Daniela Mitterlehner





Actress, director, juggler...

by Sherif Awad

Daniela Mitterlehner

-I was born and raised in Linz which is a medium-sized city in Austria. I was an only child. My parents had a little shop for second-hand electrics but were both also passionate artists. They made their money by repairing and selling used electronics but in their spare time my father used to play the Guitar (before I was born he also played in bands), to sing and to paint or draw beautiful pictures and my mother wrote poems and fantasy novels. When I was a small child my mother used to have her own public readings and my father often played the Guitar there to support the atmosphere of the poems or stories. They loved their arts, but they never really tried to earn money with them. I think my mother secretly dreamed of getting published one day, but she never did. They also potted, made their own jewelry and little trees made of wires and gems which they also sometimes sold in their shop and I think they even made part of their living by selling these trees and jewelry for a short period before they opened their second hand shop. They also invented games for me which was really nice, and we often did creative things together. They also taught me the basics of all kinds of arts they used to do.

As my parents worked a lot – during the day in the shop and in the evenings they often delivered their goods to their customers, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. Most days my parents would bring me to my grandparents from my mothers side in the morning before they went to work and picked me up again late in the evening. My grandfather was a very talented and passionate painter. He used every free minute to paint or draw, and he also supported me in learning to draw a little.I spent most of my weekends with my grandparents from my fathers side. They also where shop owners and sold electrics (but new ones). They weren’t artists themselves, but they loved listening to music, reading books, going to the opera or visiting museums, and they showed me the beauty of all these things. As you can see, I spent more time with my grandparents than with my parents. After my father got sick and had to close down the shop, my parents’ marriage broke apart and I tried to avoid my constantly fighting parents by spending as much time as possible with my grandparents from my fathers side which lead to moving to them by the end of primary school. My parents divorced and though I had a good relationship with my father my grandparents emotionally became my parents. (I felt for them as most people feel for their parents, and they treated me like their own child. I will always be enormously grateful for that.) My father died shortly before I graduated from school.


-As you can see from the above, I was always surrounded by arts, artists and art lovers, so being interested in arts and loving arts was part of my whole life. One of the great things in my family was that all kinds of arts were appreciated and that my family always supported me in being creative and artistically (although they were a bit shocked when I told them I wanted to become a professional actress because art was considered to be a great hobby but not a profession somebody in the family should choose, and it seemed to be too insecure). I was the first one however who got interested in acting. The time when my parents went through divorce was tough for me too. The only thing that really helped me to ignore them yelling at each other was watching a movie that really sucked me into its story. While watching everything around stopped being important and I just enjoyed what I saw on the screen. I especially loved comedies. After a while I got interested in the people who made the movies I loved watching so much, so I started to read about them and to watch interviews and I understood that acting is a profession that could one day also be mine. It took quite a long time from getting interested in actors and their work to feeling the passionate wish to learn how to do that. I wanted to be able to make people forget their problems and worries for a while by taking them on a wonderful journey through the story of a play or a movie and to bring them back afterwards with a smile on their faces or some intriguing or good thoughts. In a way I wanted to help people by letting them have a good time. I did my first appearance as an actress on stage with the youth club of the local theater when I was 15 and after that I knew that I wanted to become a professional actress.

Daniela Mitterlehner

-Role model is a big word. I never tried to be exactly like someone else. There were and are people who inspired and inspire me very much but I never wanted to copy them and I mostly did completely different things and played completely different characters than they did. During my childhood and teen years I especially admired the great and creative comedy actors like Jim Carrey, the members of the comedy group Monty Python, Jerry Lewis or Charlie Chaplin. Many of them were multitalented. They were actors, comedians, writer, directors, producers, musicians and so on, and they worked on stage, sometimes in radio shows, on TV and in cinema. I also wanted to be able to do various artistic things and now I do. (I act, write, direct, create and juggle.) I also liked the classic action comedies with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. They and some above mentioned weren’t considered being very good actors but they gave me a good time and their movies helped me whenever I was sad.

