She was nominated for the 2010 Faust Award for Best Acting performance for her work in 'Oil'.
She's known to be an extremely humble person. At the 2007 Berlin film festival, while accepting her Silver Bear for her performance in Yella (2007), she stated that the award should have gone to Marianne Faithfull for Irina Palm (2007).
She's also a trained opera singer. She sang the role of Rosalinde in Michael Thalheimer's 2007 production of 'Die Fledermaus'.
She won the 2006 'Gertrud-Eysoldt-Ring' award for her stage performance in Medea.
She declined a starring role in Germany's long-running crime drama series Tatort (1970).
Sang guest vocals on "Europa Geht Durch Mich" by the Manic Street Preachers, from the album 'Futurology' produced by her partner. (2014).
On the 10 February 2015, she was awarded the title of 'Chévalier' of the French Order of Arts and Letters. Other honorees included actress and producer Manuela Stehr (also knighted) and Nina's frequent stage collaborator, director Thomas Ostermeier (who was raised from Officer to Commander).
She starred in five movies that were screened in competition at Berlin Film Festival: Atomised (2006), Yella (2007), Barbara (2012) , Gold (2013) and Return to Montauk (2017). She won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for "Yella".
Her maxim of life: "But where danger is, grows the saving power also."
[on the possibility of playing a Bond girl] If it's a stupid blonde in a bikini then I wouldn't be interested, but if it's an interesting character being mean, or something like Javier Bardem played, that could be good.
[on playing Christian Petzold's movie heroines] Some characteristics might have something to do with me, but I haven't built up this defensive wall as many as the characters have to in Christian's movies. We also do that to create tension. If they don't have a problem you wouldn't be interested in them. It doesn't mean I never have problems but I would deal with them differently. I'm much lighter than his characters.
[on working with the American cast of A Most Wanted Man (2014)] I don't consider myself to be lacking in confidence, but the confidence they have is so natural and no one is afraid of anything. It's just there and you work together.
[on Gold (2013)] It's much more about the path, the journey, than big shoot-outs, or whatever else you consider to be in a classic Western. Of course revenge is a motive, and there are other elements in the film that you find in a typical Western, but the plot is more like an adventure, or a road-movie with horses, maybe.
[on Western movies] I love the John Ford movies, which I first saw when I was still a kid. But I watched one recently that I hadn't seen before, which is Monte Hellman's The Shooting (1966), which is really an incredible Western because it's so simple in terms of the story and even the way it is shot, but extremely effective - I loved it!
[on becoming an actress] My focus was primarily on the stage. I always wanted to be on the stage, even when I was 5. I still remember singing on the stage for the first time. I knew that if I sang, danced or acted, it would be on the stage. Throughout my childhood, every Sunday, I was allowed to watch Hollywood movies starring Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman... That's what I grew up on. I enjoyed French cinema, too. I was always attracted to those kinds of movies, but never thought I would be in films myself. It all happened by accident. I wanted to focus on my stage work because it was something that I felt the most passionate about. I was in my first big film when I was 19, but I still went to acting school. The film was very successful in Germany. When I finished acting school, I split my time doing both theater and films.
[on how she prepared for Barbara (2012)] I read many books about this time period by big German authors that lived in East Germany. Then we talked a lot and I asked a lot of questions. I have two friends that are from the east. I perform in a former East Berlin theater, so we have people from that generation who were born at the beginning of the GDR and experienced that whole thing. It was important for me to get that atmosphere right. Coming from the west, I never experienced it really. How does it feel when you're not allowed to talk? Every minute, you're paranoid that someone's listening in. Someone could just grab you on the street and say, "I want you to work for me." I wanted to understand how that must feel. How do people as humans try to escape something like that and make their lives seem worthy? How do you maintain your dignity? That's basically what Barbara is doing. In the end, she has an option that she never had. The doctor shows her how to live in silence and make the most of her circumstance. Isn't that maybe more fulfilling than the freedom you seek in the west? I certainly don't have the answer. It's a tricky thing. The sentimental side of me wants to believe that it's possible. That's the big question the film asks at its core.
[making a comparison between film and TV] I think the way you get to learn your character is different in theater and film. In theater, you're in a collective and in this group, you discuss a lot, explore things, and when you go the wrong path you turn around and try something else. You're always together with your colleagues and in constant discourse. You're never on your own. You can make mistakes, but no one will see it and it doesn't matter. It's so beautiful doing theater because you really find yourself as an actress. I can try things without anyone judging me. You can't do that with films because you simply don't have the time. You have to be prepared and sometimes it can be a lonely process before you get onto the set. Another fascinating thing is that you get magical moments when a director calls "Action!" and you have all the freedom in the world. You shoot a scene and you might lose control, but then we have it forever. In theater, you have to play out the same story for 4 weeks and keep finding those moments over and over again. You're constantly asking, "How did I get there?" but in film, you get it right once and never have to do it again. It's an amazing thing.
[on her collaborations with Christian Petzold] When we first met, I was just 22 years old. I was immediately interested in the way he saw things. He was the first director, especially since I was so young back then, who taught me so much about filmmaking. That's what I wanted to learn. Still to this day, I love being in the editing room and I like seeing the whole process of making a film beginning to end. I'm still learning a lot about it. He was the first one who didn't think, "Actors don't have a clue about that." We found a working language that worked for both of us very quickly. Since we've worked together for so long, we trust each other 100% of the time. If I criticize anything or he criticizes anything, it comes from a good place and you're doing it for the benefit of the other person. You're not trying to be nasty. It's a big thing that you're able to trust each other so much. I love the way he approaches filmmaking. There aren't many auteurs around anymore. He writes all of his own movies, thinks about them very deeply and creates a protective environment for his actors. Everyone is very responsible in their respective departments on his films. It's a very special way of working.
