Inside HEROINE 18

Lisa Vicari and Louis Hofmann: stars of Netflix’s Dark in-conversation
Film+TV | 27 April 2023
Photographer Fabien Kruszelnicki
Stylist Keeley Dawson.


In the acclaimed Netflix hit Dark (the streaming service’s first German- language original series), worlds split, characters criss-cross through eras and mysteries become twisted in timeloops. Actors Lisa Vicari and Louis Hofmann are at the centre of this spatio-temporal web, playing Martha Nielsen and Jonas Kahnwald respectively – two teens entangled in time, and each other. Three years on from the show’s climactic ending, Vicari once again cuts through epochs: landing in late 1800s Texas for the highly-anticipated ten-part series Django, a bold reimagining of the classic Spaghetti Western franchise that updates and subverts the Wild West landscape.

Louis Hofmann: Hello Lisa.
Lisa Vicari: Hi!

LH: It’s a bit weird we’re going to do this in English because obviously we’re both German. I remember once we met in London and I refused to speak German, I think that was the only time we actually spoke English to each other. I was so strict about it because it was the first time I went to London to work on my language.
LV: Do you still do that now or do you speak German when you’re in London?

LH: I stopped because it just took away part of my personality. You’ve been doing English work and, to me, it is quite different from acting in the German language. I was wondering how that is for you, do you feel speaking in another language or accent helps you because it instantly creates a character?
LV: I was really pleasantly surprised by how natural it felt to act in English because I did go into it thinking, “Let’s see how this plays out.” Working with an accent was something totally new because it’s not very common in Germany. For this part, I had accent training for American English and it was the first time I approached a character like this. I really enjoyed the process because it instantly gives you a certain something to build your character from, I also enjoyed how on-set we’d sometimes jokingly do other random accents, like a really bad Irish one in between takes. [both laugh]

LH: It’s something you can hold onto instantly. I’m in London at the moment and I’ve been doing some acting classes because I’ve never really done any before and I was really interested in learning something properly. [both laugh] We’ve been doing some animal work lately, I’d heard of it but never tried it. I thought it was really interesting because when I did it I felt like I had something to hold onto while doing the scene.
LV: Which animal did you do?

LH: I did a monkey and after we’d done the scene someone was like, “Oh, he was definitely a dog.” At first, I was a bit insulted.
LV: You were like, “Damn, I’m bad at acting out animals.” [laughs]

LH: But then I thought it’s more about you feeling secure in the moment of acting. It’s more about believing in yourself than others believing in you, because when you believe in yourself, others will.
LV: In some ways, you can definitely see when an actor is insecure about what they’re doing – if the choices are being made on an anxious level, you can tell. You can sense when someone is not confident in their choices, but at the same time, sometimes you do a scene and feel like, “Damn, that was really good…”

LH: Then the director comes up to you and is like, “No, that didn’t really work out.” [laughs]
LV: Yeah! Or the other way around – you feel like it’s the worst you’ve ever done in your whole life then the director is like, “This is exactly what I wanted.” Sometimes your own perception doesn’t match the outside perspective, because it’s so subjective, everyone can see something different in it. I always feel like I have a feeling, but often it doesn’t match, so it’s good to play around and see what comes out.

jacket by 16ARLINGTON SS23; bodysuit by ALAÏA SS23; skirt by LOUIS VUITTON R23

“If I feel like a scene is really working, it’s like an orchestra. If everyone is tuning their instrument, if it’s making a beautiful sound, that’s when the scene works.”

LH: Can you describe that feeling for me? What does it feel like for you when something works? I see the smile on your face because it’s the fucking greatest feeling of all time.
LV: I remember having a conversation with you when we were filming the third season of Dark about the feeling of hitting the sweet spot with acting. Do you remember that?

LH: I think so.
LV: The best way for me to describe it is, I used to play the violin and when you tune the violin you have the big part at the top, which is where you do the big changes, and then you have the small parts where you do very fine changes. For me, working on a scene feels like at first you’re doing the big rough changes, figuring out where you want to go, then the more you work on it, the more you tune it. If you really hit the note, that’s what it feels like for me. If I feel like a scene is really working, it’s like an orchestra. If everyone is tuning their instrument, if it’s making a beautiful sound, that’s when the scene works.

