Maximilian Schell may not be a household name, but he is internationally respected, particularly in Europe, as an award-winning actor/director of stage and screen. He was born in Vienna, Austria, on December 8, 1930, but raised in Switzerland after his parents, Swiss author/poet Hermann Ferdinand Schell and Austrian actress Margarethe Noe von Nordberg, fled there to escape the effects of Nazi Germany's forcible annexation of Austria in 1938. As a young man, Schell studied at three universities -- Zurich, Basel, and Munich -- before making his professional stage debut in 1952. In 1955, he appeared in his first film, Kinder, Mütter und ein General. He next debuted on Broadway and then in Hollywood, playing a German officer who befriends fellow soldier Marlon Brando in The Young Lions (1958).
Schell earned an Oscar in 1961 for his intriguing performance as a defense attorney in Judgment at Nuremberg, and would subsequently be nominated for Oscars for his work in The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and Julia (1977). In 1968, he produced Das Schloss (The Castle) and made his feature film directorial/screenwriting debut with Erste Liebe (First Love) in 1970. The latter film earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, as did his 1973 effort Der Fussgänger. The latter also won him a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. As a director and producer, Schell distinguished himself on the international stage with productions such as the remarkable Tales From the Vienna Woods and the modern opera Coronet. In addition to film and stage work, he has occasionally worked on television, winning a Golden Globe for his supporting role as Lenin in the HBO miniseries Stalin (1992) and additional acclaim for his work in Peter the Great (1986) and Joan of Arc (1999).
Since the late '80s, Schell's screen appearances became sporadic, and he rarely branched out from acting. Notable films from the '90s included a rare comic role opposite Marlon Brando in The Freshman (1990), a dramatic turn as a stern patriarch in screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' autobiographical Telling Lies in America (1997), Tea Leoni's father in Deep Impact (1998), and a cardinal in John Carpenter's Vampires (1998). When not busying himself on stage, screen, and television, he has distinguished himself as a concert pianist and conductor. He has performed with Claudio Abado, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Symphony, and Leonard Bernstein.
As the new decade began he appeared in Fisimatenten, and in 2002 he directed My Sister Maria. In 2008 he appeared in both House of the Sleeping Beauties, and the con-artist comedy The Brothers Bloom. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi