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23 October 2011

Armin Mueller-Stahl

Armin Mueller-Stahl (1930) is a German film actor, painter, writer and musician. He started his career as a socialist matinee-idol in the DDR. At 50, he had to emigrate to West-Germany where he found work with such major film directors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Later he had a successful career in Hollywood as well.

Armin Mueller-Stahl
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 2254. Photo: Schirmer.

Matinee Idol
Armin Mueller-Stahl was born in Tilsit, Germany (now Sovetsk, Russia) in 1930. His father, Alfred Müller, was a bank teller who changed the family's surname to the more aristocratic-sounding Mueller-Stahl. His mother, Editha Maass, was from an upper class family, and she became a university professor at Leipzig. While his father fought on the Eastern Front in World War II, Editha moved her five children to Berlin. (Armin’s elder brother is director and actor Hagen Mueller-Stahl and his sister Dietlind Mueller-Stahl is an actress). Alfred was to join the family in Berlin, but in 1945, only two days before the fighting ended, he was killed. Armin studied at the Städtischen Konservatorium and became a concert violinist, but he did not want to end as a music teacher. So in 1952, he enrolled in an acting school in East Berlin, but he was soon kicked out. However, he got an engagement at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm and moved in 1954 to the Volksbühne, where he stayed till 1979. In 1956, he made his film debut in the DEFA production Heimliche Ehen/Secret marriages (1956, Gustav von Wangenheim) with Paul Heidemann. He became a successful stage actor in East Germany and also a matinee idol with such popular DEFA films as Fünf Patronenhülsen/Five Cartridges (1960, Frank Beyer) with Ernst Busch and Manfred Krug, the anti-fascist love story Königskinder/And Your Love Too (1962, Frank Beyer) with Annekathrin Bürger, and the war drama Nackt unter Wölfen/Naked Among Wolves (1963, Frank Beyer). On East-German TV he became popular with the series Flucht aus der Hölle/Flight From Hell (1960) and later he had again success with Wolf unter Wölfen/Wolf Among Wolves (1965, Hans-Joachim Kasprzik). He was chosen five times as the most popular actor of the DDR. At a certain time he owned a Volvo limousine, a villa in Köpenick and an annual salary of 300,000 East German marks ($70,000). In 1965 a newspaper poll selected him ‘the man most East Germans would like to have a beer with.’ He starred in such films as Der Dritte/The Third (1972, Egon Günther) as a blind musician opposite Jutta Hoffmann, and the classic war comedy Jakob, der Lügner/Jacob, the Liar (1975, Frank Beyer) featuring Vlastimil Brodský. On TV, he played the main character of the very popular spy thriller series Das unsichtbare Visier/The invisible visor (1973–1979, Peter Hagen). The series was designed in co-operation with the Stasi, as an East Bloc counterpart to the James Bond films. When the communist regime clamped down on protest singer Wolf Biermann in 1976, 26 members of the artistic community, including Mueller-Stahl, issued a protest. As a result the government blacklisted him from show business. He stayed in East Berlin and in the next two-and-a-half years he wrote the political thriller Verlorener Sonntag (Lost Sunday), that became a best-seller. In 1980 the family was permitted to emigrate to West Germany. They gave up their East German villa and moved into a small flat in West Berlin.

Armin Mueller-Stahl
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1910, 1963, Retail price: 0,20 DM. Photo: DEFA-Pathenheimer.

