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On the occasion of the festival Sotto le Stelle dell’Austria 2019, actor and director Markus Schleinzer will present the film Angelo, his second feature. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with him and hear more about this important work and his prolific career. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: Your film, Angelo, was very successful in Toronto, at the Viennale and at the Torino Film Festival. Now we finally have the opportunity to watch it in Rome as well. Can you tell us something about the character of Angelo Soliman? When did you first hear about him?

Markus Schleinzer: I first heard about Angelo Soliman when I was a child. He is almost a mythological figure that is part of the many legends of my city. In short: Angelo Soliman practically belongs to the history of the city of Vienna. For this reason, even as a child I often heard a lot of stories about him. However, the moment I started researching about his character, I quickly discovered that most of the anecdotes about him were completely invented. Almost as if they were fairy tales. And that immediately interested me, just as it was interesting to learn about other external stories as well. What came out of it is a kind of story about history that, at the same time, also concerns many stories of today.

M. P.: Your film is therefore, even today, very topical. Did you also in some way want to portray today’s society?

M. S.: I believe that questioning and discussing the human being has been a central issue for many centuries and has led to many disputes and subsequent wars. I was particularly interested in focusing on questions such as “Who am I?”, “What are my limits?” or “Where are my boundaries as a human being?”.

M. P.: Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher also plays a very important role in the film. How did you decide to choose her?

M. S.: There were usually two routes used to bring child slaves to Europe. In practice, there were boats that dealt exclusively with the transport of children, although some of them were also on other boats. However, these boats were mainly directed to Italy and France. This seemed very interesting to me right away and I decided to include it in the screenplay. So the initial idea was to look for an Italian actress who could play the countess to whom Angelo Soliman is taken. Alba Rohrwacher was the first name I thought of. I know Alba and have always thought she was a very good actress. Wonderful. The problems arose when we did not receive funding from Italy to shoot the film, to the point where I thought I had to orient myself towards France to find someone to play the role of the countess. But I didn’t know who could do it the way I wanted and in the end I chose Alba anyway. We got on well with her from the beginning. She is an incredible actress. She always tries to go as deep as possible into what she is working on, she is always searching for truth.

M. P.: You made Angelo seven years after Michael, your debut feature. Although the two films are set in chronologically distant periods, is there anything they have in common?

M. S.: Yes, of course… me (laughs)! Me and my way of making films. And of course both films are about someone living on the fringes of society. They are about outcasts who shape their own lives, often creating a very controversial world. Michael is a dangerous criminal, a paedophile who does everything he can to build his ‘hidden’ world, while at the same time creating a very specific self-image to be presented in society. This kind of character has always interested me, because it is simply exciting to see how they manage to create their own place in the world.

M. P.: During your career, you also worked as a casting director for directors like Ulrich Seidl, Michael Haneke, Michael Glawogger, Jessica Hausner or Stefan Ruzowitzky, just to name a few. With regard specifically to your experience with Michael Haneke, however, you accomplished some particularly important assignments. Can you tell us something about that?

M. S.: So, I started with this job and have been doing it for seventeen years. Basically, everything I know about staging or acting I learnt this way, without having studied before, simply from directors, actors and actresses and from the camera itself at casting time. What does it mean to be able to act? Why is someone a good actor? Why, sometimes, is he not so good? What does it mean to be a good director? That, basically, was my school. And then, a long time ago, I met Michael Haneke. Meeting him was very significant. With him I experienced what it was like to always work with the same team, until he took me into his own team. I worked there for many years and he immediately involved me often in his work, initially entrusting me with small tasks that allowed me to try my hand at staging something, until I was completely in charge of directing the extras in the film The Piano Teacher. On that occasion I focused on what was happening “in the background”, on the gestures each character in the background had to make and how the extras themselves had to move. It was a very exciting task. After this experience, I said to myself: “Now start walking on your own two feet, it’s time to make a film of your own”. If I had not had this experience, I would probably never have become a director and I would still be working for other directors, which, however, I in no way want to belittle, because these are still very important experiences. Austria is, in fact, a small country, as is the film industry, where everyone knows each other and there are frequent exchanges of ideas. There has always been a strong collaboration among all of us and I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to learn a lot from this.

M. P.: What can you tell us about your acting career?

M. S.: Acting has been a very important part of my career. However, acting has also been a way to pay the rent. In any case, I find acting to be something extremely exciting for those who really know how to do it, almost a game. I don’t mind acting, from time to time, in some other film, on the contrary, I do it with pleasure, but I think my ideal dimension is another.

M. P.: Are there any directors or actors who have been particularly significant to you?

M. S.: I don’t feel like naming any particular actor or actress. But I find it extremely interesting when, while acting, you manage to create something magical, a special alchemy among the actors on stage. I am not a particular fan of those who are only used to performing monologues, of those who are used to always working alone. Although there are very good actors who specialise exclusively in monologues, I prefer those who manage to find a bond with other people. On stage, those who are used to performing alone often feel as if they lose something, even if they are talented. Personally, I feel particularly suited to teamwork and I also expect teamwork from my colleagues, otherwise things will never work out.

M. P.: One more question: what advice would you give to a young person who wants to become an actor or director?

M. S.: Do only what you are suited for. It makes no sense to do something when you know you are going against your nature. Just as it makes no sense to do something just because others expect certain things of you. You always have to do something that really convinces you, then you just have to hope that people find us interesting as we are. In this regard, I would like to quote Alba Rohrwacher once again, who said that she once went through a deep personal and professional crisis, until she received advice from a friend who told her that each of us is special in our own way and only by being completely ourselves will we really be able to connect with those who appreciate our work. Personally, I find this a good story, because only when you can find something that suits you, will you really be able to get noticed, even if you are not the only person on earth. I personally totally embrace this theory. And if I have to give someone advice, it is to find one’ own way, whether one wants to act or make films. One should avoid imitating someone else, since the person one wants to imitate already exists and there is no need for a duplicate. One must always do what one feels close to, being fully aware of oneself and one’s own possibilities.

Info: the page of Markus Schleinzer on iMDb