Later, I was especially fascinated by actors who could play extremely different characters in all genres of movies and theater and I found out that most of the above mentioned (especially Jim Carrey but also Charlie Chaplin and Jerry Lewis) could also play authentic serious and tragic parts. Of course, this interest in multi genre actors opened up my interest for many more great artists. I wanted to be able to play a wide range of very different characters and genres too and I do now which makes me really happy. I also liked Angela Lansbury, Jamie Lee Curtis, Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Sir Ian McKellen, Emma Watson and Daniel Ratcliffe. As a teenager, I was very influenced by the great theater writers, maybe more than by actors. I loved reading Shakespeare and Goethe and I loved to see these plays on stage or being part of a Shakespeare play myself. As I was a member of the youth group of the local theater (Linzer Landestheater) which was a big theater with several stages in different parts of the town, also some actors there became very inspiring for me because I could see them in so many plays and admired their ability to play completely different characters. Another important influence as a teenager and also later where musicians with good live concerts and lyrics I could in a way identify with, especially German punk rock bands like “Die Ärzte” or “Die toten Hosen”. Their lyrics were often about freedom of doing what you want to do, questioning what most people do, having fun and also against racism. Austrian political satire, comedy and cabaret were big personal influences too. These artists taught -me (through their work) a lot about questioning everything and the right to do that, about daring to have a different point of few and a lot about politics. Many of them also were great play writers (Austrian comedy and cabaret is often very theatre like) and great actors because they were able to create extremely authentic but also edgy characters At the moment, I’m  very inspired by the work of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
-I loved being an acting student because I could work on what I love most and I got to know more people with the same passion. I did a lot of acting before I started studying and I already knew professional actors, directors and acting students so I had no illusions about the real life in the profession I chose. I knew that acting is hard work and needs a lot of training and I had already heard a lot about studying acting. That was very helpful because unlike many others I had no wrong expectations. I had great teachers who taught us techniques we could really understand and use in our every day work. I was so fond of learning that I tried to get extra classes or workshops outside my normal acting studies as often as possible on weekends or during the summer break to learn as many different approaches and techniques as possible. Sometimes I was able to get these extra classes for free by assisting the teachers. As a workshop assistent I learned about the way the teachers worked and about directing and creating/writing plays as some of the workshops ended with a show that was often created by the teachers. In my acting studies I was mostly educated in Meisner technique which I still really like. It’s easy to understand (but of course needs a lot of practice) and I think it’s quite actors friendly because you work with your fantasy and your partner a lot. It’s about listening to your partner, building an emotional connection and reacting and if there is no partner you imagine a situation with a person who is dear to you in your real life to get into the emotion you need at the beginning of the scene. The emotions which are created that way feel real but when the scene is over its easier to get out of them than with some other techniques which use real personal memories to create emotions. What I also loved about become an actress was that there are so many different approaches and tools and that there are endless possibilities to keep learning and improving.

-That’s a very good question about stardom. I love what I do right now (before the lockdown and hopefully again after it). I always wanted to play very different characters and genres. I like the plays and films I’m in and I always wanted to go on tour. I have wonderful colleagues, and we often work at beautiful places which I wouldn’t know without touring. I get new artistic challenges regularly and I simply love my job. I can be creative. With some plays I can simply entertain people and with other plays I can make them think about things that I think really matter and I love both kinds of work. I nearly always play in front of a packed audience as our shows are always sold very well and the feedback we get is really good too. I am happy with what I do and I’m extremely grateful for being able and allowed to do all these things. On the other hand, I sometimes think it would be great to be well known by a much bigger audience for my abilities and the quality of my work. I would also like to do more movies and work more internationally which is easier if you have a famous face and a name everybody knows. Then again, I also like having my privacy and being able to walk around freely wherever I am and exploring nature and the cities I visit when I’m on tour which is much easier if nobody knows you.  I think both options (becoming famous or doing what I do and loving it without being famous) have their advantages, so I’m just planning on happily continuing to do what I love to do and if fame comes my way, that’s nice but it’s not my main reason for being an actress. 

Daniela Mitterlehner


-During my acting studies I was a little afraid of having to play the same female stereotypes again and again, but I never had to. I’ve had the luck of only working with companies which pay men and women equally so far and I’ve always been fully accepted by the people I worked with. There have been very rare occasions when men seemed to expect less from me than from male colleagues because I am a woman but in nearly every case I could quite easily manage to surprise them and get their respect which always felt like a little victory.

