A HIDDEN LIFE—Sit Down With the Stars

Franziska Jägerstätter (played by Valerie Pachner) lies next to her husband, Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl), as he holds her in his arm in a grass field with the mountains in the distance in A Hidden Life (2019)

Set in Nazi-occupied Europe on the brink of WWII, Austrian-born farmer Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl) refuses to fight for the fascist Reich. Along with his wife, Franziska Jägerstätter (played by Valerie Pachner), who encourages his conscientious objection to siding with the Nazis, the two find themselves being ostracized by their community and even facing execution for their vows to take a peaceful stance.

Their real-life story was captured in the upcoming release of A Hidden Life, giving us some insight to the dangers and hardships experienced by the surrounding lives during one of history’s darkest moments. To look deeper into the story of the Jägerstätter family and the production of the new historical drama from director Terrence Malick, Regal’s own Halleta Alemu sat down with Valerie Pachner to take a deep dive into her character.

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Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and Franziska Jägerstätter (Valerie Pachner) in A Hidden Life (2019)

Halleta: After you got the news of being cast, how did you react?

Valerie: It happened so fast. It’s still something that I can’t really wrap my head around, you know? Terrence Malick decided to do a film with German-speaking actors just at the time that I was the age of his female lead . . . I was like “WHAT?!”

And you were cast first? 

Yes! I was cast in July of 2015, and I had nothing to prepare and they gave me a letter to improvise with, and when I left, I thought “Ok, it’s not gonna happen.” It was four years ago, I’m not a mother and a wife, and, ultimately, English was kind of hard for me at the time, so I thought it was a nice try. But then 3 weeks later, I got the call that I was cast, and, apparently, Terry saw that one take and decided, “that’s her. Now we have to find her husband.” 

What a feeling! What was it like reading with all of the other actors before August came?

That was funny because it took us six months until we found August, and I think I was reading with about 15 men—with many of them it felt like a very brotherly relationship. When August came in, it was an immediate connection for everyone in the room; maybe because we were all so desperate to find him. So we didn’t really rehearse or anything. So the whole chemistry and connection was immediate and something we didn’t really have to work on. 

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Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) and Franziska Jägerstätter (Valerie Pachner) in A Hidden Life (2019)

Despite this couple going through these really violent and emotional times, there was this grace and serenity and peace about them. Why did you choose to access that and how did you? 

For me, it was mostly in my preparation. I watched a documentary about her, which was very hard to find. In it, she’s 96 [years old] and being interviewed, and you see this old, fragile lady, but she is not broken. She beams, she’s happy, she’s alive, and that really hit me because it made me realize that although she went through so much pain, she never gave up on life. And there was something so powerful about that. Even though you know you have to go through so much pain, you put morale above your needs, and it gives you an idea of what human beings are capable of. 

You’ve mentioned previously that nature felt like a third character [in the movie]. How did that inform your acting? 

Oh, a lot. One, when you’re playing a farmer you really have to get into the physics, and it really informs your character and your work because it’s different . . . it brings a different vibe and energy. So this connect[ion] with the Earth. . . gave a groundedness to the character and gave her access to a very spiritual side. That’s what I love about [this movie], that there is a certain appreciation as a human being of being part of nature in a very simple and humble way, and on the other hand, being able to put morale above survival instincts. 

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Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl) in A Hidden Life (2019)

In the world we live in today. . . what do you want people to take away from this movie?

There is definitely a certain timeless quality to this thing of being connected to what you think and feel is right and then standing up for this. This gives you an endless power—like you can do anything, almost. I feel it’s very important to be connected to that feeling in order to not jump on that train; be it fascism, be it greed, be it fast success. Only when you feel what is right can you prevent yourself from jumping on that train.

 

Witness Valerie Pachner’s powerful performance and message in the historical drama A Hidden Life, opening tonight at Regal.

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