In Marie Kreutzer’s The Ground Beneath My Feet (Der Boden Unter Den Fuessen), Valerie Pachner plays a resolute and ruthlessly efficient business consultant who begins to lose her grip on reality.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Valerie following the film’s highly acclaimed screening at Berlinale 2019.
Q: Director Marie Kreutzer has said you are very different to your character, Lola. What was your understanding of Lola and could you relate to her in anyway?
A: Lola acts in a very harsh way, she is strict to herself and others. That made it quite difficult for me to like her. But I understood that this hardness and need to control everything comes from an inner pain. She suppresses her feelings in order to function, otherwise she would crack. I was looking for an inner softness or weakness that she would be eager to hide. This made me like her.
Q: Marie has also said Lola was based on Hitchcock’s Marnie. How did you prepare for the role? Did you take inspiration from Hitchcock or elsewhere?
A: I watched the film and other than her being blonde, I took in Marnie’s cool, distant manner. I found it interesting that you can’t really look through her in the beginning and would only slowly begin to witness that this inner vacuum, disconnection is her actual problem.
Concerning Lola’s professional world, a lucky coincidence helped me to prepare. I was on holiday in Thailand sometime after getting the role. In a pretty rundown backpacker hostel, I met various former consultants – all about my age, who had left their jobs for good. They were pretty open about it and gave me good insight, especially on how the mindset and strategies of this job would often be applied to their private lives.
I also talked to a psychiatrist to get to know more about Conny’s illness.
Q: What was your personal journey like playing such an intense lead role?
A: What surprised me was how physical the work [playing Lola] turned out to be. The constant tension she is always walking around with – sucking in her belly and clenching her teeth – transmitted into my body during the shoot. My jaw was still stiff weeks after.
Another challenge was to work with a character that is so hollow inside, there is nothing to hold onto except this loneliness and desperation. It made it very clear to me how strict control is the only way for her to navigate through life – and that is very exhausting.
Q: Can you talk about Lola’s relationships with Conny and Elise?
A: What I found most interesting about the relationship between Elise and Lola, is that although they are sharing this intimacy, there is always a feel of distance to it. Whenever Elise gets too close, Lola responds by pushing her further away. The fact that Elise is her boss adds a certain danger for Lola – she cannot let go and show what is really going on inside of her.
The relationship with Conny is the only one where we get a glimpse of the private Lola – which is why she tries so hard to keep it a secret. There is a lot of darkness to it, with their mother’s suicide and Conny’s illness, but in some moments the quiet warmth of sisterhood can be felt. Conny is the only one that challenges Lola to stop on this narrow and career-driven highway to success, but for Lola it all feels too much of a burden than a wake-up-call.
Q: How was your collaboration with director Marie Kreutzer?
A: Marie and me had a quiet understanding about the character that did not require many words. We both shared a compassion for Lola and she let me just walk through it, quietly shaking her head when after a take I would ask: “But isn’t she just too harsh, too hard, too unlikeable?”
Q: ‘The Ground Beneath My Feet’ has a female director and three prominent female characters. You’ve also collaborated with female directors such as Maria Schrader, Elisabeth Scharang and Vanessa Gräfingholt in the past. Is this something you are conscious of and appreciate in your work?
A: Artistically, it does not matter to me whether a director I work with identifies as a man, woman, trans, inter or whatever gender. It is the human being that counts, not the gender.
But from a political and social point-of-view, I have always enjoyed working with female directors. There is something empowering about it. You know: ‘we are a minority, so let’s do this.’ I experience the same with fellow actresses. It was always an empowering, respectful and loving collaboration – not a competitive one.
Q: You also have a role in Terence Malick’s upcoming war drama ‘Radegund’. What was it like getting to work with Terence?
A: Working with him was definitely very important to me. I think I have never dived so deeply into the whole world of a story before than I did with Radegund. It allowed me to feel very free within my work, I was just moving within this world. There were no questions like: “Would my character do that?” It felt like anything could happen, yet it was never random.
Q: I believe you are also shooting on the next film in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series. Can you reveal anything about that?
A: It is a prequel and tells the story of how Kingsman was formed. We just started shooting in London and it’s been very exciting and fun.
Q: It must be exciting getting roles like Lola and also getting to work on big franchise films. How excited are you for the future and have you got any ambitions can share with us?
A: I honestly don’t think too much about the future at the moment. I love film as an art form and am just so happy and grateful to get these opportunities to work with all these wonderful people.
Title photo by Mathias Bothor