Kasia Borek on the Timeless Love of Jemma

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Last month, AfterEllen sat down with Kasia Borek, the delightful and charming actress who played Emma Müller, one half of the infamous “Jemma” on Germany’s “Hand aufs Herz.” Although the show aired in 2010-11, Jemma remains one of the best lesbian couples ever to have graced the small screen, and is required watching for anyone who loves a good love story with a happy ending.

Jemma captured hearts everywhere, and AfterEllen wanted to know what Kasia thought made Jemma so special. In the process, we learned that:

  1. Kasia is Jemma’s biggest fan
  2. Kasia is an empathetic musician with wanderlust
  3. Kasia totally watched “The L Word” 

AfterEllen.com: Kasia, AfterEllen’s readers will know you from “Hand aufs Herz.” It was certainly a bit of an unusual show because while it was a soap opera, it was a soap opera for teenagers that also had singing as a major component of the show. What did you think, when you first heard about the show? Did you audition for only Emma, or for other characters as well?

Kasia Borek: You really only know a little about a production when you audition. I knew that the role was singing and dancing, and I thought, “Okay, I like singing and I like dancing.” You always have to give it a try. I only auditioned for Emma. I knew that Emma was an insecure person in the beginning, but I didn’t know the development of my role. When I started, it was a tiny role. We didn’t know where the story would go, which was really exciting. Then the producer (Petra Bodenbach) came to me and—she’s lesbian—told me about the story asked if I wanted to do this love story with this other girl. I felt honored. Immediately, I felt this would be the most important experience in my career so far. I’m a person who, when I feel something is good, I go for it. I don’t think very much. So I felt from the very beginning it was the right thing to do. I have a lot of lesbian friends and they are very special. I felt that through this story I could figure out what pure love really means.

When I was a teenager, I moved a lot in Germany with my parents and I always had to adapt every time and fight for my position. Sometimes I was popular and sometimes I was a nobody. I decided to be an actor because I wanted to play characters who would help people. When I got all the Jemma fan mail five years ago, it was a dream come true for me because it meant people understood what I was doing. The production of “Hand aufs Herz” was so fast. Lucy (Scherer) and I would be sitting on the train going to work and we learned our lines for that day on the train. It was so exciting. But the dialogue was less important than the overall feeling of the scene. Lucy came at the right moment and had the same philosophy, which is why it fit so well. I’m really grateful for that. I was in some ways like Emma; Emma is a part of me, always. Emma was a very insecure person who needed someone like Jenny encouraging her to believe in herself. Jenny and Emma were like a mirror, and that’s why it really worked so well between them.   

AE: In one sentence (or a few), what is “Jemma”?

KB: Jemma is pure love. Love is the most important thing in life. Jemma is about two people who want to open up and see the truth of the other person and accept everything about that person. Jemma shows that you can be who you are. Also, “Jemma” (the portmanteau) indicates a lot: it’s a fusion of two souls, carrying and strengthening each other.

AE: In the beginning, Jenny does a lot of very mean things to Emma. Jenny may be gorgeous, but at the same time it would be understandable if Emma ran the other way and never looked back. Instead, we see Emma confused about her feelings for Jenny, then as soon as Jenny kisses her it’s like a lightbulb goes off in her head and she understands how these confusing pieces fit together. Why doesn’t Emma resent Jenny more for the things she did at the beginning? What draws Emma to Jenny?

KB: I think Emma knew from the very beginning that Jenny would be someone special to her, but it was hard to admit those feelings. Yes, what Jenny did was mean and in a similar situation people would counsel you to not deal with someone who treats you like that, but I think that Emma had an intuition about why Jenny was doing it. Emma was raised in a tolerant environment; she had sisters and brothers and learned how to share and make compromises. That’s the Kasia I put into Emma. I think Emma knew that Jenny’s picking on her was different, but she couldn’t deal with it at first. Emma needed Jenny to get out of her shell, and Jenny needed Emma to feel centered, so there was a bridge between them. It was inevitable.   

AE: What else did you put into Emma that wasn’t part of the writing and wasn’t part of the direction?

KB: That’s hard to answer because in the course of playing a role you just naturally add elements. I don’t know how the role was written before I was cast, or what I changed with my personality. But I liked that Emma was like a volcano who didn’t know how much power and strength she had inside. She needed Jenny to explore that.

AE: Emma’s storyline is very much about finding herself and about finding the courage within herself, with Jenny as the catalyst for that transformation. That said, how would you describe Jenny’s storyline and what does Jenny see in Emma?

KB: I don’t want to answer for Lucy…Jenny grew up in another environment. She never had money problems and in capitalist world, when you can buy everything, you have power, but with Emma she realized you can’t buy love. I think Jenny grew up having everything but the most important thing she wanted, you can’t buy. And Emma wasn’t impressed by her status. Jenny was a brave person, but provocative. Emma could see underneath why she provoked people. That’s why they fell in love, because they could see underneath each other. 

AE: One of the cool things about Jemma is that it’s so natural. Jenny could have been Johann and really it’s the same story. And yet, at the same time, Jemma is unnatural in the sense that around the world, same-sex couples haven’t gotten equal treatment on TV, then or even now. So for you and Lucy going into this specific storyline, what did you specifically talk about in terms of how you were going to play this relationship?

KB: We thought not about gender, but rather what enriches someone being in a relationship with another person. But in short, I’m happy that it was a woman who was my counterpart because I got to really feel safe and open up for this role.

