Interview: Maren Ade & Toni Erdmann

Mrs. Ade was very kind to grant an interview. We talked during a roundtable at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I had the opportunity to ask a few questions alongside some fellow members of the press. Listed below are my questions.

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Where did the character of Winifred/Toni Erdmann come from?

Ade: Winfried is inspired a bit by my father. My father (like Winfried) has a good repertoire/humour but he also did the thing with the teeth for a while (Winfried puts on fake teeth throughout the movie). I was working around 20 years ago in Munich and I was at the premiere of the first Austin Powers movie and for a giveaway they gave these fake teeth and I gave it to my father and it suited him very well. They didn’t look like fake teeth and then he started to make jokes with them but he never stayed in character very long. He would do it to freak out the waiter and the waiter would be confused wondering if it was the same guy. And this was just a little gag that I borrowed from him and then it made it into the movie. There were so many things that I borrowed, like the family topic in general. Sometimes family can be something very static and everybody has achieved a certain role, although if you like the role or not is the big question. You can change a lot in your life but not your family and I found it was a good way to start, two family members try to break out of their roles, through roleplay.

And when you were writing the role did you have Peter Simonischek (Winfried Conradi/Toni Erdmann) in mind. Did you think he was perfect for the role?

Ade: I did a casting, I’m actually a big believer in the casting process because I wouldn’t have chosen the two together otherwise. You really have to see it because when you put two actors next to each other on a sofa it already tells a story. So we scheduled an audition with him and Sandra (Huller) separately, and I think I had about 20 other men audition for the role but he (Peter Simonischek) was perfect as Toni. We tried out the wig at the casting as I had to find not just Winfried but also Toni because everybody would have been a completely different Toni. He had this rock star thing going with the long hair, it was really good for him.

I wanted to ask about Cannes. What was it like for you as a director to get a mid-movie round of applause after that sing along scene? 

Ade: I realized on the tour with the film that the clapping happens a lot after the song. So when the cinema is full it almost always happens, it seems to provoke the emotions. You have this character that is finally showing all her emotions in one scene.

It’s been 7 years since your last feature and after seeing Toni Erdmann I don’t want to wait another 7 years to see your next movie. So do you think it will be that long before you make another movie?

Ade: Oh my God! I think yes. I mean it goes by so fast, and with the length of Toni Erdmann it was almost like two films. Every step takes twice as long, like editing. For me it’s a luxury to take so much time and it’s difficult now to find a good idea, and while the success helps it’s still difficult. Right now I’m really happy. I finished this movie 3 days before Cannes so I’m happy not to have to prepare anything and just get to relax. So maybe 6 years instead of 7!

Toni Erdmann is out in theaters now and is playing in select cinemas across Canada courtesy of Mongrel Media. Make sure to check out this phenomenal film as soon as possible!

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