Interview | Helena Zengel-Entdeckerin Kiera Bahl
“Hollywood is not within everyone’s reach”
03/01/21 | 07:58 am
Helena Zengel already delighted the audience with “Systemsprenger”, then the twelve-year-old Berliner made the leap to Hollywood. At the Golden Globes she received nothing – but agent Kiera Bahn sees Zengel as an exceptional talent.
At the award of the “Golden Globes” film prizes, the young Berlin actress Helena Zengel went empty-handed on Monday night. The twelve-year-old was nominated in the “Best Supporting Actress” category for the western “News from the World” starring Tom Hanks. The “Golden Globe” winners include the movie “Nomadland” and the TV series “The Crown”. Before the award ceremony, the rbb conducted an interview with Zengel’s agent Kiera Bahl.
rbb: Ms. Bahl, the most famous person in your index is Helena Zengel. Can you say that they discovered Helena?
Kiera Bahl: You could say that. Your mother spoke to me when Helena was five years old. She asked me if I could imagine working with such a young child. Yes, I was a bit skeptical and said: Fine, I’ll get Helena in front of the camera. We tried that – and I have to say: I was thrilled. Shortly after her fifth birthday, Helena came to my agency.
Shortly after their fifth birthday – you don’t usually cast such young girls and boys, do you?
I usually start between the ages of seven and eight – if I can then get them in front of the camera by myself, if I can talk to them: How do you introduce yourself? Do you know what filming is? Do you know what it means to be in a movie? Do you watch films where children play? Many children can give me good answers relatively quickly. It’s more that parents are careful about registering their children with me and that the children tend to jostle and say, Mom, do it now.
Oh? I would have thought it was the other way around?
Yes, there are definitely such parents. But I have had a different experience. If it’s the parents themselves, then you can tell in the child you have in front of the camera. Because when I ask the child: do you know why you are here today? And the child says: No – then I’ll send him home, together with the parents. Then unfortunately it won’t work.
How do you know that a child is suitable for filming?
You can tell from the greeting. I invite the children to live casting, so if it’s not Corona – at the moment everything is taking place online. So if there is a live casting, the child will come with a parent. And as soon as you are greeted, you can tell whether it is looking you in the eye. This is the first indication of a desire to get to know the other and to say: Here I am, play with me!
The children know beforehand what to expect. They get a text from me that they have to learn. And then I do improvisation with them. They also have to briefly introduce themselves in front of the camera. And then you just notice where the eyes light up, who really wants to play. And of course also those who are talented – so not only recite the text, but to feel the text within you, to be the character who plays it, so to speak.
Did you notice that straight away with Helena?
Yes that’s true. We took photos afterwards, I still have the series of photos. That was really amazing, really great and extraordinary.
It’s also an extraordinary career.
You mean hollywood? Yes, I can’t find words for it. One day I got a call from a caster who said sit down. And then I got the message that Helena should come to the audition for this film “Neues aus der Welt”. Then it was clear relatively quickly: She was going to meet the director. To do this, she flew to London and only had an introductory meeting. And it was already clear to the director that he wanted to cast Helena.
Many children now think how easy it is – but it is not that simple. That was an absolute exception and is probably unique in Germany. No matter how much you can tweak your career and be talented, take part in big productions, play leading roles – there are a lot of film children in Germany – but this chance is probably unique.
Are children who are successful later also successful as adults?
You can’t say that. I have had my agency for 15 years and I still have children who joined the agency 15 years ago. They are now young adults, are still there. But there are also many children who stop shooting when they finish school because they say: That was nice for me, that was my hobby – but now I want to take up another job. I think that’s a shame sometimes. But of course you respect that too. And I think it’s great when they go their own way.
What do children earn on set?
Small children who are just starting out usually get around 150 to 200 euros for a day of shooting. That is staggering, and of course it will increase over the years. And for the adult actors who have also completed their training, there are various collective agreements and contracts that regulate the share of the proceeds. The entry fees are then precisely regulated.
There are also films in which children play hard scenes, for example crime novels. “Systemsprenger” with Helena Zengel wasn’t easy either. How do children endure this?
Children can easily distinguish between film and reality. Helena’s director Nora Fingscheidt said that Helena always got a shower when she went into the film and when she came out of the filming again.
The children are of course taken care of by their families. There are intensive discussions with the production department beforehand, especially in the case of psychologically stressful content. The film production department has to submit an application to the competent authority, which is then evaluated from an educational point of view.
Parents can also be present during conversations, and sometimes a psychological report is drawn up for a child too, in order to be really sure that the child can handle this content well.
And do you now have more inquiries?
In fact, I have more inquiries, but also from children who have never been in front of the camera and who write in the first sentence that they really want to become actors and go to Hollywood. I have to talk to the parents first. And I have to pull the teeth out of the children: Hollywood is not within everyone’s reach.
Thank you for the interview, Ms. Bahl!
The interview was conducted by Anke Burmeister / Inforadio
This is an edited and abridged version of the interview. You can hear the complete interview above by clicking on the play button.
Broadcast: Inforadio, March 1st, 2021, 10:45 am