Photo © DEFA-Stiftung
Armin Mueller-Stahl was born in Tilsit (formerly East Prussia, Germany, now Sovetsk, Russia) on December 17, 1930, and grew up in a family that nurtured his love of the arts. He studied violin and music theory and, in 1949, graduated as a music teacher from the Städtische Konservatorium in West Berlin. He then switched to acting, a step that did not seem very promising at first. In 1952, however, he played in his first supporting roles at the Berliner Ensemble; these were followed by roles at the Berlin Volksbühne, where he performed until 1970.
In 1955, Mueller-Stahl appeared on TV for the first time, as a young student in Ein fremdes Kind, a GDR production of the Russian play by Vasily Shkvarkin. At around the same time, he joined the DEFA Studio for Feature Films, where Gustav von Wangenheim cast him in the comedy Heimliche Ehen. In the following years, his film career took off and he was in great demand for cinema and television productions, especially after Frank Beyer cast him in the role of the Spanish resistance fighter in Fünf Patronenhülsen in 1960. Mueller-Stahl maintained a friendship with Beyer over the years, performing in many of the director’s productions, including Königskinder, Nackt unter Wölfen, Die sieben Affären der Doña Juanita (TV) and Geschlossene Gesellschaft (TV). He also appeared in Jakob der Lügner, a film adaptation of the novel by Jurek Becker. From 1973 to 1975, Mueller-Stahl became an audience darling in his role as a Stasi agent in the first season of the East German TV series Das unsichtbare Visier, a spy thriller inspired by James Bond movies. One of his last DEFA films was Roland Gräf’s Die Flucht, a contemporary drama in which he played a doctor planning to escape from the GDR to West Germany.
Muelller-Stahl’s successful career in East Germany came to an abrupt halt in 1976. After joining many other East German artists in signing a letter of protest against the expatriation of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, he was blacklisted and no longer allowed to work in the GDR. After arriving in West Germany in 1980, Mueller-Stahl resumed his acting career under the aegis of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, appearing in the director’s classic films Lola and Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss.
In 1986-87, Mueller-Stahl worked for the first time in the U.S., where he played a Russian general in the sci-fi mini-series Amerika. This became the start of his Hollywood career. He appeared as an immigrant who is accused of killing Jewish people in Hungary, shortly before the end of WWII, in the thriller Music Box, by director Constantin Costa-Gavras. Other important roles followed, including in Barry Levinson’s Avalon and Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth, in which he plays an East German taxi driver in New York. In 1991, he returned to a film adaptation of a work by Jurek Becker in Bronsteins Kinder, a German-Polish co-production by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
Since the mid-1980s, Mueller-Stahl has become an international star. With the Hungarian director István Szabó and the Polish director Agnieszka Holland, he worked on productions that were nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film: Oberst Redl and Bittere Ernte. He also worked with Austrian director Bernhard Wicki in Das Spinnennetz, a film adaptation that premiered at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. He was awarded the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his leading role as a fine arts collector and dealer in the film adaptation of Bruce Chatwin’s novel Utz, by Dutch director Georg Sluizer. And Mueller-Stahl was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as the demanding father of the piano player David Helfgott in Shine, by the Australian director Scott Hicks. One of his last roles was in Terrence Malick’s experimental romance Knights of Cups, about a depressed screenwriter’s odyssey through Los Angeles and Las Vegas, in which he shared the screen with Cate Blanchett, Antonio Banderas and Natalie Portman; the film was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2015 Berlinale.
In 1996, the multi-talented Mueller-Stahl also debuted as a film director and scriptwriter with Gespräch mit dem Biest, an absurd story about an old man who believes himself to be Adolf Hitler, in which he also played the lead. To balance his intense acting schedule, Mueller-Stahl worked and established himself as a writer, painter and musician. In 1997, he published his autobiography Unterwegs nach Hause. Erinnerungen [On the Way Home: A Memoir]. His first novel, Verordneter Sonntag [Prescribed Sunday], appeared in 2010. Based on his personal experiences in the GDR in the late 1970s, it deals with the conflicts facing a person who must make a life-changing decision under political restrictions.
