Riveting Riffs Logo One Actress Aïda Ballmann is Feeling Alive!
Aida Ballmann Photo One

It is not often at the end of an interview that one has tough choices to make in terms of writing, but in the case of actress Aïda Ballmann (pronounced Ay - a - da), there are so many interesting aspects to her life and career and they are intertwined. She grew up in Islas Canarias (the Canary Islands), on the smallest of the islands El Hierro and she describes her parents at the time as being hippies from Germany. She is a very good, trilingual (English, German, Spanish) actress who has drawn rave reviews for her performances. Where we decided to begin however, is with her documentary film Sand Path filmed in Senegal. It is a documentary of the people, the ties to her family, the work that she volunteered to do there, along with her friend Eva Gamallo (also a splendid actress) and it encompasses the reasons that Aïda Ballman became an actress and the values she holds dear.

Aïda Ballmann talks about her documentary film Sand Path, “I didn’t plan to be a producer. I think my childhood was very nice and when I was eighteen and I started traveling around the world with my twin sister. I found that the world is not as fair as I thought. I thought what can I do to make it a little bit better? I decided I wanted to tell stories about our reality and maybe give a little push to the audience to think a little different or have a new point of view about their reality and change by themselves. When I was studying theater and started acting afterwards I realized I wasn’t telling the stories that I wanted to tell. That is why I made this documentary film, which was the first official film that I started and finished (as a producer).  It was like going back to the reason why I started acting and why I wanted to study acting.”Aida Ballmann Photo Four

She continues, “I didn’t have any money and I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I wanted to do something. Also, I am not a professional in (cinematography). I bought a Sony camera (similar to) a Go Pro, but I couldn’t see what I was filming. I had the little camera against my chest and I walked around like that. When I started reviewing everything that I filmed, it was so funny, because the horizon was sometimes almost diagonal, so I couldn’t use much of the material that I shot.

At that time I was living in Madrid. I got bored of Madrid and my life didn’t make much sense there. I expected to have a lot of castings (auditions) over there and it didn’t happen.  I started thinking about why I was acting, why I wanted to act and all of those deep questions.  The main reason I started acting was to tell stories and stories that really have something important to say and are not only superficial entertainment. There was a time when we (with her friend and actress Eva Gamallo) decided to travel to Africa. I bought the camera one day before we left, because I wasn’t sure about doing it. Once I was there I started filming and when I got back I looked over everything.  

My parents had told me about Africa, because they lived there, before I was born. They planned to stay there, but my dad became ill and they went back to Germany. Once he was okay again they went to the Canary Islands and then they were going to fly back to Senegal. When they arrived in the Canary Islands they stayed there for several weeks and my mom realized she was pregnant. That is why they never went back to Africa. The Canary Islands were a bit closer to Europe and more modern. They found their place on the smallest island El Hierro and they stayed there.  When I was little they told us so many stories about their time living in Senegal and I always had the feeling that I wanted to get to know those places. When I went there with Eva I tried to find my parents’ old friends. I went with the camera and I tried to speak a little bit of French, which I couldn’t really. In the end I found almost all of their friends. I filmed all of that and I showed it to my parents.

I discovered that I wanted to speak about migration. We human beings are almost all the same. We feel the same, we need the same things and we have always moved around the world. We are a mixture and I realized that I had a little bit of African culture in me, also German and Spanish. I found it interesting to have so many differences inside of me. That is why I wanted to talk about migration, because it is not something that we should be afraid of, but learn from what is different and see how we feel about it and what we can do with it. I showed all of this material to my parents and at the same time I felt that their story didn’t end. They left Africa without really saying goodbye, because they expected to go back. When I showed them what I had filmed I asked them if we could go back together. At first they said no, because they were afraid of finding out that it was different. They thought there would be a lot of tourists and they wouldn’t like it anymore. After a (few) months we decided to go, the entire family. That was the last part of the documentary film, which I filmed with them. It was their way of closing their own story (in Senegal). I could say what I wanted to say and at the same time my family had the chance to live their story again.”

To date Sand Path has been entered into twenty-two film festivals.

To understand the values that Aïda Ballmann holds and why she wants to make a positive difference in this world through her acting and filmmaking we need to begin with her childhood. She grew up on El Hierro, the smallest island of the Canary Islands and she talks about her life there.

“The islands are volcanic and tropical and most of the islands have different parts. One part might be green, because it will be really humid and the other part of the island might be really dry. It is amazing, because you can drive around with a car and maybe in three minutes the landscape will totally change. There is a lot of nature and it is really beautiful, especially on the island where I grew up. The other islands are more populated now.

