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Armin Mueller-Stahl

Armin Mueller-Stahl

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: December 17, 1930 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Profession: Cast ... actor pianist violinist screenwriter director music teacher author
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BIOGRAPHY

An overnight success years in the making, Armin Mueller-Stahl spent the post-World War II era in East Berlin studying and playing the violin. The former music teacher made his stage acting debut at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (home of the famous Berliner Ensemble) in 1953 and worked for more than two decades with another noted East Berlin company, Volksbuehne (People's Stage). After making a smooth transition from stage to screen in "Heimleche Ehe/The Secret Marriage" (1958), he became one of DEFA's (the state-run film conglomerate) outstanding young actors. His three-picture collaboration with director Frank Beyer culminated with "Jakob der Luegner/Jakob the Liar" (1974), the only DEFA picture to ever receive a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, and he also consolidated his popularity with frequent television appearances. His decision to sign the Biermann Resolution, a manifesto critical of the government, however, led to his blacklisting in 1976. "When you lived in the G.D.R., you were political, even if you didn't want to be," he told Premiere (November 1990). "I felt I had a responsibility to the public."

A renaissance man who is also an accomplished writer and painter, Mueller-Stahl spent the next three years writing a memoir, "Ordered Sunday" (1979). When the government finally permitted him to leave East Germany, he immigrated to West Germany in 1980 and resumed his career under the aegis of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, appearing in "Lola" (1981) and "Veronika Voss" (1982). His role as a storm trooper in Andrzej Wajda's "Love in Germany" (1983) earned him his best reviews yet in the West and introduced him to Polish screenwriter-director Agnieszka Holland, who cast him to great effect as the working-class Polish farmer who shelters an aristocratic Viennese Jew in her "Angry Harvest" (1985). That performance earned him the Montreal Film Festival Best Actor Award, and he also shone that year as the doomed Franz Ferdinand in Istvan Szabo's Oscar-nominated "Colonel Redl". These films plus a regular role in West Germany's long-running TV series "Black Forest Clinic" had brought him recognition throughout Western Europe, but he was still a virtual unknown in the USA (despite having played a Russian General in ABC's controversial miniseries "Amerika" 1987) when Costa-Gavras cast him in "Music Box" (1989).

The balding, paternal-looking Mueller-Stahl with his large, sad eyes was perfect as the enigmatic, dissembling war criminal of "Music Box", but the director and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas let the opportunity for a first-rate political thriller get away from them when they opted for a far-fetched melodrama instead. Barry Levinson served him much better with the nostalgic "Avalon" (1990), in which he was marvelous as family patriarch Sam Krichinsky. Unlike on "Music Box" where the script was changing daily, Levinson's script was set, allowing the actor a greater comfort level and ultimately more freedom in finding the character. Mueller-Stahl also gave heartfelt performances in Jim Jarmusch's episodic "Night on Earth" (1992, as an East German cab driver in NYC), George Sluizer's "Utz" (1992, as a millionaire porcelain collector), Bob Balaban's "The Last Good Time" (1994, as a widower who befriends a troubled young woman) and as the old pastry shop owner in the dark romance "A Pyromaniac's Love Story" (1995).

In 1996, Mueller-Stahl enjoyed one of his best roles as the demanding father of real-life pianist David Helfgott in Scott Hicks' "Shine". His three-dimensional portrayal of a Holocaust survivor who alternately encourages and berates his talented son, eventually alienating the youth, earned him the 1996 Australian Film Institute Best Supporting Actor Award, as well as an Oscar nomination. That same year, he wrote, directed and co-starred (with Balaban) in "Conversations With the Beast", which depicted an imagined interview with a century-old Adolf Hitler, a part he played with relish. 1997 then saw the busy actor featured in "The Peacemaker", "The Game" and "The Assistant", but he may have done his best work that year for the small screen. First he gave a stellar performance as a compassionate rabbi struggling to retain his faith in Showtime's "In the Presence of Mine Enemies", a remake of Rod Serling's drama of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and he later turned up amidst the talented ensemble of another Showtime remake, William Friedkin's acclaimed "12 Angry Men".

Now a resident of Los Angeles, Mueller-Stahl has continued to be a frequent face on both the large and small screens. After appearing appropriately menacing as the German leader of a cabal bent on global domination in the feature version of "The X-Files" (1998), he delivered arguably the best performance (as a dapper time-traveler) in the disappointing thriller "The Thirteenth Floor" (1999), despite logging less screen time than any of the other principals. Twenty-five years after acting in the original, he portrayed a doctor who encourages Robin Williams' character to keep lying because it gives the Jews hope in the remake, "Jakob the Liar", and he reteamed with Holland for "The Third Miracle" (both also 1999), providing a formidable presence as the devil's advocate, a Catholic archbishop adamantly opposed to a modern-day canonization. As for TV, "The Commissioner" (TMC, 1999) and "Inferno" (Cinemax, 2000) were unreleased features showcasing their dubious merits, but Mueller-Stahl did lend his powerful presence to the role of Joseph in the CBS miniseries "Jesus" (also 2000).

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