LH: That’s a beautiful metaphor. I once had that on a film I did, after we finished a scene it felt like we’d just come off a rollercoaster. It was this rush of endorphins and adrenaline. At the moment it’s happening, sometimes you feel it and sometimes you can’t because everything is happening so fast – but in a good way – and you can’t control what will happen next.
LV: The unpredictability is the best feeling. If it’s really good it’s almost like I wasn’t even there. It’s why we always strive for that feeling because I don’t think it happens all the time.

LH: It’s a rarity, but it’s so addictive. [both laugh]
LV: If it happens it’s so nice, but if you feel like it’s happening and then the director comes to you and is like, “We need to do this again,” you’re like “What?!”

LH: I had that with Maggie Peren on The Forger, it was only a small scene where I sit down and cry. I did it about three or four times and I was like, “This is great, I’m crying this is phenomenal.” Then she comes up to me and is like, “I’m still not really feeling it,” so I figured it out and worked out what was missing. I was going to ask you what you need from a director, what works for you? What worked for me in that scene was she found a metaphor and took her time. Everyone was completely quiet then she went, “Imagine a drop of ink falling into some clear water, making it dirty and you know it will stay dirty forever.” I don’t know why, but at that moment I just knew what she wanted.
LV: You just have to communicate on a certain level. What works can be so different from director to director but I find what I really need is the right mixture between feeling safe and feeling challenged. For me, it’s the space between someone pushing you, wanting a lot from you and believing you can do something better, but also if for some reason you can’t go there you’re still in a safe space. There’s almost a tension in the space between those which is very creative because you’re challenged but also if you know you can’t achieve something or if you want to talk about something there is a way to communicate that.

LH: You’re being pushed into uncertainty.
LV: Yeah, I always like to be pushed.

LH: Pushed and held at the same time.
LV: It’s hard to describe but I think I’m at my best when I know someone believes I can do more than I believe in myself.

LH: I completely agree. No wonder when actors are asked what they liked about the director, the answer is often just, “They made me better.”
LV: If there are strong choices from a director, which is something we had on Dark, it was very clear what was wanted, there was a very clear vision and we did it for over three years. It influenced how I want to work and what I enjoy in a director. Film sets are chaotic anyway so you need some guidance.

LH: They’re so chaotic, but in a great way. [both laugh]
LV: In the best way! My happiest moments on set are often when I look around and everyone is just doing their job, hustling around.

LH: We’ve known each other well since the age of nineteen, but we met when we were both fourteen. We did a really great film by Tim Fehlbaum called Hell, and the great thing is, in German ‘hell’ also means ‘light’. I really admired you in that film. Then we met at the New Faces Awards and there is this one picture where I look like I’m four feet tall and you look like you’re eight feet tall.
LV: That’s how we met! The height difference was crazy, I remember that. We were both getting this rising star award for different parts and I admired you a lot too, I was so happy to be among that group. Then years later we met at the audition for Dark.

LH: You mentioned at one point that Dark was a bit like school to you, in the best way possible, because you could learn so much from the filming period over those three seasons. You’ve been evolving so much over the past years acting-wise but also personally, I feel like you’ve come to a place where you’re so grounded and self-confident, which is really beautiful to see.
LV: Thank you.

LH: You’re very welcome. Now you’ve got this series in English called Django, which you’re also wonderful in. I’d like to know how [that experience] was because you shot in Bucharest where, funnily enough, I shot Tom Sawyer in the same studios.
LV: Oh, I didn’t know, that’s funny.

LH: I’d like to know how it was with working Matthias Schoenaerts [who plays Django] because Rust and Bone is an incredible fucking movie.
LV: He’s amazing.