My parents were from the hippie times in Germany and that is why they left Germany, because they wanted to find their paradise They came to El Hierro and it is the smallest island. I was born in ’85 and they arrived a little bit earlier. At that time it was like going back in history twenty years. At that time it had a small population, but now there are 10,000 people. Most of the island is protected and you cannot build like you would be able to in other places. They really tried to keep nature the same. When they arrived it was a very strange island and it wasn’t very developed. They wanted to find a place where they could live very close to nature. I had a really nice childhood, because my parents decided my sisters and I wouldn’t go to school, so we studied at home. We were home schooled. At some point we wanted to go to school, so we could be in touch with people our own age, but once we went to a normal school, it was boring, because we already knew all of what the teachers were teaching. When we were home schooled we had a lot of time off to play in nature and I have really nice memories of those times.

When I started school I was thirteen years old and really shy, because I had missed so much time of being with people my age. On this little island we were the strange people who were a little different. It is like other little places where the people who are different are criticized. We got closer to the people and we made friends. When I was eighteen I left the island and traveled. That is when I realized how lucky I was with my childhood and how beautiful the island is at the same time. Aida Ballmann Photo Two

It is like a little paradise. We didn’t have a car, but we had a donkey. We went to the closest village to our shopping and because we didn’t have a car we took our donkey. Sometimes we went to the beach with our donkey. I think I was fifteen when my parents bought a car. We didn’t have a TV or a computer or a phone.

My parents decided on a home birth for me and a few friends who were doctors from Germany came to assist. First my sister was born and then they realized there was another one inside and that was me, because the belly was still very huge. My sister was born very blue and they said she was going to die. She was very little. My dad had to run to a phone and call an ambulance to come. At that time very few people had phones and he had to go to a public phone at the closest bar. There was only one ambulance for the whole island. He was lucky to find the driver for the ambulance at that bar. He drove us up the mountain to the hospital. My sister had to go in a helicopter to Tenerifé (the largest of the Canary Islands). She was there for two weeks and then she came back.

Aïda Bullmann and her twin sister traveled first to the England and stayed there for six months when they were eighteen years old, before moving on to South America. She explains why England was the first stop.

“We wanted to learn English better (she starts to laugh lightly) and also, because we wanted to go far away from home to start feeling more like adults, have an adult life and to explore the world. Those were the reasons why we went to England,” says Aïda Ballmann

As for why they traveled to South America, she says, “We had friends who were the age of my parents and they had stories about traveling around. We loved stories about people traveling. We didn’t have TV, but we had these types of stories. We could have gone to India, but it was not close to our culture and we became really interested in South America, because (of the stories) that we were told by people who went there. We had seven months to travel around and we made a (plan) and we knew where we would go next, but once we arrived there the whole plan collapsed in the first week. We didn’t do any of that and we just did what we felt like doing. We improvised everything.

I became aware of the injustices in life. I was in touch with really poor people or people who had difficult situations. I was wondering how these people could be so happy when they had such huge problems, which I don’t have.”

It was during the time that Aïda Ballman spent in South America that she decided to become an actress. In Brazil and Paraguay I was (attended) political meetings where people talked about their problems and they were trying to find solutions. I was also there when big groups got together to protest and to say this is not what we want. I was part of those protests. It was the first time that I was in touch with this kind of life, because my childhood was idyllic and I didn’t have many problems. I didn’t think it was fair and I found out what capitalism does to societies in good and bad ways.

It was after I was in Chile that I thought I have to really focus now and decide what it is that I want to do. I took the bicycle when it was raining and I went into the jungle in the south of Chile. It was there that I brought together all of these ideas of what I experienced with these different (lifestyles and cultures), as well as the political situations and the economies. I thought about how it made me feel and what I could do to make this world a little bit better. In the beginning I had a nice idea of what I wanted to do and I wanted to start acting.  I could not do that on El Hierro, because there are not many opportunities for self-development in the areas that interest you. I studied a little bit of music and I studied a little bit of acting.

When I was studying I forgot about my dream. The first time I got back in touch with the reason why I wanted to be an actor was when I did the documentary film (Sand Path), because it was the first time I was talking about something that mattered to me and that is migration and not being afraid of people who are different than you, but to learn from that.”

The direction of our conversation now changes and we focus on the films in which Aïda Ballmann has appeared. The first one we talk about is the 2017 film El Gigante y la Sirena (The Giant and the Mermaid). We will give you a hint, although Ms. Ballmann is tall, she was not the giant in this film. The film is what she describes as being a long short movie. The film is directed, produced and the story was written by Robert Chinet.

