In no particular order, here are 10 German actors and actresses that have made waves beyond the borders of the home country they all have in common…
1. Matthias Schweighöfer
As the son of an actor and an actress, Matthias entered the theatre stage as soon as he could walk. Over the years, he built up an impressive list of credentials as an actor, director and producer, mostly within the comedy and drama genre.
Most of his German films don’t become known internationally, although there are a few exceptions: In 2011, the comedy What a Man, which saw Matthias teaming up with Elyas M’Barek, even made it across the big ocean and was praised by film critics in the US. Other works of him can be watched with English subtitles such as the USA road trip movie Friendship! (2010) or RubbeldieKatz (2011), in which Matthias dresses up as a (actually quite pretty) woman.
In terms of Hollywood productions, his most notable appearances were in WW1 drama The Red Baron (2008) and WW2 flick Valkyrie (2008) alongside Tom Cruise. Next up will the Wanted, an original Amazon series set in Berlin, for which Matthias will take over the role of the director as well as the leading actor.
2. Franka Potente
Born in Münster, Germany, Franka’s Italian-sounding surname goes back to her great-grandfather, a slater from Sicily who immigrated to Germany in the 19th century. Franka became a household name in German cinema in the late 1990s, most notably with Berlin-based thriller Run Lola Run (1998).
Her Hollywood breakthrough role was The Bourne Identity (2002). In the same year she played the love interest of Elijah Wood in All I Want and briefly became his real-life girlfriend.
With her most recent appearances in American Horror Story (2012) and The Bridge (2014) plus her marriage to American actor Derek Richardson, Franka has made Hollywood her home – both professionally and personally speaking.
3. August Diehl
Berlin-based actor August Diehl is probably best known to international audiences for his role as SS-Sturmbannnführer Dieter Hellstrom in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Michael “Mike” Krause, Evelyn Salt’s husband, in Salt (2010).
While being brilliantly unpleasant as the unwelcomed Nazi company Hellstrom, August was equally convincing on the other side of the scale. In Academy-Award-winning WW2 drama The Conterfeiters (2007), he played an extremely skinny KZ prisoner who was forced to forge UK bank notes.
In one of my favourite films with him, Frau Ella (2013), a heart-warming comedy-drama with Matthias Schweighöfer, Diehl showed that he can do funny as well – especially when trying to speak French!
4. David Kross
Aged 18, David became a Hollywood household name when he seduced (or was seduced for that matter) by the significantly older Kate Winslet in the film adaptation of the bestselling novel The Reader (2008).
After the film hit that Winselt won an Oscar for as Best Actress, David briefly studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In 2011, he made an appearance in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse. Next up will be Race, a biographical sports-drama film about African American athlete Jesse Owens set to be released later this year.
5. Til Schweiger
Til started his acting career in the early 1990s as a voice-over for porn movies! Since then, he has come a long way. Nowadays he can call himself one of Germany’s best known actors and most successful directors. With over 51 Million admissions no other German filmmaker drew more people to the cinemas.
His biggest smash hit to date is Head Full of Honey (OT: Honig im Kopf) – a drama about how a grandfather and his granddaughter (played by Schweiger’s youngest daughter Emma) cope with the grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease.
Til Schweiger is also a familiar face to many non-German viewers as he’s been featured in a range of Hollywood productions such as Inglourious Basterds (2009), The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (2013), New Year’s Eve (2011) or This Means War (2012).
6. Alexandra Maria Lara
Alexandra was born in Bucharest, Romania, but fled and consequently grew up in Germany with her family when she was four. Having started her acting career as a teenager, her work portfolio includes many big German and international productions such as The Downfall (2004), Rush (2013), The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), The Reader (2008) or most recently Suite Française (2015).
In a few of her films, Alexandra starred next to her real-life husband since 2009: English actor Sam Riley.
7. Alexander Fehling
This promising German talent entered the Hollywood scene with his role of Staff Sgt. Wilhelm (the one who celebrated the birth of his baby boy Max in the pub scene) in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Meanwhile, he has also made waves as Claire Danes’ on-screen boyfriend Jonas Hollander in the fifth series of Homeland, which is set in Berlin.
Furthermore, Alexander took over the lead role of a young lawyer in Labyrinth of Lies (2014) – a post-WW2 drama drama about coming to terms with what had happened during the Nazi regime. The film was screened throughout the US and other countries in 2015 and even made it to the run-up for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.
8. Christoph Waltz
One of the best known German actors in Hollywood is technically not a German and I think he mentioned that a couple of times in interviews. Born and raised in Vienna to a German father and an Austrian mother, Christoph considers himself first and foremost Austrian.
He rose to Hollywood fame at a relatively late stage in life, but therefore his international career kicked off BIG TIME! For both his roles in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012) he won an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.
9. Elyas M’Barek
In recent years, Elyas has become a huge star in Germany and before he introduced his girlfriend Julia earlier this year he was probably Germany’s Most Wanted Bachelor, too. Born in Munich, Germany as the son of an Austrian mother and a Tunisian father, he first rose to fame as Turkish teenage macho Cem in multicultural TV sitcom Türkisch für Anfänger (Turkish for Beginners, 2005-2008).
A few years later, he hit it off big time in his home country thanks to box office smash hits Fuck ju Göhte (2013) and Fuck ju Göhte 2 (2015). However, he has also made some notable appearances in productions that were popular on an international scale such as The Physician (2013), The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones (2013) or Who am I – No System is Safe (2014).
10. Daniel Brühl
Daniel César Martín Brühl González was born in Barcelona, Spain to a Spanish mother and a German father who in turn was born in Brazil. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Cologne, Germany, where Daniel grew up. Due to his multicultural background, he is fluent in an astonishing six languages (Catalan, German, English, Portuguese, Spanish and French)!
After he hit it off with the worldwide successful German post-communism flick Good Bye, Lenin! in 2003, he has probably starred in more international box office hits than any other contemporary German actor. Among these were, once again, Inglourious Basterds (in which he showed off his French), Rush (2013), The Countess (2009), Burnt (2015), A Most Wanted Man (2013), The Fifth Estate (2013) or most recently Colonia (2015) alongside Emma Watson.