graduated from the Danish National Theater School in 2008 and made his screen debut the same year with Niels Arden Oplev’s pic “Worlds Apart,” his performance earning a nomination for Danish broadcaster TV2′s People’s Choice Award. More recently, he could be seen in the DRTV series “The Government,” directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen.
So far his work has been confined to his homeland, but Asbaek is looking farther afield: “There’s no doubt we have a lot of talent here, which I think has a lot to do with the training that we receive at our theater schools. And I’m always very grateful when I see so many Scandinavian actors working internationally, since I’d love one day to work in Europe or the States.”

DOMHNALL GLEESON
Ireland
At 27, and with a wealth of theater experience behind him — including a Tony nomination for his role in Martin McDonagh’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” on Broadway — Dublin-based Gleeson spent the past 12 months building an enviable onscreen resume, with credits including Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go,” the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” (which opens this year’s Berlinale) and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
He also played his first film lead, as the porn-obsessed rural lad drawn into a complicated relationship with an aging New Zealand call girl, in Tom Hall’s dark comedy “Sensation.”
Next up is “Judge Dredd” for Brit helmer Pete Travis, and then an adaptation Flann O’Brien’s cult novel “At Swim-Two-Birds,” which will also mark the directorial debut of his father, thesp Brendan Gleeson.
“I think, honestly, what I’m proudest of,” says Domhnall, “is just being part of this new generation of Irish and English actors that are coming up. I feel like there’s some amazing talent coming out of here, now. And it’s not tied to any one tradition — the Method, for example. There doesn’t seem to be one way to do it any more; the system’s not as formalized — and neither are the people. I’ve met some amazing folk along the way, and that’s been a great part of the experience.”

ALEXANDER FEHLING
Germany
Fehling has already made a ripple on the international scene, with a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). He made his film debut in 2006, in Robert Thalheim’s “And Along Come Tourists,” which earned him the Young German Cinema Award for actor at the Munich Filmfest. And auds will see the 29-year-old in the lead of Andres Veiel’s debut pic, “If Not Us, Who?” which world premieres in competition at this year’s Berlinale.
Asked if he feels he’s a part of the so-called Berlin School, Fehling laughs: “No, that’s much more a description for a group of directors who have a similar way of telling their stories. In fact, I don’t feel that I’m part of any certain style or group or whatever. I’m just looking for characters that really have the chance to breathe, that’s all.
“What I’m really noticing is a longing for the ‘great cinema’ — stories that are bigger than life but which affect us through massive conflicts and strong characters. There are directors and writers here who’ve really learned their craft, and are inspired by films all over the world — but are brave enough to throw all the knowledge away and get back to the playground that cinema can be.
“I like that a lot because it’s creating characters and stories that don’t get stuck within some kind of naturalism. German cinema,” he concludes happily, “is getting more and more out of its head.”

SYLVIA HOEKS
Netherlands
Spotted at the age of 14 by the Elite agency, Hoeks traveled Europe working as a model for a number of years before commencing her studies at the Maastricht Theater Academy.
Her breakthrough came shortly after graduation, in 2007, with a scene-stealing part in Jos Stelling’s “Duska” (2007), for which she won a best supporting actress award at the Dutch Film Festival. Her first lead came two years later, in Ben Sombogaart’s “The Storm” (2009), which in turn earned her the actress award at Portugal’s Festroia fest. She now can be seen in the titular role in Rudolf van den Berg’s “Tirza,” the Netherlands’ entry for the foreign-language Oscar race.
Dividing her time between TV, film and the stage, the multilingual Hoeks (fluent in Dutch, English, German and French) continues to be fascinated by the transformative aspect of the craft: “When I’m acting, I actually find I can express myself better; sometimes it’s like I can be more myself when I’m playing a role. Or alternatively, I can lose myself completely in another character.
“And if, on top of that, that role contributes to a positive working experience — and that, in turn, leads to a great movie or play — then that’s an incredibly satisfying thing. The feeling that you’ve achieved more than you could ever have done alone is priceless, I think.”

CLARA LAGO
Spain

Born into a showbusiness family (her father is a production designer, her mother a voiceover actress), Lago never seriously contemplated another career. She auditioned for her first role at age 10, and had, within two years, scored a Goya nomination for emerging actress for her title role in Imanol Uribe’s “Carol’s Journey” (2002). She has worked more or less continuously in film and television ever since.
Among her credits are starring roles in Manuel Gomez Pereira’s thriller “The Hanged Man” (2008) and Daniel Sanchez Arevalo’s forthcoming laffer “Primos.” She was a headstrong daughter in Oskar Santos’ “For the Good of Others” (2010), and recently returned from Bogota, where she shot “Bunker” for Colombian helmer Andres Baiz.
With her striking looks and her flawless, American-accented English (the result of almost a year spent, as a teenager, living in Grand Rapids, Mich.), Lago has the potential for real breakout success; her dream, she says, is to work for Clint Eastwood (“a master”) or Woody Allen.
“Acting in English is a challenge, of course — it’s always a little harder in a language that’s not your own,” she says. “But it can actually be a good thing, because it’s not as close to your own experience. You have to think differently, you react differently — and so it’s easier, in a way, to become someone else entirely.”