-At this very moment nearly everything that has to do with live entertainment or filming is closed due to COVID-19/corona as it is everywhere on the planet, so everybody is fighting with the situation. We all miss our audiences, and we all don’t earn the money we used to earn. There are some financial aids for artists but it’s not easy to get financial backing now as so many people apply. Before the lockdown I had the feeling that there was a lot of creative work going on everywhere in Austria and Germany. Austria is a country in which culture and arts are very important but there are so many artists (especially actors) and the country is small so there are many constantly unemployed or employed but severely underpaid actors and everybody knows that the best chances to get to work regularly and earn enough money to make a living by acting is to move to or at least sometimes work in Germany which is a much bigger country with a huge entertainment industry. Both neighboring countries share the same national language and a very similar culture so it’s easy to work on both sides of the border and therefore there is a constant exchange of actors and directors. I think there are a lot of extremely creative people in both countries. Austria maybe has the more daring artists, especially in the film making sector. Actors are really challenged artistically more often than in Germany. On the other hand the German entertainment industry (film, theater, comedy, TV) often seems to be more professional in terms of organization, advertisement, budget and payment but also often not so willing to take risks (maybe because in many cases there is much more money involved in a production than in Austria). I think both countries (especially Germany) move forward also in making more and more international productions which is really exciting.

-In Austria, I always feel that knowing people is really important and it’s also crucial where you got your acting diploma. If you want do get into a national theater you have to get your acting diploma at a national acting school or university. Without that it’s nearly impossible to get in there. Smaller theaters also often look for people they already know but sometimes they open up castings also for people who simply apply. Living near the theater or place of production is also extremely important in Austria to get invited to a casting, especially if the casting director doesn’t know you before.

-In Germany the casting process seems to be more open. There are many platforms on the internet where you can find castings. If you’re interesting for the theater or casting director and you have enough experience as a professional actor they’ll invite you to the casting, no matter if they know you and no matter where you live. (Many theaters in Germany even offer free accommodation for actors during rehearsals and shows and some even offer accommodation for the casting day).
-First of all, for new offered works, I read the script very carefully (the whole script, not only my parts). I do that again and again to get to know it really well. I want to dive into the story and get to know all the characters, not only the one I’m going to play and I want to get a feeling for the relationships they have to each other and also for their environment, time and society. If there is anything not familiar to me in the script (for example the country or time in which the story is set) I do a lot of research. When I started to prepare for “Sherlock Holmes und der Fluch der Ashtonburrys” (= Sherlock Holmes and the curse of the Ashtonburrys), a dinner and crime show I toured Germany with, I read all the Sherlock Holmes novels, I researched about the time, lifestyle and society. If the character I play is based on a real person like Anne Frank who I played for three years or Sophie Scholl who I will hopefully continue to play after the lockdown, I research about the real, historical person a lot. I read books, look her up on the internet and watch movies or documentations about her. If the character I play is fictious, I search for every information about her in the script and I imagine the things I can’t find there. I create her whole world in my imagination. I imagine her life before the events that happen in the play and I ask myself many questions and try to answer them as the character, for example: What is her family background? How was she brought up? What made her the person she is? What does she like, hate, fear, dream of, …? Who are the people in her life? How are her relationships to them and especially to the other characters in the script? What are her values? What’s important for her? How does she live? Which problems does she have? What is her political, social and religious attitude? There are many more questions. Sometimes I write down her short bio and my questions and answers about her live. Sometimes the character has a skill or a hobby that is really important for her. If it’s possible I try to understand more about that too. When I played Anne Frank I started to write as you learn it in school again and to write a diary for a while. I also try to find out, how that character moves, how she speaks, if there are any peculiar things about her body, movement or voice. The funnier the character is the more I try to find her own body, voice and rhythm. The more serious a character is, the more I try to find her inner self and emotional depth. I also analyze every scene I’m in generally and especially focused on my character. I try to learn my lines and those of my partners (of course only the scenes I’m in) as neutral as possible to stay open for changes during rehearsals. While acting, listening and reacting to my partners is extremely important for me. It’s the basis for creating a relationship that feels real. Also, costumes and makeup help me to get into character and to get a feeling for the character during rehearsals. Sometimes I also try to find music that helps me to get into character or into strong emotions I need for the beginning of a scene. (That’s especially helpful for film where scenes often aren’t shot chronologically and where you have a lot of waiting time during something is changed on the set. Music then helps me to stay focused and in the emotion.)

