Actor Bruno Ganz, who played Adolf Hitler in Downfall, has passed away at the age of 77. The Swiss born star had built a substantial and respected career over the years, working on stage, in television and in film. Though the majority of his roles took place within Europe, it was his 2004 turn as German dictator Adolf Hitler in the Oscar-nominated Downfall that really gained him notoriety with audiences outside the continent.
Having begun his career in 1960 as a theater performer, Ganz toiled away for just over two decades on stage, performing in Germany, Austra and Switzerland before being acknowledged for his work in 1973 by German theater magazine Theater heute as Actor of the Year. Ganz’s film career took off soon afterward and he spent the next several decades working with some of the biggest filmmaking names in the history of cinema, such as Werner Herzog, Eric Rohmer, Wim Wenders and Francis Ford Coppola.
The sad news of Bruno Ganz’s passing comes to us courtesy of BBC, who also report that the star had been battling cancer since last year. Ganz passed away at his home in Zurich and is survived by his son Daniel and his wife Sabine. Despite his illness, Ganz refused to stop acting and took on roles until the very end, with his final English-speaking role being in controversial Danish director Lars Von Triers’ The House That Jack Built, which was released in late 2018.
The role of Adolf Hitler in Downfall had been a substantial one for Ganz, who spent four months preparing for it by scouring historical records and listening to a secretly recorded tape of the dictator. The end results were both chilling and spectacular, praised by numerous critics and elevating director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film about the final days of Hitler into something more than a mere historical biopic.
At times during his lengthy career, it seemed as though Ganz had a particular penchant for roles that examined Germany’s history during the Nazi era, into the later days of Communist rule and beyond. Ganz starred in a handful of historical spy-thrillers in both English and German, including The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Reader, In Times of Fading Light and director Terrence Malick’s upcoming Radegund, about a WWII era conscientious objector.
In fact, it was his ability to keep audiences intrigued but wary by the characters he played that gave Ganz his on-screen advantage. Even the manner in which he could cough while rummaging through old documents – as he did in Jaume Collett-Sera’s Unknown – added weight to the unspoken knowledge that his character Ernst possessed, as well as the physical impact it appeared to have upon him. It was exactly this careful and composed ability that Bruno Ganz had mastered, and through which he thankfully gave the world decades worth of riveting, powerful performances to seek out and revisit again and again.