Klaus Maria Brandauer takes a most unusual stance with his performance which all begins when Hendrik Hoefgan is an actor doing his own form of revolutionary theater. The growing evil force in Germany is yet to be that prevalent and Hoefgan is allowed to be a true artist so to speak. Brandauer takes this as to be actually pretty hammy, although knowingly so. What Brandauer does here is show that since he can do whatever he wants on stage at the moment he basically carries this personality around with him no matter where he goes. Brandauer makes Hoefgen pretty much always performing because there is not a single thing he has to worry about otherwise.
Brandauer hams it up in the right way in these early scenes as Hoefgan carries on in his personal affairs the same way he does on stage. Although certainly theatrical in his style Brandauer never goes overboard because he shows it as flamboyant stage actor being a flamboyant stage actor. Hoefgan is not suppose to be untalented though, in fact he is suppose to be quite the opposite. Brandauer makes Hoefgen a bit of a Charles Laughton style figure, yes he is not exactly perfectly realistic in his style of performance but there is an energy and charisma in his rather extreme actions that makes it entirely believable why Hoefgan would grow in popularity on the stage.
Brandauer is equally believable in playing Hoefgan's personality off the stage. Brandauer is good because he does not make it as though Hoefgan only is his stage personality by any measure. Brandauer rather very effectively shows Hoefgan's behavior to be the indulgence of an artist without any holds on him. This is the most unusual stance that I was referring to at the beginning, as it is actually the beginning of the film when he is doing his revolutionary work that Brandauer makes Heofgan the least of a man. Brandauer keeps just a man of surface behavior who is so into himself that he barely even notices that some very big changes are going on around him.
Once the Nazis take over Hoefgan does not leave the country despite his communist past, the fact that his wife is a fervent Anti-Nazi, and that he has black mistress. Hoefgan decision is easily believed because of that indulgence that Brandauer has shown in the earlier scenes. Hoefgan simply demands to be seen on stage, and refuses to let anyone hold back this dream. Hoefgan does continue to perform having great success, particularly of the role of Mephisto in Faust. Hoefgan's indulgence cannot continue though as he meets the Nazi officer who oversees the stage. The Nazi officer, although impressed with his performance, is not overly impressed by Hoefgan himself.
The Nazi officer gives Hoefgan some light criticism regarding Hoefgan's handshake, this enough though for Hoefgan to lose his indulgence and start to notice the world does not revolve around him. Brandauer is effective in his depiction of the changing nature of Hoefgan. Firstly there is no longer that flamboyance off the stage as Brandauer shows the officers remarks act as almost a blunt trauma to Hoefgan that snaps him out of his world of the actor. Brandauer is rather interesting in that being forced to work around the Nazis actually seems to make Hoefgan a far more responsible man than he had been when he was allowed to perform with complete freedom.
Brandauer's performance excels as he shows Hoefgan changing his overall attitude as he brings a thoughtfulness to his performance that was not there before. Although Hoefgan basically does what the Nazis command him to do, and consistently follows the orders they give him to allow his advancement in the world of the theater, he as well does try to help others that the Nazis would otherwise have discriminated against or even killed. Brandauer is rather moving in his portrayal of a real conscience in the man as opposed to the social conscience he merely claimed to have in a very Barton Fink sort of way. Brandauer loses the presumption creating a much more honest man.
Klaus Maria Brandauer gives a very strong performance that is brilliant in his risky conception of the character of Hoefgan. It is very easy to see how the character could have been played the complete opposite with the true man being in the beginning and then losing himself in the end. Brandauer gives a far more complex and much more fascinating performance by taking the approach in which he slowly reveals a greater humanity in his character as human decency seems to fade around him. Brandauer takes a daring approach all the way through from Hendrik's rather hammy beginnings to his much more somber end, every risk he takes pays off giving a most powerful depiction of the way a man changes to be allowed to continue his craft.