She went on to walk the red carpet alongside stars like Scarlett Johansson before heading into the theatre to take her seat. Then came the texts. “My phone was blowing up,” she says. The first was from her manager who sent her a link to a news outlet that also thought she was Adams. Then came several more outlets…and several more. It didn’t take long for the outlets to issue corrects, clarifying that the woman in red was, in fact, not Adams but actress Christiane Seidel from Netflix’s Godless. But by then Seidel had already gone viral as Adams’s look-alike, with sites like Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and even StyleCaster reporting on how the mixup became one of the most talked-about moments before the Emmys. “People sometimes give me double takes, and then they look disappointed when they get close and realize I’m not her,” Seidel says. “But the Emmys were insane.”
Seidel didn’t hear from Adams, and the actress never showed up (though she was expected to because of her new HBO show at the time, Sharp Objects), but the comparison was more than flattering. Still, with a role on FX’s new critically acclaimed show Fosse/Verdon and a career as a working actress, Seidel is ready to be known as more than Amy Adams’s look-alike.
Seidel is the only child of a German navy pilot and a florist. She was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, but was raised between Germany and Denmark. Her first role was in primary school when she starred as a woman who housed Mary and Jesus in the German version of The Nativity Story. In high school, she did The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I’ve always had the bug,” she says. But when it came to apply for college, Seidel was unsure of what she wanted to do. Living in a small town in Germany, Seidel didn’t know anyone in showbusiness, and an unstable career like acting was almost unheard of in German culture. “Everyone follows a very strict, straight road. You go to university. You do something safe. My parents included,” Seidel says.
And so she went to business school. In her senior year, Seidel studied abroad at a film school in Cape Town, South Africa to learn about the business side of media. There, she also received her first experience with filmmaking, which became the push she needed to pursue acting as a career. “I knew if I was going to start in the corporate world, I would get stuck and probably be really unhappy that I never tried,” she says. When she returned to Germany, she finished her degree and took the first flight to New York after her graduation. “I said, and this is what I really thought, ‘Let me give this a try for three months.’ Three months became six months, and six months became a year. And that continued for years until I met my husband,” she says.
The first few years were hard. To make ends meet, Seidel worked as a caterer and a Sex and the City tour guide in German. She was also a part-time model, which is when she first encountered the dark side of the industry. “That’s where I felt really exploited. One time I got into a very uncomfortable situation with a photographer who I was left alone with. That was something I went home with that day and was like, ‘There’s something that wasn’t right,’” she says. Aside from her boyfriend at the time, Seidel didn’t tell anyone about the experience. “I wanted to let it go. I didn’t want to do anything. Nowadays, I would’ve totally spoken up. But I felt like it was all a part of the game,” she says. “That’s why we’re in such an important time where women are speaking up and putting people in the spotlight about this.”
We’re in such an important time where women are speaking up and putting people in the spotlight about harassment.
Seidel also still received pressure from her parents to return to Germany and a career in business. “My mom would ask, ‘When are you coming back? When are you going to do a real job? When are you going to use the thing that you actually learned?’” she says. That started to change when Seidel booked her first paid job, an masseuse on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, who is involved in an abduction. “Law & Order: SVU is also shown in Germany. So my parents got to see that, and that’s when they were like, ‘Maybe. Maybe she’s not too far off. Maybe she can be an actor,’” she says. Seidel’s success continued with HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a two-episode role that was expanded to four seasons. It was also the role that convinced that maybe she could make it as an actor. “That’s when I realized that I have a place,” she says. “I was like, ‘OK. If they haven’t written me out after one or two episodes then maybe I have something that I shouldn’t disregard.’”
In 2016, when Seidel was in New Mexico on the set of Godless, she learned she pregnant with her first children: twin boys. The pregnancy was smooth, but after Seidel gave birth, she noticed there was something different with how she felt. “I was afraid I would never be able to come back as an actress. I was afraid that my body changed. I wasn’t sure I would ever be back to where I was and feel back to where I was,” she says. “I know stories of actors who have been dropped [by their agents] when they got pregnant because they’re not making anybody any commission for a while.” Seidel tried to audition a few weeks after giving birth, but with her still breastfeeding and the lack of sleep, she didn’t feel ready. She was ready to quit and move her family to Germany, and she told her manager that. But her manager wouldn’t let her. “She said, ‘You can quit all you want. You can tell us you’re quitting. And we’ll just do the same thing that we’re doing anyway.’ Basically I can quit in my mind, but they’re not going to stop doing what they’re doing for me,” she says. “I didn’t realize it until much later, but that gave me such a feeling. My rep has my back.”
That’s when I realized that I have a place.
Not too long later, Seidel received the audition for Fosse/Verdon, FX’s new miniseries about the relationship and careers of choreographer and director Bob Fosse (Cabaret, Chicago) and his dancer-muse Gwen Verdon. The show, executive produced by Lin Manuel-Miranda, follows Fosse and Verdon’s relationship in flashbacks and flashforwards from how they met to their separation after Verdon learns of Fosse’s affair with Hannah, German translator (played by Seidel) who he met on the set of Cabaret in Munich. To play her, Seidel had to understand her. “She’s the other woman. Many of the other women that Bob Fosse had,” she says. “She’s a person that, of course, we judge. But as the actor, I can’t judge her because then I’m not doing the character justice.” To relate, Seidel saw her as someone naive, much like her when she first came to the United States, who was charmed and taken advantage of by Fosse. “She meets this director who’s larger than life, and she’s totally taken by him. This is her window into a bigger world into something that she’s never experienced before,” she says. “In that sense, I relate it to when I first came to New York for acting. I was very naive. I learned and saw a lot of things I never knew existed.”
Among the show’s producers is Nicole Fosse, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s only daughter, who talked to Seidel about the influence her mother had on her father’s career. “Gwen Verdon was just as important and as big a part in making Bob Fosse who he was,” Seidel says. “The show gives her as much of the spotlight as Bob Fosse, and I love that.” Seidel has also learned something from her costar Michelle Williams, who plays Gwen Verdon and has been outspoken about pay inequality in Hollywood after she was paid $1,000 to Mark Wahlberg’s $1.5 million for reshoots for 2017’s All the Money in the World. “I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve talked to any of my male costars about what they made,” Seidel says. “But I’m sure and I know, even when I don’t know for a fact, that this stuff happens and is happening, and it’s horrendous. Still, as a white woman, Seidel is aware of her privilege and hopes to use it to push for equal pay for all. She encourages those in a similar position to do the same. “As a white woman, you’re more privileged than any minority. It’s good there are initiatives coming out and people are talking about it. Male actors, especially, are also pushing for equal pay because they’re the ones who can make the change,” she says.