Come on, be honest. There has been at least one birthday when you didn’t get exactly what you wanted. That was not the case, however, for German-born actress Florentine Lahme, who, on her last birthday, received what she calls a “very nice present” when auditioning for the role of Nadia Schilling on Defying Gravity.
“My first audition actually was on my birthday, and it was pretty exciting because it led to a callback for the role of Nadia,” says Lahme. “The second time around I did a video conference with the show’s producers, who were in Los Angeles and watching me in Germany. That was exciting, too, and a bit scary. I was doing a night shoot that evening for a film in Germany and my head was so full of lines and information that I couldn’t really concentrate on the audition. Fortunately, it was the same scene that I did for my first audition, so I did it once again. Then a month or two later I received a phone call asking me, ‘Would you like to come to Vancouver and join the series,’ and I told them, ‘Sure,” she says smiling.
“The funny thing is when I was a child, my Mom asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I said, ‘Maybe an astronaut.’ I don’t think I’d like to be one now in real life, but being one on TV is good.”
On Defying Gravity, Lahme portrays Nadia Schilling, an ace pilot who graduated at the top of her class at the International Space Organization (ISO). Highly intelligent and a striking beauty, she is not afraid to put her sex appeal or keen mathematical/scientific mind to good use, depending on what the situation requires. Nadia demands nothing less than perfection from herself and expects the same from her fellow astronauts onboard the Antares when they set off into outer space to explore Earth’s solar system. Jetting across the Atlantic, Lahme was anxious to step into Nadia’s shoes and begin work on the first of 13 season one episodes, but first she had to find her space legs as it were.
“I always have huge problems with jet-lag,” admits the actress. “So I was still pretty jet-lagged my first day of work. However, beyond that, the first thing I was impressed with were the sets, which are very expensive. On top of that, and more importantly, I felt like I was in good hands because of everyone working on the show.
“We had a great deal of green screen work to do in the first episode, so we constantly had to imagine what was going on out there in space. I also had to get used to wearing a wig, which I wear during the flashbacks. In the first episode, I had a love scene with Ron Livingston [Maddux Donner], too. Its always difficult when you don’t know each other and have to do a love scene. I get sweaty palms just thinking about it,” she jokes. “So I don’t love doing love scenes, but I do love David Straiton, who directed this episode. I really enjoyed working with him and he made it fun and really easy for me.”
Although she is not afraid to speak her mind, Nadia does not wear her emotions on her sleeve, so it took the actress a little time to figure her out. “Nadia is a funny character,” notes Lahme. “When I first read the script I thought, ‘Is she really human, or maybe she’s a robot? I don’t know.’ Nadia is very much focused on her job. She’s quite ambitious as well as earnest and always wants to be number one.
“You don’t get the feeling that Nadia is a terribly emotional person. She’s on her own most of the time and isn’t really interested in getting too close to her coworkers, except for Donner, of course, because he’s her lover. But the thing is, she treats him like a sex toy or tool. I like to describe her as a combination of the Terminator and Barbie, because you cannot look into her at all. She’s pretty icy. However, as the episodes go on, you actually get some insight into her emotionally and I get to reveal her vulnerable side, which I was very pleased about.”
Given that she is on a six-year mission with seven other astronauts, Nadia does make the effort to behave in a professional and cordial fashion towards her colleagues. Unfortunately, she has difficulty doing so when it comes to dealing with one particular member of the crew. “I enjoy working with Dylan [Taylor], who plays Steve Wassenfelder. His character and Nadia have a special relationship – she can’t stand him,” chuckles the actress. “My character likes to complain to him, ‘You eat too much and behave like a 12-year-old boy.’
“She doesn’t understand why Wassenfelder has been chosen for this mission, and I love the scenes with the two of them because they always butt heads. That makes for an acting challenge because in real life I like Dylan, but on TV I have to dislike him. Whenever a scene makes me feel uncomfortable I think it’s great because, again, it provides me with an acting challenge.”
While her character may feel uncomfortable relating to her crewmates, Lahme has no such problems with her Defying Gravity castmates. “The last show I did in Germany [GSG 9, an action series about an elite team of crime fighters] had a large cast, too,” she says. “So I’m used to working with a lot of actors, and I think it’s terrific that we have such a variety of nationalities – the Latina, the Israeli, the Indian, the German – and everyone is so nice. Sometimes you have the problem where someone is very arrogant, but that’s not true here. Everyone is very friendly. If, for example, there’s a word in the script that I don’t understand and it’s not in my [German/English] dictionary, they’ll help me figure it out. So it truly is a pleasure working with them.”
A native of Berlin, Lahme was 16 years old when she began modeling part-time to earn some extra money to help pay for her studies in economics and Japanese at the University of Berlin. That eventually led to her being invited to audition for TV shows. “It was really by accident that I got into this business,” recalls the actress. “My first TV job was a German soap opera set in a hospital, and I played a nurse. I was familiar with working in front of a camera because of my modeling, but it still felt a bit weird. Very soon, though, I began to feel like it was ‘my thing,’ and suddenly I knew I had to do this for a living.”
Along with Defying Gravity, the actress recently appeared with David James Elliott and James Cromwell in the Sci-Fi miniseries Impact. She has also worked on a variety of made-for-TV movies and German TV series, among the latter is the aforementioned GSG 9. “In that show I did pretty much what Nadia does in Defying Gravity as far as looking at a screen and giving advice,” explains Lahme.
“My character [Petra Helmholtz] was the brains on this particular show, and oh, God, the technobabble and all the monologues. I remember one day I had three pages of monologue and we didn’t have time to rehearse. So I just did it and it worked. I’m a very lucky girl in that I have a photographic memory, so if I have to do tech-talk, and even if I don’t understand it, it doesn’t matter. I can just picture the words in my mind and say them. That’s a great gift for an actor.”
Feature film-wise, Lahme starred in one of the most successful German movies ever, the romantic comedy Keinohrhasen (Rabbit With Ears). Other big screen credits include Fire, Maximum and the horror thriller Metamorphosis starring Christopher Lambert (Highlander). “I loved Highlander and I fell in love with Duncan MacLeod [Christopher Lambert],” says Lahme. “When I was cast in Metamorphosis I thought, ‘Oh, boy, I get to work with Christopher Lambert.’ He is so cute and down-to-Earth. I really haven’t had bad luck in my career so far. I always end up working with great people, thank goodness.”
Like all actors, whatever the part, Lahme wants her character to come across as believable. If she can achieve that, then it is a good day’s work for her. “When I watch myself onscreen, if I can feel it [the moment], if I get goosebumps, then I find that truly satisfying,” says the actress. “What I also enjoy about this job is that you can be anyone you ever wanted to, but cannot be in real life. That’s why I enjoyed modeling. I don’t want to wear fancy dresses all the time, but just for one day to take some nice pictures. Otherwise, I like to be comfortable. What I’m wearing right now, it’s casual, and that’s me. So being any character you want in front of the camera and playing her convincingly are the biggest [acting] rewards for me.”
Defying Gravity is produced by Fox Television Studios and OmniFilm Productions, in association with the BBC, Canada’s CTV and Germany’s ProSieben. As noted above, photos by Sergei Bachlakov or Kharen Hill and copyright of Fox Studios and ABC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!