Daniela Mitterlehner

-Of course I was very happy when the short film “Dämonische Welt” (=Demonic World) in which I played the leading role got the Open Award 2018 of the ZeitImPuls film festival in Vienna but I think my greatest artistic achievement so far is that I was able to earn my living by being creative ever since I got my acting diploma. Many talented people need a very long time to be able to earn their money with their arts and some are never able to do that. The great thing about that is, that I can focus 100 % on my arts. I’m also proud of the variety of very different characters and genres I played so far, mostly on stage but also in front of a camera and for all kinds of audiences (kids, teens, adults). Sometimes I do a play for kids or teens in a school in the morning and then travel to another city where I do a dinner and crime show with a lot of dark humor for adults in the evening and I’m really happy about that but also a bit proud of get cast for all those different things.

-I focus on my arts and luckily, I’m able to earn my living by acting and sometimes directing. During the first few years after my acting studies I also did a lot of juggling shows, hosted events (for example Q & A’s at the international LET’S CEE film festival in Vienna) and did some voice over jobs. When there were not enough bookings for acting jobs, I created my own shows together with colleagues and did them at festivals or split the entry money with the theatre. I wrote and co-wrote some plays I performed with colleagues or solo and I also was part of a group that mixed theater with circus arts. We created and performed those shows at festivals but also at events of all kinds. Sometimes we also performed in the streets but always as booked acts. I also did some mask theatre which also sometimes was booked for public events in the streets. The only not entirely artistic work I rarely do is teaching juggling or theatrical improvisation workshops but the skills I teach are artistic.
Sometimes I was afraid I couldn’t have enough work during the summer and once I even started to apply for some other jobs but fortunately I didn’t need another job as acting jobs came in also for that time.


-To newcomers:If you really want to do it, do it! It’s not easy to get into a good acting school or university and sometimes it takes years to get accepted but if you really want to do it, then stick to it and never stop believing in yourself! It’s also normal that family, friends and - if you do something else for a job before – colleagues think it’s a completely crazy idea to become a professional artist. There are so many unemployed artists in the world and it’s always an insecure job. You might hear these arguments very often. (Even my family - who is art loving and full of talented hobby artists - was sceptical when I told them I wanted to become a professional actress.) The mentioned arguments against choosing a carrier as an artist are of course true but there are also a lot of constantly working artists and you also could lose a normal job that is considered to be much more secure than arts, so why not try to do what you love? I think if you really are born to be an artist you won’t be happy with any other job in the world, no matter how secure it is or how much money you make with it. I’ve tried other jobs before I started my acting studies and also to finance my acting studies and I hated nearly every one of them because my heart clearly told me that they were a waste of time and energy which I really should use to do what I love. (Some jobs were fun because I was near artists and I could learn by working with them or simply because I knew they would only last a few weeks and I was – similar to acting – assisting people in having a good time, for example when I worked at a really beautiful Christmas market.) Another thing is never to stop working on yourself and your skills. Art is constant improvement and learning. During acting studies you might feel stuck sometimes. There’s a feeling of not reaching a goal you desperately want to reach. You know how something should feel or should be done but you simply can’t and it’s driving you crazy. (I had that feeling from time to time and sometimes it was hard not to quit and think of myself as a looser.) When I had this feeling, I normally was extremely close to making a major learning step. Luckily, I never quit. I was angry with myself and sometimes needed a little break, but I kept working and very soon it worked out the way it should. So never give up even if you feel stuck sometimes. The only reason why you should become an artist is because you love doing your art. Doing it because you want to become rich and famous is not a good reason. If you don’t love what you do, there are many easier ways to become rich and famous that are much more likely to work.

-I don’t make difference between private and professional. I love and live my profession and luckily, I really like the people I’m working with, so it’s okay for me that my professional practice is taking most of my time and energy. During the last five years I mostly did touring theater, so I spent very little time at home. I also moved from Austria to Germany to support my acting. I don’t see my friends and family very often, but we talk on the phone and I try to visit them every few months and sometimes they visit me. I love them and I sometimes I really miss them, but I always knew that being a professional actress often also means to be far away from your loved ones. I love touring and my colleagues feel like family to me. We spend a lot of time together when we are on tour, not only on stage but also on the road and at the places we do our shows. The day starts with breakfast at the hotel and it’s always nice to meet colleagues there. We travel together, we eat together before the show starts, and we spend time together after the shows. We share a sense of humor, and we laugh a lot together. Sometimes I also spend free time on tour with some colleagues. We take a walk, do some sightseeing or play games. Of course, I also enjoy having some time on my own. We often stay at beautiful places as we  do many of our shows in castles surrounded by beautiful nature. I like to go for long walks and enjoy the beauty of these places and sometimes to take pictures. I also enjoy reading or listening to music, watching good movies or good comedians. These are all things I can do anywhere. When I get to visit friends and family, I try to focus completely on spending time with them and enjoying the time we have together. I know how precious that time is as it is also quite rare. I also love to go to concerts. Seeing a good band and a great show can make me happy for days. 

