"Actors with disabilities are not being offered many roles"

Interview with Carina Kühne, actress

Sometimes dreams actually do come true: Carina Kühne never dreamed she would play the lead role in a movie that has since won numerous awards. Yet despite this success, things still leave much to be desired because the industry needs to finally embrace inclusion.


Foto: Carina Kühne; Copyright: Peter Schäfer

Carina Kühne; © Peter Schäfer

REHACARE.com spoke with the actor about her view of the industry and barriers in people’s minds.

In "Be my Baby", you play the lead role of Nicole who wants to start a family and lead a very normal life. How much do you identify with this role?

Carina Kühne: I can totally imagine starting a family and getting married. Actually, that’s something almost everybody wants. Nevertheless, I decided against having my own children because I have Down syndrome and might pass it down. I learned the hard way how difficult it is for persons with disabilities to find a place in a regular school, the normal job market or a normal role in a movie. I want to spare my child from having to go through all that.

The movie was not only nominated for the 2015 Grimme Award but also won awards like the German Cinema New Talent Award ("Förderpreis Neues Deutsches Kino") at the Munich International Film Festival or the Mainzer Rad of the Festival of German Film (FILMZ). How important is this for you?

Kühne: I am very delighted about it! I believe the movie will garner more attention this way. People talk about the movie and I think many people are curious now and watch a film that normally wouldn’t interest them. I believe the film also received these awards because the audience is subconsciously able to identify with Nicole.

To what extent is it generally important for you to recognize yourself in a role?

Kühne: I am actually playing a role and not myself. That’s why it is not important for me to recognize myself in a role. I just need to be able to connect with it and put myself in the person’s position. I was actually not able to recognize myself in the role of Nicole. Personally, I talk differently, am far more independent, don’t need someone who looks after me at all times and I also always had friends without disabilities. I would love to play a murderer some day; nobody would expect that and that would be a special twist for the viewers.
Photo: Carina Kühne sitting on a bed; Copyright: Peter Schäfer

In the movie "Be my Baby" Carina Kühne plays Nicole, a young woman who wants to become a mother; © Peter Schäfer

When the role of a person with a disability is meant to be cast in a movie, persons without disabilities are more likely to be cast versus persons with disabilities. What do you think about that?

Kühne: Unfortunately, actors with disabilities are not being offered many roles to begin with. This is why it should go without saying that they are being cast for these types of roles. They can play these roles more authentically than actors without a disability. I often feel they portray the disability in an exaggerated way.

What would you like to see instead?

Kühne: I would like it if actors with disabilities would not just be cast for those kinds of roles. They are actually able to play roles in almost any movie. I could also imagine that the 1960s German TV series "Unser Walter" (English: Our Walter) which features a child with Down syndrome is shown again on TV but then also a new series where everything is different, more positive, somehow normal and natural. My motto is:When you are seen, you are a part of the team!

What do you think about movies that focus on a disability?

Kühne: There will probably always be movies that deal with the subject of disability. However, I would like to see more movies where a disability doesn’t play a role. Unfortunately, filmmakers usually have strange ideas about how persons with disabilities should act. Oftentimes, this is not well received by viewers. They don’t consider the acting skills but think people simply are this way and cannot act differently. Unfortunately, this does not help to remove barriers in people’s minds. Es wird wohl immer Filme geben, in denen es um das Thema Behinderung geht. Aber eigentlich wünsche ich mir, dass es mehr Filme gibt, in denen die Behinderung keine Rolle spielt. Leider haben die Filmemacher meist eine seltsame Vorstellung, wie sich Menschen mit Behinderung verhalten sollen. Das kommt oft gar nicht gut bei den Zuschauern an. Sie sehen nicht die schauspielerische Leistung, sondern denken, die sind eben so und können sich nicht anders verhalten. Das hilft dann leider nicht, die Barrieren in den Köpfen zu beseitigen.
Photo: Carina Kühne; Copyright: Georg Kliebhan

Carina Kühne at the Filmfestspiele Biberach 2014; © Georg Kliebhan

What’s next for you and your acting career?

Kühne: In real life, I was never in a facility for disabled persons but have always experienced inclusion. This is something I also want from movie parts. I don’t want to always play a disabled person. I have worked in medical offices, nursery schools, nursing homes for the elderly, at a developmental pedagogy practice, as a waitress in a café and as a sales person in the supermarket. I have modeled, performed piano concerts, I write a blog, give lectures and participate in debates. That’s why I would like to be able to also experience inclusion in the movies. I would love to show that persons with Down syndrome are also able to accomplish things and are a part of society.
More about Carina Kühne (only in English) at: www.carinakuehne.wordpress.com
Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Fromman

Nadine Lormis
(translated by Elena O'Meara)