IN CONVERSATION WITH EMILIA SCHÜLE
Interview by Alexander Mai and Jan Morrison Schmid
Having worked as an actress for almost two decades, Emilia Schüle emerges as one of Germany’s most promising talents within the scope of the international entertainment industry. Her new series, the French-British co-production Marie Antoinette (@marieantoinette) delivers a more distinct and modern take on the life of the former queen of France right before the French Revolution. Through playing the titular role, Emilia knows how to dive into various characters, as she did on one September afternoon, portraying common high school tropes. In Gucci.
AM: What makes you smile, and what scares you the most?
ES: Oh my god. What makes me smile? For some reason, I got into this baby algorithm at the moment. [Laughs] It’s basically clumsy babies doing cute stuff that’s making me smile at the moment. I really want to get out of this algorithm, though. And what scares me the most is if I find, like – do you know this feeling if you clean up your kitchen, like a thorough clean once every couple months, and then you find moths and old nuts in the back of your cupboard? And then you’re like, “shoot, I really hope I didn’t eat any of that.” So, I guess that’s a terrifying feeling.
AM: Well, yeah! I can totally understand it, and that’s so specific!
ES: I know; I just experienced it last week. So that’s why I thought of it. [Laughs]
AM: You have a new show coming out: Marie Antoinette (Enthoven & Travis 2022), where you portray the protagonist, the French Queen, right before the revolution. Was it scary to take on such an iconic role?
ES: Yeah, for sure. It was definitely scary, but it was also very, very exciting, and I was really looking forward to it. I had lots of fun portraying her. She’s a deeply misunderstood woman. People just perceive her as this extremely shallow, superficial, luxury addict girl. But she was much more than that; she was actually quite modern. She was a rebel, breaking the rules, questioning her surroundings and those stupid rules she had to obey. After all, she was fighting for her personal freedom and never really let go of her inner child. And of course, I was intimidated, but then again, as soon as I was on set on my first day of filming, I felt at home right away because the film set really is my home. I’ve been doing this for 19 years, and at some point, you just dive in.
AM: Considering the whole experience of filming the series, what’s the main takeaway from the show for you and for the audience at home?
ES: You will definitely feel much more for her. It will be an immensely subjective viewing experience of what life was like for her at Versailles. For example, in the first episode, where she leaves Austria and arrives at Versailles just to get married off to a person she has never seen before in her life. I believe that viewers will get a sense of how abusive this was — I mean, it is child marriage, after all. It must have been quite a traumatic experience, leaving your home and your family, especially your mother, behind. She actually never returned, and I think that’s very sad. She continued to live with a family that hated her in an extremely hostile environment where everyone was watching her every step, waiting for the next mistake to then get rid of her.
AM: I really didn’t know that, but now I am so excited to watch it! I also read that the show was written by an all-female writing team, around the writer of The Favorite (Lanthimos 2018). Since you also mentioned that you’ve been working in is in the industry for almost two decades now, have you noticed any significant changes or shifts when it comes to equality or inclusivity in the industry?
ES: Yes, sure, but definitely not fast enough! I mean, I think it’s quite interesting because if you look at Sofia Coppola’s film, it doesn’t really go down to the depth of Marie Antoinette’s character. Actually, after what you see in the film, you just think, “Well, what a spoiled girl!”, so interestingly, our show was written by women — Deborah Davis and the team around her —and she just knew that she wanted to create an entirely different take on Marie Antoinette in order to really show how modern, feminist, and emancipated she actually was. That’s something I really appreciate because, you know, this has to be corrected. I remember I was speaking to Deborah in the beginning when I was getting to know her, and I told her that I’d read the Stefan Zweig book about Marie Antoinette, and I wanted to throw it against a wall. I just wanted the show to be different than that.
AM: Understandable; it’s about time to change these narratives and move in the right direction.
ES: Yeah, for sure! A couple of years ago, I had this moment during the uprising of #meetoo, and I revisited all the characters that I had played in my life. It made me really depressed because there was a moment when I realized that I had hardly played any character that was not defined by a male character. I just understood that “Wow, I’ve only been playing love interests or a character speaking with another female about a male. “That is really, really depressing; I wish I wouldn’t have done that. Especially ever since then, I’m just grateful for every great character that has stuff going on other than what we’ve just talked about. And so, I got very excited about Wunderschön (Herfurth 2022) because there’s no male in this story. It is just a love story between [pauses]; I mean, it’s basically about self-love! It was an absolute exception — it was beautiful!
JMS: We need more movies like that! It’s still so male-dominated; it is still very one-sided, and hearing about your experience with Wunderschön (Herfurth 2022) and the storyline revolving around female characters makes one hopeful after all.
AM: Regarding that, what kind of role are you looking to play next? Is there something specific, a character type, or anything else you have in mind?
