MM: What’s the origin of Toni Erdmann, the character that Winfried transforms into to play with Ines?

MA: My own father would joke around wearing fake teeth for a while and there was Andy Kaufman who had this character Toyi Clifton, who is a very over-the-top guy, very bad bar singer from Las Vegas. All in all, Kaufman humor is something that I found very modern and radical.

MM: Sandra, Ines works is the financial world, which is very different you’re your life as an actress. How in-depth did your knowledge of this sub-culture/business had to be?

SH: I’m thankfully Maren did a lot of research in Romania and that I could benefit from that. I didn’t have to do it all myself, she gave me interviews that she did with women in this business. We had the chance to meet a German consultant who was actually working in Romania at the time. I had the chance to watch her work. I watched presentation that she was preparing. There are a few books that are about this business and I saw a few films. I was a bit familiar with the business, but I always had the feeling that I shouldn’t be too familiar with it because Ines wants to be so good in this. If I would have known too much about this then I wouldn’t have been nervous anymore. I think it was necessary for her to be nervous about if she is good enough or not.

MM: In a sense, is Winfried making fun of the financial world through Toni Erdmann?   

MA: There is a lot of performance involved in that world. That’s also what I found so interesting about that. Ines gives up a performance more and more until it falls apart. She lets the roles she plays aside and get rids of them, and Winfried finds himself while playing a character. He wants to play with her. She is not like that, but with the song she shows him, “I can do something like that too. If I want to I can put on a strange performance.”

MM: One of the most riveting sequences is that where Ines sings begrudgingly at a party when Winfried, as Toni Erdmann, volunteers her. Tell us how that scene developed from its inception to what we see on screen. It really encompasses this father-daughter relationship.

MA: We were unhappy with what we had shot originally because it was too boring, so we decided to try this over-the-top, very aggressive version of the song, and that was it. Singing is not something that you can through with the actor ad a director or say, “ There you do this, and then you do that,” it would get stiff. Instead you are more like a football coach, you say one thing and hope that it works. She is performing against her will, but still, she is singing so she decided that.

SH: It was an interesting scene to shoot. We made a mistake thinking that this was the point where Ines would let go and just sing the song as if she didn’t care. It took us five takes to realize that this was not true. We felt that something was wrong, and everybody was exhausted at that time, but we found that that maybe this was another point in the story where Ines is fighting even more for what she is and even more against her dad who forces her to sing the song. It was a really empowering moment. She turned the situation completely around. The film is also about the shift of power, and when they go to this party is the first time that the father makes a decision on his own and doesn’t tell her. It’s not about her, it’s completely about him because he wants to meet a woman, Flavia, and he uses his daughter as his secretary, which is not a nice thing to do. Ines turns this moment into her own decision, and that’s what I love about this scene.

MM: What’s the casting process like for a film that’s driven by the perfect balance of the actors’ performances?

MA: I very much believe in casting. It’s all about a constellation of two actors because even before they start acting it already means something, even if it’s just two people sitting next to each other, there is already a story there. It’s about finding out if I can work with them and if they can work together. Casting is very important to make sure that they suit the story. I tested all the actors together, everybody with everybody, before I decided.

MM: Sandra, what was that process like for you as the lead, in terms of developing a relationship with Peter, who plays this wacky, yet loving father?

SH:  You get to know each other very well over three months of shooting, and especially in the year of preparation we had. The casting was one year before we started shooting because Maren likes to rehearse a lot. I just learned that there are 52 speaking roles in this movie and they are all casted. I met a lot of “Ancas,” a lot of bosses, and a lot of fathers, but eventually we rehearsed with Peter Simonischek. Of course you get to know each other, we would go to dinner together and talk about private things. The important thing is that it is really believable that we are family, so we could have started the movie without knowing anything about each other. This process was really necessary to the story. As the shooting went on of course, we knew each other better and better with everything that comes with it, and sometimes you want to run away but it’s all part of it.

MM: Another unforgettable scene in the film involves a group people without any clothes on. Why do we find nudity so embarrassing, hilarious, and uncomfortable?

MA: Because everybody thinks, “How would I look there?” It’s something that creates a lot of identification with the character, I think. It’s courageous what she is doing. It raises the tension in general. We are not often enough nude in front of people, so we are not used to it [laughs]. Sandra said, “I feel I’m doing something very courageous and that immediately forced the others to ask themselves, “Could I do this as well?” That also gives you a certain strength. Although she is taking off her clothes, she becomes stronger because it’s a strong gesture.

MM: Sandra, is being physically exposed on screen a challenge or did having others in the same position help? For Ines it seems to be empowering rather than embarrassing.

SH: It’s just a body, it’s somehow not me, but if it’s necessary it’s not difficult. I really liked the idea of people in this scene getting close to themselves and getting close to their own truth. It’s for everybody. Steph, the character played by Lucy Russell, decides she doesn’t want to be part of this anymore, her boyfriend decides he doesn’t want to be fooled anymore, the boos is showing his real face because he is a really scared person, and also, the father, in his disguise as this big Kukeri – a traditional Bulgarian costume, shows his soul. In this scene we see Anca (Ingrid Bisu), the assistant, as a private person for the first time. I like the idea that all of this happens just because somebody takes her clothes off. They are all just people they don’t any uniforms, or costumes anymore. MM

Toni Erdmann opened in theaters December 25, 2016, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. 

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