“The genre (of the film) is Magical Realism. It is the story of a little boy who has cancer and he is the hospital. He dreams about a woman who is a prostitute. She is lost in her life and she is escaping from something horrible. While she is escaping a huge man tells her to step into the car and he says he wants to help her. At first it doesn’t seem like he is helping, because he tied her up. Slowly she trusts him (as they talk). He tells her that she is a mermaid and she can be herself again if she goes into the water. The little boy in the hospital is dreaming that story and he wants to help that woman to get back to her real life and not be a prostitute anymore.

Antonio de la Cruz (Orpheus, the giant) is a very interesting guy, because when you talk to him he is not very expressive. He is so big (six foot nine inches or 210 centimeters), so you expect there must be a lot of life in him. He is a very calm person and he is interesting, because he is so tall he works everywhere around the world. He is in touch with the big productions and I think he may be going to New Zealand to do something. He is like his own agent and he gets really interesting projects. He is always saying it is not enough and it is not good, but of the actors that I know who work that way, he represents himself really well and he gets jobs,” says Aïda Ballmann.

As for Lavina the mermaid she says, “I practiced diving in the water for a whole summer. The director was very lucky, because I love being in the water and I love swimming and diving. I was on the Canary Islands that summer. At the end I had to go under the water and swim and some guys who were part of the filming trained me how to breathe and how to swim like a mermaid. I practiced a lot and it was a lot of fun, because I tried to go after the fish.”

Obviously, preparing to be a mermaid takes a little different approach, but led us to ask Aïda Ballmann how she usually prepares for a role in a film, “Every time that I prepare myself for a character, I do it differently. I read the (script) a lot, understand it, analyze it and get to know it very deeply. Then I start playing around with the words of the character. I imagine how the life of that person could be and how that person would speak or act. I practice a lot at home and I can’t do that in front of anyone, because I am really shy. (Eventually), I try to be less me and more of the character (whereas) at the beginning it is more me telling myself what I am doing right or wrong. I don’t like this and I do like that. Then the character appears more and more and (becomes) something different than who I am. I have a way of speaking and of moving my hands and all of the things that we do when we speak. When it turns out to be a little bit different from the character, I catch that and I try to develop it and move it further away from me. Aida Ballmann Photo Three

Right now I am practicing a lot of the Meisner (technique) and it is not very well-known here in Spain. I found out about this through a German friend who is a director and I went to Germany and learned a little about it. Now I discovered a school in Barcelona. The teacher lives somewhere else, I think America and he comes to the school and he gives lessons in Spain. Now he has more teachers and the school has grown. School is not very strict when it prepares the students to be professionals, but this guy has an American way of giving the lessons. It is very hard. We always do three weeks in a row and then we have to train with one another and do a workshop and then we do another three weeks. I am now realizing my acting is much more real. I can live the truth of what I do with my characters.”

One gets the sense that Aïda Ballmann is very well organized and she explains, “I think that is my German part. As I said before I have three cultures inside of me, African, German and Spanish and I discovered that when I was filming Sand Path. The German side is the one that is really well organized and sometimes it is too much, because I want to do things as perfectly as possible. It is a pain in the ass when I want to do it better and better and better and I realize I can’t. Sometimes it is nice to say it is okay like this and let it be and enjoy what I have done.”

Aida Ballmann has also acted in some period pieces, the television series El Tiempo Entre Costuras, which was broadcast in Spain during the 2013 and 2014 seasons and the Spanish television miniseries Lo que Escondian sus Ojos (2016).

“I learn a lot about history when I prepare those characters. Most of the times they ask me to do something related to Germany and speaking in Spanish with a German accent. That is really easy for me, because my parents have been living in Spain for thirty-six years now and they speak Spanish with a really strong German accent. The historical part, we are still trying to get over the Second War and the civil war in Spain, so there is still a lot of material and art that talks about that time. At the same time I think we forget that our grandparents had a really tough time trying to create a better life that was more comfortable and with more freedom. We forgot that we got all of this and we are going a little bit back (regressing).

We think that we live a modern life, but it is still not equal (between men and women). Two years ago it started a little bit, before the “Me Too” movement. Actresses and women directors found out that there are more women in the industry, but there are less stories told about women. That is not a (correct) representation of our society. There are so many stories when the main character is a man and the story they tell through that main character. Only men are heroes and that’s not right. With this movement women became more conscious and now it has changed, but it is still not equal. One of the last articles that I read about film festivals and this was about a really big one last year said there were many more films directed by men than by women. It was something like fifteen percent were made by women and the rest by men. It is really good that people are aware and that they try to change that. There are many stories that need to be told that are also part of the female world. We are still very chauvinistic over here in Spain,” she says.