ES: To be honest, the next project is always unexpected; it’s always different in a way, and I just try to stay open-minded. Actually, I’m taking a year off at the moment. So, on the one hand, I’m hoping that nothing extraordinary comes around the corner [laughs]. Still, if my phone rang here in London and an amazing opportunity occurred, I would leave everything behind immediately. Especially if it’s a fantastic film! I really miss making films, because it has been a lot of TV shows lately. Making films has almost become a rarity.
JMS: What’s the difference between a TV series and a movie, also process-wise?
ES: A feature film is produced for the cinema: Everything is lit differently, and of course, also, in the end, the experience at the movies is an entirely different one because you sit in this room with people around you, and it’s this collective experience that everyone watches with 100% of their attention. Also, I guess many people would agree that it was mostly films where they had an emotional aha moment, you know? I feel like sitting in a cinema and watching a movie is definitely a more intense experience. Then again, filming a series from an actress’s perspective allows you to explore characters differently, but it is indeed more stressful because it can be more hectic to star in a TV show.
AM: I can imagine!
JMS: So much footage you have to capture for a series, right?
AM: We were also wondering, since you started acting so early in your life, was there ever a time where you were like, “Oh, maybe I want to do something else!” or were you always sure that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life?
ES: To be honest, there has never been anything more exciting or magical than acting for me. It’s unique, challenging, nerve-wracking, and a beautiful experience! Also, it’s just so exciting, you know? Of course, there are ups and downs, and sometimes you are not super satisfied with the outcome of one of your projects, but then the next film comes around, and it’s a beautiful adventure again. It really is a unique way of telling stories. Making a living through these creative processes is just something else, and I never want to change that.
AM: Which is your favorite movie that you starred in?
ES: Actually, I don’t really have one. [Laughs]
AM: And what about your favorite movie in general?
ES: This is so hard [laughs]; there are so many good ones! It’s impossible to decide on one.
AM: I want to come back to the movie Wunderschön (Herfurth 2022) real quick because you famously shaved your own head for a scene in the movie. What does that feel like?
ES: It’s definitely a bucket list thing. It’s something you just want to experience once in your life and, at best, perfectly captured in front of a camera. And I’m very, very grateful that I got to do that. Outside of a film set, I would have never had the guts to do it. I actually had many months to prepare for that moment, and I wasn’t freaking out at all. So, when you do it, you’re just super professional; I switched off all my feelings and knew that I had to get this right and that we had to get all the shots in. It was also very cute because my Mom was on set with me, and I guess it was more emotional for her in the end. She was just standing around the corner, crying her eyes out because, obviously, femininity is very bound to hair for her.
AM: It really must have been an intense experience, and it’s so nice to hear that you had your Mom with you for it!
JMS: So nice that you did it. At the end of the day, it’s just hair, right?
ES: Yeah, absolutely! I do wish every woman to shave her head once in her lifetime on her own terms because you learn so much about your own femininity. You will feel more feminine than ever.
AM: Would you ever do it again?
ES: I would!
AM: Do you have the feeling that it changed the way you see yourself? Or was it more like just accepting the fact that you don’t have hair anymore and still liking yourself?
ES: Exactly how you said it: You go through the process of self-acceptance. You get up every morning, and you’re basically ready to go — there is not much you can do about it, and you’re confronted with yourself because there are way fewer possibilities to hide something. You simply cannot hide behind your hair anymore, and I learned to embrace myself more and all the features of my face because it’s all that I have.
AM: If you could change one thing right now, what would that be?
ES: [Chuckles] Uhm, I’m living with this family in London at the moment, and I’m just so jealous: There is this two-and-a-half-year-old child, and she already speaks Chinese, English, and German, and I’m just really jealous. Why didn’t I learn more languages? But then again, there are of course, also more existential problems, I mean, I am very worried about the climate crisis and nuclear weapons and just lots of things in the world. There are a lot of things that need to be changed!
JMS: Heck yeah! One last question, you’re in London right now; what exactly is it that you are doing there?
ES: Yeah, I’m at Met Film School for the coming five months and doing a practical filmmaking course. In the end, I will have jumped into all the different departments behind the camera to just learn a little bit more, and so far, one week in, it is fantastic!
AM: I see! Changing perspectives; who knows, maybe we’ll see you writing a script or directing a movie in the future?
ES: Maybe, who knows? [Laughs]
Talent EMILIA SCHÜLE @emilia.schuele wearing @gucci
Photography JAN MORRISON SCHMID @janmorrisons
Creative Direction/Production ALEXANDER MAI @alexfromgermany
Hair & Makeup PHILIPP VERHEYEN @philippverheyen
Styling THERESA GROSS @theresagrs
Photo Assistant DOMINIK FRIESS @dominikfriess
Special thanks to @thorstenhansmade & @gucci