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Past Article

"A Nice Little Underground Sensation"
By Nina Rehfeld
October 11, 2002 - 11:52 AM PDT

"This will get out there, whether it's a big hit or not."

How many takes did you actually shoot? It looks as if everything worked right off.

It really wasn't very many. Sometimes, it did feel like a documentary. [laughs] For example, I sang some of the songs with live vocals, and in order to do that, you have to have multiple cameras. For editing. And those really were just one or two takes. It was just impossible to do any more.

Do you think that because you necessarily became a workaholic that the performance came out better?

Maybe. I was in the editing room, and there was certainly a lot of bad acting that I had to fix. Not bad acting, but not as good as it should have been. And with the other actors, it was difficult. I'd be doing a love scene with a guy and saying "Cut!" into his mouth. "Your beard is hurting me, let's try it again," or whatever. It wasn't as organic as it could have been. Could have been a little bit more fun. But I couldn't cast anyone else, so. Next time I'll do it with other people.

How do you feel about the terrific reception?

Well, we're still a nice little underground sensation. We're never going to be a big thing.

Oh, it won't take long, believe me.

Don't threaten me. [laughs] I prefer to be this small. It's a lot easier.

Over here, there's quite a chance to hit the big one.

Well, there are better audiences here, more intelligent audiences. I think that in America we'll always be a nice, small thing. An underground thing. Even if we're hip. The stage play was never that popular. It was always 200, 250 seat theaters. It was never Broadway. And I prefer that.


It's more relaxing. Like John Waters once said: He is recognized. But only by the people he wants to recognize him.

Do you have a problem with fame?

I've had a lot of friends who've become big TV stars and so on -- because I'm old and I know a lot of actors -- and I don't like what happens to their lives. They can't go anywhere.

Can you help it, though?

I can. Because Hedwig will never be huge. And I'm also not going to act for a few years. I'm not interested in acting for a while.

How about directing?

Definitely directing and writing. And the stage.

But what about how you were received at Sundance?

Well, Sundance is still not a broad, mainstream thing. It's more the film cognoscenti who know about it. It's fine that way. And it's lovely to be respected by the people you respect. But when it's too much, it's not fun anymore.

But you're not being courted by the majors now.

No, we were actually funded by New Line, which is kind of a mini-major type of thing. So we're in the perfect place. And it's Fine Line, the art house version. They did Dancer in the Dark and so on, so that's perfect. Not too much and not too little. The important thing about being broader, though, is that I really would love kids in small towns who maybe need, you know -- I would like to have seen it when I was a teenager. Because of video and the Internet and DVDs, I think this will get out there, whether it's a big hit or not.

Did you have a New Line producer looking over your shoulder when you were shooting?

No, we had great people from New Line. They're all fired now. Partly because of the AOL merger. But they were absolutely supportive and that's very rare. There were only a couple of little things that they suggested, and at first, I was, like, "How dare you?" But then, I realized, it worked aesthetically, too. We were very lucky in that way.

Do ideas just come to you or do you sit down and concentrate on coming up with something?

I don't know. I do work. You know, some people are all, "I must wait for it to happen... And I will wait six months." [laughs] I think rock 'n' roll people are like that sometimes. But for me, when I go to work, when I go to that place, and sometimes it's hard to get to that place, something will happen. And I really prefer to work with other people.

So the next thing I'm writing, a children's story, I'm co-writing it with someone. And that's much more fun and much less lonely. I come from the theater where it's always collaborative. That's how I'll always work because I don't like to be too lost. You get to the point where, with some filmmakers, it's no longer interesting to anyone else in the world.

Is it hard for you to balance comedy and drama?

I guess my favorite films always had that balance. It's a delicate one. Some of my favorite movies from the 70s were the most successful at doing that. It was always right on the edge. Altman sometimes had it perfectly and Hal Ashley and sometimes Mike Nichols in the 70s or Woody Allen. To me, there has to be some humor in it, or else what's the point of living?

With some of the grimmer filmmakers, you can appreciate their craft, but when there isn't a glimmer of humor in it, you wonder what's wrong. And whether I really need to sit through this. But you have to believe it, too. I mean, I'm not fully satisfied with the film, but I hope that there's a balance to the point where Hedwig seems like she could exist. It's possible for her to be wearing those clothes, to come from East Berlin, to afford that wig, to be in that mall. Otherwise, it's not really funny.

Especially for first-time directors who star in their own movies, the effect is that they seem very autobiographical.

Right. Yes, I have no penis. [laughs] And I'm from Prenzlauer Berg now, too.

I actually got a little bored with that because there are so many theater pieces where it's.... [solemn] "This is my life. Isn't it... interesting?" And no, it's not. Sometimes, it's just therapy. I mean, ok, this was therapy a little bit, too, but I hate the whole "just because it happened to you, it's interesting" type of theater.

But sometime it is.

Sometimes it is. By accident. But I found it indulgent for me. Maybe it's because I'm a shy person. But it's true.

You collaborated with Girls Against Boys. Whose idea was this?

It actually happened that my composer went to school with them. So he used them for scoring and also for the incidental songs, songs on the radio, etc. They played on those. We were lucky. We had so many people in every capacity help us out. We'd been around long enough that people had heard of us, so it was great to get the best.

Are you going to film another movie?



I'm just working on this children's story right now. I'm sure it'll take a while.

But don't you have an offer from Senator Film to make the film based on the life of Michaela Lindner?

Well, I don't want to go back to the same place, with the transsexual theme and so on. I love what Todd Haynes is doing, I love entering or creating a new genre.

You don't want to get shoved in a box.

Not just that. I get bored. Doing something like that gives you a career in some ways. People go, "Oh, get this person who does that thing." You can actually get more work that way. But people like Ang Lee, how do you say, "Give me another Ice Storm, give me another Sense and Sensibility?" Well, people do, but he's not interested.

Would genre would you like to approach next?

Children's film is something I'm very interested in. A Roald Dahl, J. M. Barrie world that's for adults and children. A little bit nasty and a little bit funny. This is a world I want to explore, but using modern music. And then, maybe some Pinter-type piece where it's two people in a room. Whatever happens.

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"She was much more interesting."
"This will get out there, whether it's a big hit or not."

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Nina Rehfeld
A freelance journalist based in Berlin, Nina Rehfeld's reviews, interviews and articles have been published in several major German papers and magazines. For more info, see the Kulturbotschaft.

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