Head of the Secret Police
At 50, Armin Mueller-Stahl had to start his career over again, but he found ample work in the West German film industry. He appeared in such prestigious films as Fassbinder's political riff on post-war Germany Lola (1981, Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Barbara Sukowa, Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss/Veronika Voss (1982, Rainer Werner Fassbinder) featuring Rosel Zech, and Wajda's Eine Liebe in Deutschland/A Love in Germany (1984, Andrzej Wajda) with Hanna Schygulla. He appeared as Jean-Hugues Anglade’s father in the French homosexual drama L'homme blessé/The Wounded Man (1983, Patrice Chéreau). Other interesting films were the war drama Bittere Ernte/Angry Harvest (1985, Agnieszka Holland) and Oberst Redl/Colonel Redl (1985, István Szabó), the latter about Alfred Redl (Karl Maria Brandauer), an ambitious young officer who proceeds up the ladder to become head of the Secret Police of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Both films were nominated for an Oscar, and several offers from Hollywood came his way. Mueller-Stahl made his US film debut opposite Jessica Lange in Music Box (1989, Constantin Costa-Gravas). He played Mike Laszlo, the Lange character’s father who - unknown to her - was during WW II a pro-Nazi war criminal who buried his sadistic past in Hungary under a lifetime of solid American deeds. Next Mueller-Stahl had a leading role in Avalon (1990, Barry Levinson), about a Polish-Jewish family which comes to the US at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. He subsequently took strong character roles in Kafka (1991, Steven Soderbergh) with Alec Guinness and Jeremy Irons, and Night on Earth (1991, Jim Jarmusch) with Gena Rowlands. In 1992 Mueller-Stahl won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival for the title role in Utz (1992, George Sluizer). He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the father of Australian pianist David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) in Shine (1996, Scott Hicks). His first film as director was Conversation with the Beast (1996, Armin Mueller-Stahl) about an old man who claims he is Adolf Hitler (played by Mueller-Stahl himself). Next he played in the thriller The Game (1997, David Fincher) starring Michael Douglas, and a German scientist and syndicate member in the feature film The X-Files (1998, Rob Bowman).


Trailer Lola (1981). Source: RialtoFilm (YouTube).


Trailer Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss/Veronika Voss (1982). Source: RialtoFilm (YouTube).

Thomas Mann
Armin Mueller-Stahl gained applause for his portrayal of author Thomas Mann in the epic German documentary/drama mini-series Die Manns - Ein Jahrhundertroman/The Manns - Novel of a Century (2001, Heinrich Breloer) with Sebastian Koch as his son, author Klaus Mann. In 2004, Mueller-Stahl made another rare foray into American television, guest-starring in four episodes of the much acclaimed TV series The West Wing (2004) as the Prime Minister of Israel. With Katja Riemann and Karin Dor, he appeared in the controversial drama Ich bin die Andere/I Am the Other Woman (2006, Margaretha von Trotta). The next year he won the Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Eastern Promises (2007, David Cronenberg), starring Viggo Mortensen and British-Australian actress Naomi Watts. Watts also starred in the thriller The International (2007, Tom Tykwer) which co-starred Clive Owen and Mueller-Stahl. He starred in the Thomas Mann adaptation Buddenbrooks (2008) a TV series directed by Heinrich Breloer, who also created the acclaimed Die Manns. Then Mueller-Stahl played the role of Cardinal Strauss in the blockbuster film Angels and Demons (2009, Ron Howard), based on the bestseller by Dan Brown and starring Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor. Mueller-Stahl launched a career as an artist and presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007, the Brockhaus encyclopedia with book covers and spines designed by him. He also started to sing again. With Günther Fischer, he performed songs in 2010 which they had performed 40 years earlier on DDR television. In 2011 he was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Armin Mueller-Stahl was married twice. His first marriage was to actress Monika Gabriel. Since 1973, he is married to dermatologist Gabriele Scholz, and they have a son, Christian (1974). Christian appeared in Utz (1992) as the son of his father’s character. Mueller-Stahl lives in Pacific Palisades, California, Dierksdorf (Germany) and Berlin. He has now both the German and the American nationality.


Trailer Music Box (19890. Source: sonysloba (YouTube).


Trailer Eastern Promises (2007). Sources: The CultBox (YouTube).

Sources: Mary H.J. Farrell & Franz Spelman (People), Scott Roxborough (The Hollywood Reporter), Ines Walk (Zeit.de) (German), F.-B. Habel & Volker Wachter (Das große Lexikon der DDR-Stars) (German), Wikipedia (German and English) and IMDb.

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