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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Afire.

What was it like, collaborating with director Christian Petzold for a third time?
Paula Beer: Well, working with Christian is just fun. And his way of working is different from everything I’ve experienced so far. When they asked me to do Transit, the first movie we did together, I was like, well, we are going see how it’s going to be in real life. But the thing is, he really takes his time for rehearsals in the morning. There’s no one there except the actors and the director. Then the DOP will come at the time we’re ready. And we go down to makeup, costume is already on rehearsal, and then they prepare the set. We come back, we shoot one shot for this angle, then the next angle, next angle, okay. Then rehearse again for the next scene. So it’s really focused and calm and it’s just easy to lose yourself in the story because you’re not interrupted by technical things. It’s really about the story. And Christian has this vibe of, he just loves cinema and he has this energy of telling stories and being like, “great, you know, I saw that movie. I want to show you that scene because it reminds me of what we’re trying to do here.” And so it’s like a dictionary of atmospheres and working now for the third time with him, of course I got to know him very well during the last two films, and now coming together again, it’s just a huge gift working with him because it’s so unique and so, so relaxed and you can really dive into these characters and be like, “okay, but what is it really about?” And not just the first scene, but yeah, it’s just, it’s really, really fun.

you have to be really relaxed to laugh

I read that Christian was inspired by things like Éric Rohmer movies, Chekov plays, and so on. Is that helpful for you, as an actor, to engage with his the inspirations?
PB: It can help some, but I think sometimes for me, it doesn’t help to know the intellectual basis. Because being like, “okay, that scene, it comes from that scene, or it comes from that movie”… maybe that won’t do anything to me as an actor and I’ll just say, “well, yeah, even though now I know it, my heart hasn’t changed about it.” But what helps for me is to understand what Christian’s view is about the inspiration, or how he sees movies and what he sees in these scenes or in these books. And I think for me as an actor, it’s helpful to understand where his mind is because when he talks to me, I’m like, “okay, now I know what you mean.” And I can translate that into my actor language and be like, “okay, I need more this and that.”

How do you see Nadia’s journey? What was Nadia’s role for you in this story?
From the first time I read the script for Afire, I liked the story, but I didn’t know who was going to play Leon. And I said to myself, “okay, this is quite challenging. A main character that is all the time really, like with himself grumpy sometimes, really an asshole.” And then Thomas was reading Leon for the rehearsal. I thought he was amazing, because he brings this comedy to it. And otherwise, if there wasn’t a sense of humor, it would be horrible to follow this main character. And during the preparation, I was just wondering… maybe what Nadia does is, while Leon is grumpy, she brings the balance. And what I really love about her is that she’s so connected to herself, but at the same time in contact with people around her. So she’s in a very good way and… yeah, is just a really loving human being. And, and what I also like about how that she’s… because still in Germany at least, most of the female characters, it’s centered at male characters and a traditional character. When Leon says, “well, I’m in love with you,” a traditional female character would say, “oh, really? I didn’t know.” Or, “oh, thank you for, for talking about your emotions.” And she doesn’t do that. She’s like, “okay, but I don’t have time. I need to go.” And I love that, that she’s so… she’s just herself and not like, “oh my God, a man has feelings for me!” But instead Nadia just says, “yeah, but life is different… And life is like really shit right now. And you could have thought about that before you said that.”

In many ways, this is almost a ‘coming of age’ story. Did you discuss that aspect with your collaborators at all?
PB: The preparation conversations are a bit different than after you’ve seen the movie, because sometimes what we talked about during the preparation, even though it was probably important, I’m sure Christian has other things that he won’t talk about with us during the preparation. And then, for me, it’s like discovering the movie as you shoot: there are themes I didn’t anticipate being so strong in the finished film. And I… for me as an actress, I’m always like, concentrated about, okay, the connection, the emotions. And then seeing the movie itself, for me, the first time, I just think, “okay, I’m really watching a movie.” And seeing yourself onscreen is always weird. I think don’t know if humans are made for it. And to see yourself in a character, it’s like, “ah, okay, whatever.” But every movie with Christian is special because in a way he’s really intellectual and really emotional at the same time. And there’s so many topics in it. Umm… I think you could say this film is about a coming of age, but then again, maybe not at all. So I think it’s everything. and nothing. And that’s what I like about working with him and his about his movies that you can see all the things, and at end you can discuss so many things and so many topics, but in the end you can just watch and be like, “oh, that was surprisingly sad.” And then, then you’re, that’s it. And that’s fine as well.

Which scene were you most concerned about, when you were in preproduction? As far as how you were going to play it?
PB: Well, I think the the goulash scene at the sea when Nadja is falling down with her with her bike and then it’s written that she bursts out laughing. I was like, “oh, shit.” Because laughing for me is really difficult. Maybe that’s a personal thing. I don’t have problem like crying in character. That is not a big challenge for me. But with laughing, you have to be really relaxed to laugh. If you are shooting, there’s always pressure, even though it was Christian, when you’re like, yeah, “it’s easy, but you know, okay, we need to get this done, this better be good because we have maybe just one take,” because that’s Christian’s style. No pressure, but laugh. And I was kind of afraid of that scene.