‘News of the World’s’ Helena Zengel on Working With Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks

News of the World BTS
Bruce W. Talamon/Universal Pictu

News of the World” actor Helena Zengel has joined the ranks of Anna Paquin, Macaulay Culkin and Haley Joel Osment as one of the youngest Golden Globe nominees ever. At the age of 12, she landed a Globe, Critics Choice and SAG nomination in the supporting actress category, putting her on track for an Oscar nod. A newcomer to the American movie scene, Zengel has been acting since she was 3. She became a household name in her native Germany when she starred in 2019’s “System Crasher,” for which she received the best leading actress award at the Deutscher Filmpreis, the German equivalent of the Oscars.

Set in 1870, “News of the World” saw her acting opposite Tom Hanks as the young orphan girl Johanna Leonberger. In the film, Hanks seeks to reunite her with her relatives, and the two set out on an adventure across Texas.

You’ve earned all these nominations! How did you learn the news, and how are you finding it all?

There was so much going on; I had anxiety, but it was exciting. And then I had to do so many interviews, which was nice because everyone wanted to know how it was. I found out I had been nominated for the Golden Globe while I was out getting carrots for my horse. My mom was on the phone with my agency, and it was already 3 p.m. here. I hadn’t heard anything and thought, “Well, that’s that then.” And then I found out. I started screaming, laughing and crying; it was such a great day.

You have a horse — tell me about that.

I’ve been riding for seven, maybe eight years. I’ve had my own horse for about four years. She’s an Icelandic horse named Hekla, and she’s 12 years old. I go to the barn six days a week.

What do you remember about your audition process for the film?

I had a request from the director, Paul Greengrass, and the producers. I went to my first audition, which was actually in Berlin, and shortly after, I had to go to London because they wanted to meet me. So we flew to London on the Friday. I was so excited because I thought how great it would be to go to America. During my audition, I had a moment where I had to bite my mom, and I got the role.

What was it like shooting in New Mexico?

It was great to see all the cowboys in real cowboy boots. In Germany, if you walk around like that, people will think you’re weird. It was hot. We shot in the mountains and the desert, which I’m not used to. But it was an amazing place. We’d drive five minutes, and then we could go and hike.

What was your favorite scene to shoot?

The shootout was so much fun. Also, in the campfire scenes, Tom was trying to make funny faces while I was trying to put on a serious face.

Things you didn’t know about Helena Zengel:

Age: 12
Hometown: Berlin
Favorite film: “What Dreams May Come” — “That movie made me cry the whole time.”
Icon and idol: Lady Gaga. “She spoke up on sexual harassment, and that was great. My favorite songs are ‘Shallow’ and ‘Poker Face.’ Every time I hear that I want to get up and dance.”
Favorite food: Sushi with lots of wasabi
Fearless attitude: “I’ll jump from a thousand feet into the water. I’ll be scared, but if you don’t do it, you can never say you did something.”