The Empress of Austria-Hungary is a Swiss woman: Lucerne-born Dominique Davenport is starring in the new series Sissi, which can be seen on ORF 1 starting December 28. The 25-year-old spoke to APA about the continued fascination with Sisi, the differences with the “Sisi” films of the 1950s and what she definitely doesn’t want to steal from Romy Schneider.
What makes Sisi so charming to so many people?
Dominican Development: I think there are different sides. On the one hand, there is a fairy tale of an ordinary girl who meets a prince. They fall in love and then live together in the castle as a prince and princess. On the other hand, Empress Elizabeth was a very interesting character, living a life full of extremism and full of conflict. There are many legends about her. During my research, I’ve noticed that you can read, look and listen to it a lot, but you still don’t get a real impression of it. We have no photos, no video material, and no contemporary witnesses who could tell what it was really like. Just a few plates. This myth is a big part of the allure.
Were you surprised by certain aspects during preparation? Is Sisi a positive person or someone you don’t really like?
She thought the Empress was living an interesting life because she was so self-determined. When I began to do research, it became more and more clear to me that the origins of that self-determined life – as we call it today – came from great fear, from a complete escape from the Hofburg. This pushed them into isolation. This life was somehow a temporary solution to survival. I wasn’t aware of this to the extent that it was. Of course you sympathize with this woman and think: How did you feel? On the other hand, she had completely evaded her duty as Empress. You have to be aware of this aspect.
Sisi’s films are not immune to kitsch and glorification. Did you hesitate when you were offered the role?
Yes, but. This was actually one of the biggest points that made me dread doing such a complete set now. The fairy tale and the technical variants are already there, and I was really afraid that you would drift in that direction.
You mean the “Sisi” films from the fifties with Romy Schneider?
Yes – without the desire to speak badly. What convinced me was that during the casting process I met Jannick (Schumann, Kaiser Franz Josef actor, note) and (director, note) Sven Bohse and had long conversations. I said to myself, “Of course, this is a fantasy, but with these people he will not get carried away by full-fledged fantasy magic.”
Do you know the films “Sisi”?
number. I didn’t see the movies until after I accepted the role, because I knew that when most people hear “Sisi” they don’t think of the Empress at all, but of Romy Schneider.
Did you like them?
I understand why these are classics. I like you too. But then I was also very happy because what happened to me had nothing to do with these films and could coexist well with these films.
How is the series different from the movies?
So the kitsch elements are still there, of course. But we managed to show Sisi as someone who has needs and fears, and who errs, gets angry. I had a feeling the movies don’t show someone you can anchor to, they show perfection, the fairy. In addition, the love story of Franz Sisi is presented from a different perspective. Sisi was fifteen when I met him. Surely there was something in between, if something like a romantic mood happened in a world full of rules and etiquette. Can you call this love at 15? Yes maybe. But they quickly get married and then you find yourself again in the Hofburg, obliged to represent yourself and have children. At the same time, Emperor Franz Joseph, who was young and tried to preserve his declining monarchy, was not always kind and romantic – he really liked to portray this ambivalent relationship.
Was it important for you to be faithful to historical facts?
When I dealt with the woman, I often wished that the scenario was more realistic – simply because it’s a very exciting story that deserves to be shot as much as possible. But the story was already there. We already know what we want to say. That is why it was important to me to explicitly tell Sisi what fits our series. But I was really attentive and was able to share when I thought: “Hey sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense here.” To rise to the level of a historical figure.
Romy Schneider struggled with her “Sisi” image for a long time. As a young actress, do you fear that you will be associated with a similar role later in your career?
I don’t think anyone wants to suffer this fate. Romy won’t like to hear that, but Sisi’s role is welcome to hold her up. (laughs) I’m in the theater now and I’d also like to play other things. In this regard, I am optimistic and say: “No, this will not be a problem.”
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Interview: Thomas Reader
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