Armin Mueller-Stahl—who lives near Lübeck, Germany—was the honorary host of the 2009 premiere of the DEFA Film Library’s series Wende Flicks: Last Films from East Germany in Los Angeles
Festivals & Awards:
|2016||Visionary Award, Washington Jewish Film Festival|
|2016||Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, German Screen Actors Awards|
|2011||Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement, Berlin International Film Festival|
|2008||Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, for Eastern Promises|
|2007||German Film Award for Lifetime Achievement|
|2005||DEFA Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement in German Film|
|1997||Golden Camera for Lifetime Achievement, Berlin International Film Festival|
|1997||Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor for Shine|
|1992||Silver Bear for Best Actor, Berlin International Film Festival, for Utz|
|1982||German Film Award in Gold, for Lola|
Bibliography & More:
Englmann, Feicia. Kleine Anekdoten aus dem Leben eines grossen Schauspielers. München: riva Verlag, 2020.
Habel, Frank Burghard. Im Herzen ein Gaukler: Ein Leben vor der Kamera. Berlin: Neues Leben, 2020.
Michel, Gabriele. Armin Mueller-Stahl. Die Biografie. Berlin: Aufbau Verlag, 2010
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Dreimal Deutschland und zurück. Hamburg: Hoffmann & Kampe, 2014.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Die Jahre werden schneller: Lieder und Gedichte. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2010.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Verordneter Sonntag. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2010.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Kettenkarussell. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2008.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Hannah. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag, 2004.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Gedanken an Marie Louise. Berlin: List, 1998.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Unterwegs nach Hause. Erinnerungen. München: Marion von Schröder Verlag, 1997.
Mueller-Stahl, Armin. Drehtage: Music Box und Avalon. München: Luchterhand, 1991.
Skierka, Volker. Armin Mueller-Stahl - Die Biografie. Hamburg: Hoffmann & Kampe, 2015.
|2015||Knights of Cups|
|2009||Angels & Demons|
|2001||Die Manns – Ein Jahrhundertroman (The Manns – Novel of a Century, TV mini-series)|
|1998||The X Files|
|1996||Gespräche mit dem Biest (Conversations with the Beast, director)|
|1996||Der Unhold (The Ogre)|
|1991||Bronsteins Kinder (Bronstein’s Children)|
|1991||Night on Earth|
|1989||Das Spinnennetz (The Spiderweb)|
|1987||America (TV mini-series)|
|1985||Bittere Ernte (Angry Harvest)|
|1985||Oberst Redl (Colonel Redl)|
|1982||Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss (Veronika Voss)|
|1978||Die geschlossene Gesellschaft (trans. Private Party, TV)|
|1977||Die Flucht (The Flight)|
|1976||Nelken in Aspik (Carnations in Aspic)|
|1974||Kit & Co.|
|1974||Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar)|
|1973||Die sieben Affären der Doña Juanita (The Seven Affairs of Doña Juanita, TV mini-series)|
|1973-75||Das unsichtbare Visier (The Invisible Visor, TV series)|
|1972||Januskopf (Janus Face)|
|1971||Der Dritte (Her Third)|
|1969||Tödlicher Irrtum (Fatal Error)|
|1967||Ein Lord am Alexanderplatz (Lord of Alexander Square)|
Alaskafüchse (Alaska Foxes)
|1963||Preludio 11 (Prelude 11)|
|1962||Königskinder (Star-Crossed Lovers)|
|1962||Monolog für einen Taxifahrer (Monologue for a Taxi Driver, TV short, narrator)|
|1962||...und deine Liebe auch (And Your Love Too)|
|1962||Nackt unter Wölfen (Naked Among Wolves)|
|1960||Fünf Patronenhülsen (Five Cartridges)|
|1960||Flucht aus der Hölle (Escape from Hell, TV)|
|1955-56||Stacheltier: Der Querkopf (Porcupine Series: Pigheaded Fellow, short)|
|1955||Heimliche Ehen (Secret Marriages)|
|1955||Ein fremdes Kind (A Strange Child, TV)|