-During the lockdown, there is not so much as there usual is as I’m mostly a stage performer and theaters are closed. I try to stay active nevertheless. I make videos at home, doing monologues or mixing theater with juggling and I try to organize future projects and co-operations. I also try to expand my professional network and be present in social media. I’m also currently working on some scenes together with two colleagues via zoom. We want to shoot them when the lockdown is over to have some new video material and I’m in regular contact with a filmmaker in Berlin. We think about doing some scenes or a short movie combining acting with juggling. If the current situation regarding corona/COVID-19 allows it, I will travel to Austria in a few weeks when I’ll direct a solo comedy show, written and performed by a former acting colleague. I really look forward to directing comedy again. I’ve done that quite regularly when I lived in Vienna and I always enjoy working with comedians as I really love good comedy. After that I will work with an Austrian writer. We plan to do some readings of his work on stage together, so I will visit him and his lovely wife and we will work on what we want to read together and rehearse. Today a wonderful Austrian film maker (Michél Komzak), confirmed a new co-operation, a short movie called “Trance”, which will hopefully be shot this summer or fall and in which I will play the lead role. We worked together previously on the award-winning short movie “Dämonische Welt” (=Demonic World), in which I also played the lead part. I look forward to working with him again very much as his way of directing is always challenging in very good way and as he simply knows how to get everybody to do their best work. I also really like the script. In September, I hope to be able to start touring Germany again. Before the lockdown I was touring with two different companies and four different plays, and we all want to continue these tours. One of the companies is “Das Original Krimidinner” which specializes in dinner & crime shows. We do crime comedies with four short intermissions in which a high class four-course meal is served. It’s a lot of fun doing these shows which take place on stage but also somewhere in audience, and they always have some parts in which we interact with the audience. These parts also leaves space for some improvisation which is fun. My favorite of these shows is “Sherlock Holmes und der Fluch der Ashtonburrys” (= Sherlock Holmes and the curse of the Ashtonburrys). The play is really funny in the beginning and gets more and more serious, intense and suspenseful towards the end. (I’m also a fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels, so I enjoy being part of this world especially.) I also love that I am allowed to play very different characters in the three shows I do with this company. In the Sherlock Holmes show I play a man crazed maid and an aristocratic feminist who fights for her own liberty as a woman. In “Der Leichenschmaus” (= The funeral party), a dark crime comedy, I play the rich, greedy and extremely dumb daughter of a recently deceased Scottish lord. (There is also an English version of this show which I was supposed to start rehearsing too before the lockdown so I hope I will do that soon afterwards.) In “Die Jagd vom schwarzen Moor” (=The hunt of dark moor) I play a mysterious servant with visionary power who suffers from unreturned love. The other company or rather project I plan to continue touring with in September is “Senger & Mitterlehner”. Judith Senger is a theater director I’ve known for a very long time. When I was a teenager, she directed the first plays I did as an actress with the youth club of the local theater in Linz and she also gave us our first acting lessons. After that we stayed in contact and became friends. Last year we decided to work together again. She found a great one woman play about Sophie Scholl, a student, anti-Nazi political activist and one of the leaders of the White Rose resistance group in Nazi Germany who was sentenced to death by the Nazi regime. The play has a very unusual point of few as the story is told by a young woman who lives today and coincidentally has the same name as the famous resistance heroine. When she gets into a situation in which she has to choose between the right thing that could harm herself and a very wrong thing that could help her but harm others, she starts to think about the historical Sophie Scholl and also to fight with the pressure to do the right thing that comes with their mutual name. We do that play mainly in schools in Germany (followed by an interactive theater pedagogical part about moral courage which we do together) but in 2021 it will also be shown at a theater and music festival, the “Musiksommer Bad Schallerbach”, in Austria and I’m thinking of offering it to more theater festivals.