AE: I know you and Lucy got along very well, but probably many actresses get along well and don’t have the same sort of chemistry that Jemma had. I know for me, the word that best describes it is “adorable.” They’re just so cute. So what do you think was different between you two that made Jemma such a wonderful and popular couple? 

KB: Oh wow, I don’t know. I think we just jumped into it, you know? I remember when the producer came and asked in a careful way if we could imagine playing a couple and we looked at each other like, “Yeah, sure, of course. Cool!” It was a luxury, having the same chemistry and same thoughts, which is why I think everything was so special and rare. You know when you meet someone and that person understands exactly what you mean with just one sentence? That understanding between the lines was so great between us.

AE: In 2011, by the end of the show, you’d been widely exposed to the Jemma fandom and got to see how much women around the world really become immersed in watching lesbian storylines on TV. Now, in 2017 and looking back, what do you understand of how Jemma fits into the broader picture of lesbian relationships on TV?

KB: Jemma had intimate moments, but it was more about believing in yourself and “jumping over your shadow” (being brave). Jenny and Emma were in school, experiencing every day problems. Jemma wasn’t glamorized; it was very realistic. I think that’s why the storyline was so understandable and relatable. So maybe in 2010-11 we were one of the first shows that was more serious and different; not something set in a fabricated, unrealistically rich world. We weren’t making something to be cool. I watched “The L Word,” for example, and thought, “Okay, Shane is so sexy and cool, but would I really want to fall in love with such a person?” It’s not realistic.

AE: Have you watched any other lesbian couples on TV?

KB: I haven’t watched couples other than Jemma. I was so sad when the series ended and we didn’t have an opportunity to go on, since we were doing something important, that I didn’t watch anything similar. With all of the fans around the world and the reactions and everyone supporting us, to not be able to go on was so frustrating that I needed to take a break. What I experienced with Lucy was so intense and so real that I felt like I didn’t need any other example to understand what real love is. 

AE: What “lessons learned” do you have from your time as Emma Müller?

KB: This experience was a big opportunity to understand what life in public means and how careful I need to be. You can easily have lovers and haters. Things go very fast, so you have to be aware that if you put something in the world, it will get an intense reaction. I didn’t know that before and just went for it. Sometimes you can be on top, and sometimes you can be an unknown, so that gives me respect. I was so lucky, and I’m so happy to have had all those experiences, to have had mountaintops and valleys, because you can’t become arrogant. In my profession, there are two types of people: those who are really honest, and those who are egotistical. Being egotistical stops your ability to improve.

AE: From shortly after “Hand aufs Herz” until 2016 you spent time as a musician in Spain, now you’ve got a solo concert coming up in March in Wuppertal, Germany, and you’ve also got your Etsy page where you sell pocketbooks. What inspires you to do the creative things you do? What do you want to do in the future?

KB: Right now I’m my own boss of my own projects. It’s so exciting. On the other hand, it’s like, “Wow, can I really do that?” When I decided to do concerts for my fans, I felt like I needed to do it. I understood it was time to grow. I couldn’t sleep for several nights because I was so excited, you know? Coming back to the music lets me open up to new areas I always saw in myself but I didn’t believe that I could do. I think life is too short to hide from what you really want to do. It’s not easy. To organize everything yourself isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. You’ll learn so much from yourself and others. I feel very connected to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Everyone wants to be accepted, everyone wants to be loved, and artists do, too. It’s like saying hello to the world with your music.

The bags are the “girl” in me speaking. I was raised in an intellectual environment, talking about things like the meaning of art, and I neglected just being a girl. I wanted to be a serious adult too early, so now I’m trying to let this side speak. I never had a real home, my family always moved, and if you feel you’re not grounded you need a substitute, and these little bags are like a mobile home for me. I also really like the manual process. I like the textiles. It’s like therapy/meditation, and also being independent. I also think if you find your own style, you say something about yourself.   

AE: Five years from now, what do you want to be doing?

KB: I want to find my language in music. I’m composing right now. I recently recorded my first song. I think I will explore a lot. It will be an interesting time for me. I want to travel with my music and give concerts and get to know other cultures. I’m so curious about people.

AE: You and Lucy were really trailblazers in terms of how interactive you were with your fans. You took pictures of fan postcards and wrote messages for the fans, for example. For new fans—as well as fans who maybe haven’t thought about Jemma in a while—what would make you happiest to receive from them? Tweets? Postcards? Fan letters?

KB: I don’t expect anyone to send anything. If people feel like sharing something with me, I’m so glad. I like any kind of interaction. If people feel like commenting on my music or saying, “Hey, you inspired me to write a book” or something personal…basically anything that’s honest is welcome. I answer because I’m so happy at receiving support, even if I just have time to send a sentence or a smiley face emoticon. Everyone wants to be recognized. Even if I don’t have much time I’ll send back a sentence, even if it’s just a thank you to say I saw your effort, I saw you took your time to write me. The real thing is if someone gives you something and you can give it back.

AE: Who is Kasia Borek?

KB: I’m a very curious person. I’m an open-minded person, like a sponge. I feel things intensely. When someone is in pain, I suffer, too. I don’t judge others, and I listen.

AE: Finally, what would you like to say to all the Jemma fans out there?   

KB: Stick to your dreams. Dreams give you a purpose in life. Even if the world says not to, you should do something if your heart tells you to do it. Don’t be afraid. You’ll always find people to support you. It’s worth it.

Kasia is a fantastic conversationalist (yes, her English is flawless) and AfterEllen is proud to have been given the chance to interview her! If you want to follow her, check her out on:

Twitter @KasiaMariaBorek or on Facebook. And if you haven’t watched Jemma, go watch it right now!

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