Antje Traue knows pain. “I once had a root canal without anesthesia,” says the Berlin-based actor. “I said, I don’t know what’s coming, so let’s just start without it and see how far we can go.” Today she uses that agonizing experience as an analogy for her decade-and-a-half-long climb to Hollywood success, a journey that has included a brief stint in a touring “hip-hopera” (forgive her, it was the ’90s), a string of failed auditions in her homeland, and the hurdle of mastering a second language (which, for the record, she speaks damn-near perfectly). “You have to quickly learn how to stand up for yourself,” she says. “The moment of overcoming that fear of the unknown is the best feeling in the world.” This summer, the 32-year-old German will be the one dishing out the pain when she plays Kryptonian villain Faora in Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot, Man of Steel. Though she’s tight-lipped about the details of portraying the henchwoman to evil General Zod (Michael Shannon), she does promise a balls-to-the-wall showdown between the red-caped crusader (Henry Cavill) and her sadistic character. “Faora can do everything Superman can do,” says Traue, who scored her first big role in the 2009 sci-fi thriller Pandorum. “But she has no compassion. Violence is her passion.” Traue’s next project has her playing another malevolent sidekick, this time as a witch to Julianne Moore’s head sorceress in the fantasy film The Seventh Son. “It’s actually great not to think about what comes after that,” Traue says, “to just wake up in the morning and think, Where do I want to go today?”
Tell me how you got the part?
I flew in from Berlin to L.A. to read for Zack Snyder at Warner Brothers, went through a stunt test and some physical training to see if I’m capable of certain things, because it is a physical part. And then they said okay, now you’re allowed to read the script. They would lock me up in a room for four hours. I would sit there by myself with a cup of coffee reading the script. It was like what being on a blind would feel like. You just hope to fall in love with the script, you know? Like, hopefully I like her. Because it was so highly confidential, nobody knew anything about it. This script would travel all the way to Australia, to Russell Crowe’s farm. It was insane. But it was kind of great, because it was just one script that we all read from. And then two months later, we finally got our personal scripts.
So you had the part at that point?
Yeah. I think it was between me and another girl, but they made us both read the script at that point.
I read you also put yourself on tape.
They sent me a Kill Bill monologue which I taped in my living room. It was a very, very difficult year for me at the time. I had sent in countless auditions. My agent called and told me to put myself on tape. I laughed and said, Really? How many girls are going to be auditioning for Superman? He said, Come on, the sad truth is that you have nothing to do. Now I have a new understanding of never giving up. We use that line all the time, never give up. All of a sudden it had meaning.
What do you think is the biggest difference between this film and past Superman films?
I think Henry and Zach really wanted to make Superman more real, more understandable, to give him some edge and something to deal with so he’s not just a hero. Also, the way that they filmed the movie is much more fluid. Our camera operator almost became his own character, he was always with us in the scene. It’s not static and it’s not heroic. They wanted to capture more of the humanity of who Superman is and what he’s dealing with.
Tell me about your character, Faora.
From a human standpoint, you can almost say that she’s like a psychopath. She has no remorse, she’s engineered to fight. It’s something she has to do. Violence is sort of her passion. There’s no filter. Zach once told me, “I want her to be this dog who just attacks.”
How do you get into that headspace?
A big part of it was the training we went through. First of all, we had to look a certain way. The physicality of Kryptons is very cut and almost perfect. To get the best out of yourself physically is the first thing. When your body is perfectly in shape, you don’t struggle anymore. You don’t compare yourself. There’s no doubt because you are just at your highest level of potential. To get rid of doubts and to become fearless was a big part of the training that I went through.
What sort of training did you have to undergo?
It was a daily two hour training process. Food and calories were limited to 1,200 calories a day. You slept a lot. You live a lot like an athlete, like you were getting ready for a boxing fight. I still feel like it’s something I will never ever forget in my life. It was painful sometimes.
The costumes in this film are amazing. What’s your costume like?
It was great, because I really had an actual costume. I was lucky, even though it was tough to wear it because it was tight, hot, and heavy. But at the end of the day I was so happy because it was so empowering. Every morning when you put on your suit you felt your character.
When did you know you wanted to act?
I started in theatre when I was sixteen. My first role was for a musical. I was touring through Germany and Europe before I came to New York when I was nineteen years old. Walking those streets, I thought, I want to do that. Also, I’ve loved English since I started learning it. I love the sound of it and I thought I just wanted to act in English. I was on stage for like five years and then my agent said, Do you want to try in front of a camera? That’s how it all started. But, I have to say, America really welcomed me warmly. Pandora, the first sci-fi movie I did was an American production. It never really worked out in Germany, funnily enough. I don’t know why. Look at Christopher Waltz. He’s been around forever. But he never was very successful and then Quentin Tarantino comes along.
What do you think you want to pursue next as far as your film work?
Well right now I feel like I’ve been part of the biggest movie you can imagine when it comes to sci-fi and comics. I guess that I would like to play a real person. I’ve done another movie called The Seventh Son, with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. It comes out in the fall. I play a witch. I put on fifteen pounds and became this totally different middle-aged voluptuous woman in Alexander McQueen sort of dresses. It was very different, totally opposite to this mechanical Faora. I did this movie and then I went back to Berlin to reconnect with my family and friends and really feel like Antje again.
If you could have a superhuman ability what would you want yours to be?
I would love to disintegrate and come together again. How many times have I told my friends, “I would love to be in Berlin right now, going for a walk”. It would be awesome to just press a button and be right there.
Photography by Naj Jamai. Styling by Nicole Vitagliano.