Johanna Wokalek was born in Freiburg im Breisgau and studied acting at the Max Reinhardt School in Vienna, where her teachers included Klaus Maria Brandauer. She was still a student when she made her professional debut as an actress both in the spoken theatre and in the cinema. From 2000 to 2016 she was a permanent member of the Vienna Burgtheater, where she worked with directors of the distinction of Luc Bondy, Andrea Breth, Peter Zadek, Thomas Vinterberg and Dieter Giesing. In 2016 she appeared in Alvis Hermanis’s production of Platonov and Luc Bondy’s production of Tartuffe. Her stand-out roles at the Burgtheater have included the title roles in Kleist’s Das Käthchen von Heilbronn (Katie of Heilbronn or The Trial by Fire) and Lessing’s Emilia Galotti.
For her performance in the main role in Hans Steinbichler’s film Hierankl (2003), Johanna Wokalek received the Bavarian Film Prize, the German Film Prize for Best Actress and the Adolf Grimme Gold Prize. Two years later she made her breakthrough as a cinema actress when she appeared in Til Schweiger’s hit film Barfuss (Barefoot). Other film roles followed in Philipp Stölzl’s mountaineering drama North Face (2008), Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) and Sönke Wortmann’s historical drama Pope Joan (2009), in which she played the leading role. She has also appeared in Lars Kraume’s Die kommenden Tage (The Coming Days) and Sherry Hormann’s comedy Anleitung zum Unglücklichsein (The Pursuit of Unhappiness) (2012). In 2017 she took part in Matthias Glasner’s two-part drama for German television, Landgericht, which was awarded a Grimme Prize in 2018, and in Jan Speckenbach’s cinema release, Freedom, which was shown at the Locarno Festival. Johanna Wokalek talks about her role in Freedom in the 3sat programme “Wahnsinnswerke: Nora“. In October 2018, the movie Wuff by Detlev Buck was released in cinemas.
Johanna Wokalek made her operatic debut at the 2014 Salzburg Festival when she appeared in the world premiere of Marc-André Dalbavie’s opera Charlotte Salomon. The following year she played the Sorceress in Thomas Hengelbrock’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, a production that included a prologue and an epilogue written by the actress. During the summer of 2017 she played the title role in Honegger’s oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher in a production by Àlex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus at the Frankfurt Opera.
In addition to her work in the theatre and in the cinema Johanna Wokalek has for a number of years been engaged on a series of creative projects that have experimented with new forms of artistic expression through the interaction of music, theatre, literature and the visual arts. In 2011, for example, she recorded Night Watch with the Balthasar Neumann Choir, a CD that brought together poetry and music from the Romantic period and served notice of the creative potential of the partnership between Johanna Wokalek and the conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. In 2015 she opened the Hamburg Theatre Festival with a show that she herself had devised, Fast ganz die Deine (Almost Entirely Yours), a staged reading with music based on the epistolary novel Commentaire by the French writer Marcelle Sauvageot. In 2016 Johanna Wokalek presented a gripping portrait of belle époque Paris: drawing on music and literature, Nana was staged as part of a Manet exhibition at the Hamburg Kunsthalle. Most recently she has developed a presentation with the Cuban ensemble Caribe Nostrum, Cuba – A Quest. First performed in Germany in August 2017, it too involves both music and literature.
Johanna Wokalek has been married to the conducter Thomas Hengelbrock since 2012. They have a son together and divide their time between Paris and Hamburg.