Hanna Schygulla was born in Katowice, Poland, on 25 December 1943 and spent the first part of her life mostly in Berlin, where she studied literature and comedy. The highlight of that period is her meeting with the German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, quickly becoming one of his Muses. After a period devoted to drama, it was under Fassbinder’s direction that she made her film debut with Love is Colder than Death (1969).
Hanna Shygulla then played the leading role in many works by Fassbinder, who was only starting out at the time (TV and feature-length films), among which Gods of the Plague, Beware of a Holy Whore and Merchant of Four Seasons. But it was in 1978 that the German film-maker offered her one of her greatest roles in The Marriage of Maria Braun, followed shortly afterwards by Lili Marleen.
In 1974 the actress appeared in Wim Wenders’s The Wrong Move, which was for her the first sign of international recognition. She then worked with Volker Schlöndorff (False Witness - 1981), Ettore Scola (That Night in Varennes - 1982), Jean-Luc Godard (Godard’s Passion - 1982) and Marco Ferreri, whose Story of Piera earned her the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983.
Hanna Schygulla later won acclaim with Love in Germany by Andrzej Wajda, acted for Ferreri again in The Future is Woman and appeared in Dead Again by Kenneth Branagh. She then worked with Amos Gitaï (Golem, the Spirit of the Exile), Michel Deville (Life’s Little Treasures) and Agnès Varda (A Hundred and One Nights of Simon). In 2000, she topped the bill in Werckmeister Harmonies, a film by the Hungarian director Bela Tarr.
In 1990/91 she was one of the protagonists of two TV films written by the Literature Nobel Prizewinner Gabriel García Márquez.
Since 1997, she has produced six stage shows of her own, a creative mix of words, music and her own singing: "Whatever the dream", "Kronos/Kairos", "Bertold Brecht ...Here and Now", "Elle ! Louise Brooks", "Borges and me" and "Dream Protocols".
Since 2004 she has reintegrated the world of cinema by acting under Amos Gitaï’s direction again (The Promised Land) and taking part in the first film of the young German director Till Franzen (The Blue Border).