German actress Sandra Huller tells Ethan Sills why she isn't amused at all by the Oscar nominated movie

On the surface, Toni Erdmann is a hard movie to classify. Like many European films, it's not something that can be as easily placed like a superhero movie or horror flick.

At times, it's about the dramatic, tense relationship between fathers and daughters, with a touch of oil-field politics thrown in for good measure.

Then there are copious amounts of false teeth, whoopee cushions and men in giant furry costumes partaking in "naked parties".

For the movie's leading actress, Sandra Huller, she has a pretty firm take on the matter.


"It isn't a comedy," she says definitively during her chat with the Herald. "I'm not really sure why people think it is."

It's a question Huller must have faced a lot over the past year, one of the busiest of her life. Toni Erdmann had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May, where it was a strong contender for the Palme D'Or, and it has been a constant stream of promotion since then.

Its release has been given a boost by an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It's a huge honour, but Huller seems relaxed when the Herald chats to her. It's early in the morning in her native Germany, and she's sitting in her garden with her neighbour's dog, fairly blasé about her impending trip to America.

"It's exciting [but] who knows what will happen with America next? Who knows if we will be allowed in?" She says with a touch of sarcasm. It's the sort of blunt joke that makes Toni so difficult to define, but also makes Huller such a perfect choice for the role.

Her character, Ines, is a complicated one. An oil executive tasked with working out a merger that will leave many unemployed, her strict life is thrown into chaos by the unannounced arrival of her estranged father, Winfried. His wacky high jinks test her as Winifred, and his alter ego Toni, try to break her out of her shell.

"It was the longest shoot I've ever done," she says. "It was far away from home. It was tough."

Sandra Huller (left) got to work with one of her idols, German screen legend Peter Simonischek. Photo / Supplied
Sandra Huller (left) got to work with one of her idols, German screen legend Peter Simonischek. Photo / Supplied

Despite that, it was privilege for her to work with the creative team behind it, which included acclaimed director Maren Ade and Peter Simonischek, both of whom are well respected in Germany.

"It was greet to meet [Simonischek]," she says with a touch of awe. "He has a different kind of acting. I just stood there and watched him work all the time."

The two actors are on screen together for most of the movie, with only a few scenes apart. The relationship between father and daughter is at the heart of Toni Erdmann, underneath all the naked parties, and it's the difficulty there that Huller credit's for the comedy perception.

"It's very human, it comes from an honest place," she says. "[Toni] is all about how something has to change between them, but that doesn't really come naturally, people don't actually really change.

"It's quite painful and honest at times with how often these characters fail. That's possibly why people think it's a comedy, I don't know. People like seeing other people fail."

The movie is only just premiering in the UK and the United States, but it has already been snapped up for a remake. Jack Nicholson was so impressed by the movie he is coming out of retirement to take it on, while Kristen Wiig is set to star as Ines.

In an interview with The Guardian before the news was announced, Huller noted, in perhaps true German style, that she was not impressed with the idea of a remake.

"I hope that they switch the gender so that it's a mother and son. If it doesn't work, it makes our film so much better - and if it does, people will say it was a good source."

Despite the international, overwhelming acclaim for the movie, Huller says that she has not yet had the call from Hollywood. However, she doesn't seem terribly bothered if the call ever comes or not.

"Who knows if it will happen, who knows if they will call, my life goes on.

"I'm from Germany. One movie won't make my whole life."

Toni Erdmann is in cinemas now. The Academy Awards air on SKY Movies Premiere on February 27.