LH: I especially want to point out one scene in episode two [of Django] where you confront him for the first time properly and it’s a really wonderful scene. He’s this stoic character and you’ve got to work so much to run the scene, but you do.
LV: Thank you! This scene in particular was a really hard nut to crack because there was so much laying underneath, what do you say in a moment like this when you meet your brother again after years? There is so much resentment, so much grief, so many feelings there, but how much do you really say? We worked a lot on this scene, Matthias is an amazing actor and person. We had the chance to really talk a lot about the scenes and the characters, sometimes we even shared poems we thought would fit with the characters. His character Django is very closed-off and doesn’t show much of what he’s thinking, but there is so much underneath and I think you can really see that in the show, which is something I really love about Matthias’ performance. You see so much warmth and heart without him doing a lot, you can just feel it. It really moved me when I saw the episodes for the first time. We filmed for seven months in Romania, it was my first time being away from home for so long because Dark was filmed in Berlin, so we went back home. It was also interesting to see how different series are made in different ways. There are a lot of similarities with the long shooting period, but this was a very different process to Dark because of the different actors from all over the world, we had so many languages on set and I feel like people brought something to it from each of their cultures.

dress by DANIEL w. FLETCHER SS23; rings by COMPLETED WORKS SS23; bracelet by ALAÏA SS23

“I really care about who I work with, my favourite part is working with visionary people and filmmakers who create worlds or have a specific style.”

LH: Have you seen any recent performances you were in awe of, or thought were great?
LV: I watched Aftersun and there was only one other person in the cinema. If a cinema is small and I’m there by myself I get very emotional, and this film broke me.

LH: Was it as bad as The Worst Person in the World?
LV: It was worse. I think The Worst Person in the World is my favourite film, but that had more lightness for me. What about you?

LH: I’ve got two, the first is Cate Blanchett in Tár.
LV: I haven’t seen that yet.

LH: It’s a great film but especially her, she is phenomenal. The first scene goes on for fifteen or twenty minutes and it’s just her being interviewed in front of an audience. It feels like a real interview and after watching the scene I realised how long it had been going on because usually without subtitles I sometimes drift away. Obviously in London you don’t have subtitles, but I understood every single word because it was so well written, so well acted and directed. That performance was absolutely mind-blowing. Speaking of Aftersun, I saw A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre and Paul Mescal was really great in it, but I also thought Patsy Ferran was fucking amazing. She played Blanche and jumped in for someone else, the person who was originally got cast got injured and she had ten days or something to prepare. It’s unbelievable.
LV: I really wanted to watch that.

LH: They’ve just taken it to the West End, so next time you come to London they’ll still be playing it. What I loved about the performance was that it felt like a train on the tracks, she dipped into emotions here and there and it was so exciting to watch.
LV: I actually have a quote that fits well, I read it the other day and the advice was, “Don’t make yourself cry, make the audience cry.”

LH: That’s a good one. My favourite advice I got was from Timothy Spall, he said, “Don’t let the character serve you, serve the character.”
LV: That’s beautiful.

LH: You’ve got a really amazing body of work now, but with Django you’re on a new path. What are your aspirations and what are you hoping to be able to do in the next few years? I assume you want to keep working in the English language?
LV: If it’s a beautiful project with amazing people I don’t care if it’s German or English, but of course, the English film market is so much bigger and there are so many opportunities. I really care about who I work with, my favourite part is working with visionary people and filmmakers who create worlds or have a specific style. I have a tendency towards Scandinavian directors apparently because as I said The Worst Person in the World is one of my favourite films and also in the last couple of years the films I have enjoyed are by Ruben Östlund and Thomas Vinterberg. I love these European directors who have made it into the international film industry. I’m really open to any genre, I think a beautiful love story is amazing but also a period piece, even sci-fi – who knows! It’s almost impossible to wish for something because I couldn’t have drawn Sarah in Django or Martha in Dark, these are things I would have never dreamt of because I didn’t think it was possible.

top by 16ARLINGTON SS23; trousers by STEFAN COOKE SS23; belt by MIU MIU SS23; bracelet by ALAÏA SS23

Interview originally published in HEROINE 18. 

photography assistant BRUNO McGUFFIE;
fashion assistant SETH CULLEN;
make-up assistant JODIE JACOBS

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