Interview: Maren Ade on “TONI ERDMANN”

Writer/Director Maren Ade Photo by Iris Janke, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Writer/Director Maren Ade Photo by Iris Janke, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Winfried just lost his old dog, Willie. He lives alone and does not get much opportunity to see his always busy daughter, Ines. He even jokes around saying that he had to hire a substitute daughter to cut his toenails as his real daughter is never around. And when he feels that it’s not going as great as Ines tries to present it to him, he decides to make a second attempt to help her, not as father Winfried, but as Toni Erdmann, a businessman who deals with couching and outsourcing personnel.

Maren Ade who writes and directs the film that is minutes away from, most likely, to receive an Academy Award for her piece of art called, “Toni Erdmann”. “Toni Erdmann” is an excellent movie of a heartwarming illustrations of the relationship between father and daughter, which I am sure, you would not like to miss.

During the Toronto International Film Festival I sat down with Maren Ade who gladly shared her thoughts about her movie, ideas and of course, her father, who inspires her to write and direct such a piece of art.

MOVIEMOVESME: I wonder where Winfried or Toni come from?

Maren Ade: Winfried is inspired by my father; he has a good repertoire and humor in general but he had also did something for a while with his fake teeth. Some 20 years ago, when I was in Munich there was the premiere of the first Austin Powers and for a giveaway they gave these fake teeth and I gave it to him. It suited him very well and then he started to make jokes with it but he never stayed really long in the character. This was just the little part I borrowed from him and I was interested in the family topic in general which can sometimes be very static. I found it a good way to start where two family members try to get out through roleplay.

MOVIEMOVESME: When writing this role did you have Peter Simonischek in mind?

Maren Ade: I believe very much in the casting process and did a casting otherwise I wouldn’t have put them both together; I really have to see it. Even if you put two actors in a sofa it already tells a story. So we made a casting with him and Alessandra separately. I think I auditioned 20 men for the role and he was perfect for Tony because not only did I had to find Winnifred but also Tony who was very different. He had a rockstar thing with long hair so it was perfect.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about developing the drama vs humor and the father – daughter relationship part of the story?

Maren Ade: When I started with the project, I’d made two dramas before. I had the feeling I wanted to make something like this; I was interested in the genre. While writing I found out that I was always dragged into drama and I needed a big drama with comedy in the end. I had Winnifred and a lot of the humor comes from desperation, out of love, out of the wish to come closer to her. He’s playing the comedy for her and it’s me doing for the audience. So it didn’t feel like I was doing a comedy.

MOVIEMOVESME: It seems like in this movie you’re creating humor from moments that click.

Maren Ade: Yeah, Winfried’s getting his power back from his acts. It also has something to do with power shift happening in different directions. For her she doesn’t know if he’s a friend or her enemy or what’s going on with him now.

MOVIEMOVESME: Why “The Greatest Love of All”?

Maren Ade: I was looking for a song where you thought there was this song where she was younger. It needed to be something from the past but I didn’t want to say it in the film. I like that it’s a very touching, kitschy text in the song and she’s doing it with a lot of aggression.

MOVIEMOVESME: How many times did it take to nail the karaoke scene?

Maren Ade: When you’re working on a dialogue you can be precise but with a scene you’re more like a football coach where there’s one or two things you can say. The thing is I wanted her to sing the song although she doesn’t really want to sing and it’s like a big no-go. When we were rehearsing, we taped a version we called Vegas, without the aggression. At a certain point, I showed her this version and said her let’s try out something and take this aggressive mood. She was pissed she had to do it again but that’s how it is sometimes. Then she sang it the whole way through. It was way too touching and I had to ask her to go a little easier. So it was the worst moment for a director.

MOVIEMOVESME: Were you ever hesitant about making such a long film that runs for 160 minutes?

Maren Ade: Yeah, but I did not know it would be so long because during shooting I did not have someone who was taking note of the time, which you usually have on set but I don’t like. We found out in the editing that it is the strongest version. I tried to shorten it but it wasn’t better.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about Winfried and Tony combining and the way they both helped each other?

Maren Ade: They were also coming close to themselves so when he’s finding more radical but honest way of communicating, he was talking much more her language and she comes closer to herself. She takes over the anarchy that he brings and gets rid of all the roles she’s playing. I was interested in that she gives up those roles and he starts playing roles and they still meet but he’s completely gone the moment when they hug each other. That’s the moment he’s not really there.


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