NATASHA PETROVIC
Macedonia
Born in Stip, a small town in the east of Macedonia, Petrovic first set foot onstage in the local theater when she was 10 years old.
It’s hard to imagine a more unassuming debut; nevertheless, the result was profound: “I guess those couple of plays left an impression on me,” she says. The first official Shooting Star to represent her homeland, Petrovic is regarded one of the most talented up-and-coming actresses in the former Yugoslavia.
Having made her screen debut in Milcho Manchevski’s 2007 pic “Shadows,” the 22-year-old (“reminiscent of a young Ingrid Bergman,” according to the EFM jury) has shown herself to be unafraid of difficult material. As a Muslim schoolteacher in Juanita Wilson’s “As If I’m Not There,” struggling to survive her internment in a brutal concentration camp during the Bosnian war, Petrovic displayed unusual dignity and commitment in a role that stripped her both physically and emotionally.
And next? “I really don’t know,” she says. “This is a completely new experience for me. I just feel fortunate, really, that as an actor, I’m part of a profession that has a chance to make dreams a reality.”

MARIJA SKARICIC
Croatia
Even amid the well-orchestrated chaos of Arsen A. Ostojic’s ensemble comedy “A Wonderful Night in Split” (2004), Skaricic stood out at once. As a junkie willing to bed a visiting American sailor in exchange for heroin, she adroitly sidestepped the usual demimonde cliches; the performance won her the Heart of Sarajevo Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival.
She followed “Wonderful Night” with something very different, a romantic comedy (albeit with a quintessentially Balkan title: “What’s a Man Without a Moustache?”), and then, shifting gears again, to a quiet, understated drama — Swiss helmer Andrea Staka’s “Fraulein” (aka “The Waitress,” 2006), which won the Golden Leopard at that year’s Locarno, and earned Skaricic her second Heart of Sarajevo.

Now 33, and with a healthy list of credits — most recently in Dalibor Matanic’s “Mother of Asphalt” — Skaricic is unexpectedly modest about her achievements.
“It’s funny,” she says. “Today, when I asked myself about my acting, I realized I hadn’t done it for a while. Many things have changed — or perhaps it’s truer to say that I’ve changed. Yet I’m starting to feel this profession as a good friend that helps me grow up in all directions, through which I’ve had opportunities to discover a lot about myself and others.”

ANDREA RISEBOROUGH
U.K.
A former member of the National Youth Theater, Newcastle-born Riseborough graduated from London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 2005 and quickly established herself as a force to be reckoned with, earning the Ian Charleson Award — which recognizes exceptional classical stage work by actors under 30 — the following year. Meanwhile, her filmography grew, working with helmers like Roger Michell (“Venus,” 2006) and Mike Leigh (“Happy Go Lucky,” 2008).
But it was her 2009 portrayal of the young Margaret Thatcher in the BBC television drama “The Long Walk to Finchley” that catapulted her to mainstream attention. A BAFTA-TV award nomination followed.
Now she’s playing another famous historical figure — Wallis Simpson, the American socialite whose affair with King Edward VIII plunged pre-WWII Britain into crisis — in Madonna’s forthcoming feature “W.E.” Riseborough is cheerily undaunted by the task.
“A historical character who lives within a piece of film is not at all dissimilar to an imaginary one existing in the same piece,” she says. “They’re both elements with which to tell a story, and they’re both versions of a truth best constructed to tell it.
“The difference is that the factual research that’s available is all encompassing for one, and a vast, blank canvas for another. But whichever choices I make, I try to make them without ego and because they best serve the piece.”

ALICIA VIKANDER
Sweden
Born in Goteborg, Sweden, in 1988, Vikander was already a stage veteran – — she had been performing in musicals and with the Gothenburg Opera since the age of 7 — when her career blossomed at the Royal Swedish Ballet School.
She studied there for nine years. Intending to pursue a career as a professional dancer, she found her plans derailed.
“I quit, in the end, because I had to. Like many dancers, I had a lot of injuries. And it was a tough decision,” she says. “But even when I was doing ballet, I was studying drama on the side, and also working onstage and on TV. So it seemed a natural choice to keep on with what seems, now, to have been the right decision all along, the one in my heart.”
Parts in various Swedish TV series followed before Vikander made her bigscreen debut in Lisa Langseth’s “Pure,” which won the Flash Forward Award at last year’s Pusan fest. She followed it with the lead in Ella Lemhagen’s forthcoming “Crown Jewels.”
“Because of my background, my training, I think I have an unusual knowledge of my body and how to express feelings physically,” she says. “I work closely with the director to build a character from the way she moves, walks, stands. … I try to draw on all those physical qualities to really inhabit the role.”

NIK XHELILAJ
Albania
A native of Tirana, Xhelilaj graduated from the city’s Academy of Fine Arts in 2008, majoring in drama — by which time he’d already garnered considerable local attention via a string of acclaimed legit performances, notably as Stanley in Tennessee Williams’ classic “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
He made his screen feature debut the same year — first in Piro & Eno Milkani’s coming-of-age drama “The Sorrow of Madame Schneider” (2008), and then in Artan Minarolli’s “Alive!” in which he played a hedonistic college student who finds himself plunged into a medieval-style blood feud.
But it was last year’s German-Albanian co-production, “The Albanian,” directed by Johannes Naber, that brought him to international attention, earning him actor awards at the Moscow, Prishtina and Antalya fests, and making him something of a rarity on the Euro film scene: a bona-fide star from a still badly underrepresented territory.
It’s not an honor he takes lightly: “I’m very enthusiastic about (being one of the 2011 EFM Shooting Stars), and I really appreciate the jury’s decision. It’s a huge opportunity, to be presented to the international film industry and media like this, and very important for me, because reaching out to new projects, both within Albania and outside of it, is definitely one of my goals.”


More from the Berlin Preview:
Can ‘King’ spur fling? | New angles on Berlin’s Perspektive | What the buzz? | Dining guide
EFP Shooting Stars 2011

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