We circle back to El Tiempo Entre Costuras (The Time In Between), in which she played the role of Hilde in two episodes, Los fantasmas del pasado and Espionaje; both episodes were broadcast in 2013.

“The main character is a spy and she has to move to Portugal during the (Spanish) Civil War and then she moves to America. She is a woman trying to survive in society. She makes clothes. She is a designer who becomes very well-known. I was a German client of this woman,” says Aïda Ballman.  

She took on a much more prominent role in the miniseries Lo que Escondian sus Ojos (2016), as Hilde.

“The character of Hilde in Lo que Escondian sus Ojos is much more present than my character in El Tiempo Entre Costuras. My character Hilde in the series Lo que Escondían sus Ojos is a German babysitter. She was present throughout almost the whole story. She was humble and, again, was spied on. In this case, her best friend, an English babysitter, was the spy. At the end, Hilde found out what was happening. It was hard for her to forgive because of her values, but then she does. I loved this character because she was unable to understand war and hate. 

Hilde was a German girl who escaped from Germany during the Second (World) War and she was looking after two little children from a high society family in Spain. It was really related to the political moment. It is about Ramón Serrano Suñer (played by Rubén Cortada) one of the closest people to Franco (the dictator). He was really cruel and he killed many people. He had a love affair and this TV series is about the love affair. They don’t show the bad (side) of this guy, but only the good (side). They paint him as a good person. The rich family with the children are the family of the lover (played by Blanca Suárez) of this guy. I am a young German woman living in Spain and my best friend is English and she is a spy, but I only discover that at the end of the series and meanwhile I was very close and attached to her. I realize that she is not so close anymore. In the end (my character) realizes she is spying on this family,” explains Aïda Ballmann.

Aida Ballmann Photo FiveAida Ballmann walked the red carpet when the film The Extraordinary Tale premiered at the Malaga Film Festival in 2013 and she drew high praise for her portrayal of an unusual character simply called She. The film was directed by Laura Alvea and  Jose F. Ortuño (who also wrote the screenplay). It was a low budget independent film that turned out magnificently.

“By then I was living here in Seville. I did a casting online and I sent a self-tape. they responded thinking that I was living in Germany, but I said no I live in Seville. They said great, we are very close to you. They weren’t expecting that. It was like preparing a character for a theater piece. We had a lot of time to try things, to play around and to treat the little things with a lot of love, like the little gestures this character had. This character doesn’t speak a lot. She has a big inner wall. It is Magical Realism and a dark comedy at the same time. She lives in her house and doesn’t go out, because she has a drama. Her only relationship with the world outside is to write letters. She gets a response and she starts talking with this guy (through letters). Then he comes for the first visit to her house. They get along really well, so he comes to live with her. Suddenly she realizes she is pregnant, but she doesn’t know what is happening to her body. She doesn’t understand anything. She has no reference (point). Her baby comes, her husband is working and she is at home a lot with the baby. She doesn’t know how to educate him and it is too much for her. He cries a lot and he drives her crazy. The end is open and if you are (a pessimist) it will end really badly, but if you are optimistic you will find another solution for that story,” she says.  

With being fluent in German, English and Spanish does that create a lot more opportunities for you?

“I can do a movie in German, I can act in English or in Spanish, but since I am living here in Spain there are not many characters written for my type of profile. Most of them look Spanish and that is why when I act in a TV series it is because they do something historic and they need a German or English or a French looking actress. They don’t write many (scripts) for someone with my type of a profile, but when they do I have a better chance to get that character. At the same time I am trying to get more international work and I want to work in other countries also. That is why I went to Mexico this past summer (2019), because I wanted to learn their accent. Now I am trying to find an agent in Germany. I want to have more opportunities outside of Spain,” she says.  

At this time Aïda Ballmann is working on a comedy script that she will be performing herself. It is set in the future, once humanity has extinguished itself. If you want to know more you will just have to keep reading Riveting Riffs Magazine, because when Aïda Ballmann is ready to stage this production, we plan on asking her if she would be gracious enough to grant us another interview.

We will close with the answer that Aïda Ballmann gave us when we asked her what the most important thing was to her about being an actress, “Feeling Alive!”   You can visit the website for Aïda Ballmann or visit her official Facebook page here.   Return to Our Front Page

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This interview by Joe Montague  published December 23rd,2019 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of                Aïda Ballmann unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved Aïda Ballmann