The 100th Citizen of His Hometown, Now Among Thousands in New York
Scene from the movie "Nina"
(© Jose Alberto Chirinos)
Jiminy Cricket once sang about what happens if you wish upon a star. Perhaps this is what Chris Wenhake ("Ven-hah-kuh") had in mind when he packed his bags and set out for Disney World in 2009, banking his hopes on the relative vicinity of Florida and New York City- the place the aspiring actor knew he had to be since the days of his Top Gun-watching childhood in Germany. Three years later, Wenhake has not only a year of conservatory training at the Michael Howard Studio in New York under his belt, but lead roles in New York theatre productions, two films on their way to the film festival circuit, and a contract for a feature film, beginning production on August 13. A far cry from a Lederhosen-clad "authentic" German figure traipsing through the Epcot center for photos with tourists and children, one might say.
"I looked like an idiot," says Wenhake, reflecting on his Disney days. But he doesn't regret it for a moment. Born in the town of Fuerstenau in Lower Saxony, Germany, Wenhake already made his first headlines the moment he entered the world- as the 100th citizen of his tiny town. Before long, Wenhake was acting in local and regional theatres, critically acclaimed and nominated for an award for his work in "de vlaamsche Ulenspegel." An acquaintance tipped him off about an annual casting call for Disney World in Bonn. That was Wenhake's ticket to the US, and one step closer to New York.
While half of his time was indeed spent in a feathered cap, Enlarge image Chris Wenhake (© Chris Wenhake) Wenhake spent the other half taking acting classes at Disney University, and all covered by Disney. During that time, he began to travel to New York for auditions, before being selected by the Michael Howard Studio. While taking classes with instructors such as Angela Pietropinto (Goodfells, Law and Order, Shaft, Remember Me), he got to know Broadway actor and director Jim Shankman, and starred in his revival of the 1925 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Street Scene."
His success in theater, with which, he says, he maintains "a very strong connection," led him to an agent- and to his first two films, the short "Underneath it All," and indie film "Nina." Wenhake plays the male lead in both films which deal with a similar play on the fine line between reality and the imagination and have been submitted to Sundance, Tribeca and Gotham Film Festivals.
Now Brooklyn-based, Wenhake is constantly reminded of what drove him to be in New York in the first place. "Everything they say about New York is true. Models, singers, actors as far as the eye can see. The best in their class cross paths and try to make something of themselves," he says. Now a long way from his hometown in Germany and on the cusp of a film career, Wenhake is thrilled to have the opportunity to try his hand-so far, successfully- in the city. But more work is welcome. "If you don't work hard every day," he says "you've got no chance."