Each year the Berlin Film Festival’s Shooting Stars programme highlights major upcoming European acting talent. Norway’s Ine Marie Wilmann, who played Norwegian iceskater and 1930s Hollywood star Sonja Henie in Sundance entry Sonja: The White Swan, is on a career high, while Germany’s vivacious Emma Drogunova is thriving on home turf.
Well known at home for her work in television and theatre, the 33 year-old Norwegian Ine Marie Wilmann has starred twice in films by Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky: 2015’s Homesick and now Sonja: The White Swan, the story of the three-time figure skating Norwegian Olympic champion. Both films world premiered in Sundance.
“Homesick was an independent film and Sonja is a commercial film on the Norwegian scale,” Wilmann notes. “I hope it will have more of an international reach because it focuses on the Golden Age of Hollywood and is a classical rise and fall story. It’s not typically Scandinavian.”
Decked out in Sonja’s diamonds and finery Wilmann looks like a million dollars on screen, though she preferred playing Sonja when she was 15 years older. “I like it when it’s darker and grittier–she was so successful then alcohol comes into the picture. It was a very lonely life.”
Even if as a Norwegian Wilmann grew up on skis, she had to learn to skate for the movie, which was shot 60 per cent in English.
“When I was training in Colorado people would come over and say I looked like Sonja. I was surprised. I thought she was a distant icon, this figure skater ice princess from the ‘30s. Then I started reading about her. She was the best paid actress of her time, up there with Shirley Temple and Clark Gable. This is not known, not even in Norway. She was a star for a short amount of time–she invented ice-skating movies but they didn’t last for long. The genre kind of died. But she was not a quitter. She rolled up her sleeves and made ice shows. She invented these types of shows (think Disney on Ice) and when she was told she was too old for that she started doing art and introduced contemporary art in Norway.”
Wilmann lives in Norway. “I’ve had American agents since the last time I was in Sundance with Homesick and they say that you don’t have to move to Hollywood any more. I have a base in my own country and can travel.”
Funnily enough after perfecting her English, she had to revert back to a strong Norwegian accent to play Sonja.
“It’s Sonja English,” Wilmann chuckles. “I was working on my American accent because my agent told me to then the film ruined all my good English! Sonja was famous for having a thick accent and could never get rid of it. So she always played young Swedish, Icelandic, Norwegian and German girls.”
Born in Siberia 23 year-old Emma Drogunova moved to Germany with her parents at the age of two and lives in Berlin. She admits that as a child she was a natural performer.
“Every time I went to visit my grandpa he had to watch me dancing and jumping around and doing cartwheels. There was always something I had inside m. As a child I was always smiling, laughing and crying a lot. I was a drama queen. Now I hope I’m a little more calm, but it’s still a need.”
She played the lead in the German 2017 TV movie Blind Spot, which was nominated for Best TV Movie/Mini-Series in the 2018 International Emmy Awards. She says her breakthrough role was in the Austrian/German co-production The Tobacconist, an adaptation of Robert Seethaler’s bestseller, which released in Germany last year. The film also features Bruno Ganz, who sadly passed away shortly after our interview.
“Bruno plays Sigmund Freud,” she explains, “but it’s not about him. It’s about a 17 year-old boy coming to Vienna in 1937 and he falls in love with a girl—my role–and he also meets Sigmund Freud, who is working as a tobacconist in a shop. He’s a father figure for the boy who is talking about this girl, so he’s the wise old man.”
While Drogunova says she has lots different influences given “the Russian side of me and I also went to a French school” she is not about to embark on a Hollywood career just yet, even if her English is fluent.
“I was in Los Angeles last year and of course the US is the biggest movie market, but right now I want to see what’s going on in Europe, go to France and then maybe later try the U.S..”