[on playing the title role in Barbara (2012)] I had to fully understand her backstory. You see her and you can sense that she has this wall built up and nothing can get to her. I thought that she was once a very lively and positive woman. She had loved her job and something happened, which has a lot to with guilt. That's the story I had in my mind about her. I pushed her to the point where she can't do it any longer and she is forced to make a change. She comes to the point where she says, "I won't allow you to break me no matter what you do to me." That's how she finds her dignity. A good example is the use of her makeup. That came out of a story that my mother told me. When she was young in the '50s, she always wore makeup. In school, her teacher would take an eraser to wipe the board and tell my mother to wipe her makeup off in front of the whole class. She did just that and went to the bathroom and put it back on. I wanted Barbara to wear makeup. It was unusual in those days, in the countryside, to wear makeup. It's the kind of thing that would make people say, "Who does she think she is?"
[on Devid Striesow] I always thought he was a great talent. Especially a comic talent. I think a comedian can be a tragic actor, and I see both things in him.
[on the movies she watched to prepare for Barbara (2012)] Christian [Petzold] and Hans Fromm thought that, because the film is about the state observing the people, the camera should not be at an observing angle. The camera should be a friend of Barbara. When she's on her own in the bathroom, I never have the feeling that the way we look at her is threatening. The audience is never in the voyeuristic position. That was very important for me to know. We talk about that by watching movies. We watched The French Connection, for example, where you never see the shooter. It's about perspective. That tells a story in itself. Then we watched Howard Hawks's To Have and Have Not (1944): that is about a flirtation that is going on. [Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall] are quite harsh to each other, and very clever. And because they can handle each other, they are attracted to each other. The other person won't crumble. We watched that also just to watch a great movie.
[on Stromboli (1950)] It's about being foreign, her being on that island. There's always a struggle. I always have the feeling that the characters Christian [Petzold] creates are similar in that sense. Either they were thrown out of society, or something happened like in Wolfsburg (2003) where a kid died and you're thrown out of it. It's always about, in a sense, how to get back in, to find their position. And how much do you have to give up of yourself to be a part of something? And don't you need to be part of something to be a fulfilled person?
[on playing the title role in A Woman in Berlin (2008)] She is a very complex character. She is sensitive and vulnerable at the same time, but her actions display a huge amount of courage and self-awareness... It's exactly this combination of courage and vulnerability that stirred my interest in the character. I tried to show the deep wounds she had suffered, but also to show the hard shell she puts on to protect herself, and her acts of courage. She's someone who takes risks, someone who, for example, walks through that crowd of Russian soldiers and asks to see their commander, a situation where anybody else would have died from fear.
Politicians can try to act but it doesn't always work.
[on the importance of stage work] I cannot yet let go of theater, although it's very tiring. Theater is like taking alternative routes when going [down] the road. So when I play in a movie, I can think of all these routes, before being open toward everything provided by the director.
[on playing opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man (2014)] God, what an intelligent man! Our relationship in the movie is like an old, married couple's without being in the relationship at all, but we really care for each other. He made sure that I was able to put that across.
[on playing the leading role in Phoenix (2014)] Nelly is so complicated, I had to simplify the process of playing a woman playing herself for myself first.
As a German, when you talk about [the Holocaust] you have a very big responsibility of telling it in the right way and being very careful with how you tell it because it happened in our country. We want to make everyone aware that it happened in our country. The Germans have to tell the stories again and again and again because it happened here. Every time there is any anti-Semitism in Germany there is a huge outcry, because we need to make sure that it is never going to happen again, that it is impossible.
[on her physical acting in Phoenix (2014)] I thought very much about how I could express her journey in her body. When you see the pictures of the people who were at Auschwitz or the other concentration camps, they are so thin and in a way not really there. They look like they don't want to be seen, so they don't get into trouble. That's what I was working on, the fear. I also wanted to show how [Nelly] grows slowly over time, like a flower. Her head goes up and she can remember what it is like to be in the body again. I wanted to embrace that and play with that and feel what it is.
As a kid, I remember crying and then noticing myself in the mirror and being fascinated by how that looked. Now my antennae are always up. You see things on the street, the way people behave. It's not as cold as 'I can use that.' It's more like, 'Ah! Why would someone be like that? How must it feel?'
[on her partnership with Christian Petzold, 2015 interview] We challenge each other. And I love his characters. They're women who fall out of life and have to fight their way back. There is pain but there's always something hopeful.
[on being cast in Homeland (2011)] I love my character in Homeland, every time I get the scripts I'm so curious to learn what's going to happen to her next, she has this great humor to her and I love that. I don't think she's a normal spy, so I enjoy doing it so much.
[on shooting Return to Montauk (2017)] Colm [Tóibín] writes women figures to die for. His script is so clever because my figure is, at first, the projection of the author but eventually slips out and becomes independent in a long monologue - very unusual in a film, and a big chance for me.
Like all over the world, arthouse cinema in Germany has a tough time because people don't go to cinemas anymore like they used to. Also, subsidies go more and more into 'children's' films that are going to bring the money back. It's as if they don't want to do grown-up cinema anymore. So sometimes you have to wait two, three, four years at the moment for a project to get off the ground while the filmmaker gets the money together. I do believe that it is like theatre, that these things come and go in waves. I feel hopeful there will be a wave that will put us up again. You only need to look at what is going on in France and Eastern Europe where they are making fantastic films like Hungary's Son of Saul [Son of Saul (2015)].