Hanna Schygulla was born in Kattowitz (today Katowice, Poland) on December 25 1943, moving with her mother to Munich in 1945. Following graduation and an Au-pair-year in Paris, she began studying German and Roman languages at Munich University in 1964, taking acting lessons on the side. Introduced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, she joined the Action-Theater in 1967, and one year later co-founded the antiteater alongside Fassbinder, Peer Raben and others.
Until 1969, she appeared in numerous of Fassbinder's stage productions, while also appearing in smaller roles in films by Jean-Marie Straub, Peter Fleischmann and Reinhard Hauff. "Liebe ist kälter als der Tod" was her first film under Fassbinder"s direction, and in 1970 she was awarded the Federal Film Prize for her performance. Until 1972, she starred in all of Fassbinder"s films except one, and also played in many stage productions. Soon, Schygulla was celebrated as the "Superstar of Subculture", and Fassbinder"s TV series "Acht Stunden sind kein Tag" made her also known to a broader audience. But following their first box-office hit "Fontane Effi Briest", Fassbinder and Schygulla temporarily ended their creative collaboration.
Until 1977, she starred in films by other directors, for instance in Wim Wender's "Falsche Bewegung" and in "Ansichten eines Clowns" by Vojtech Jasny. In 1978, she and Fassbinder reteamed for the post-WWII melodrama "Die Ehe der Maria Braun", and again Schygulla garnered numerous awards for her performance, receiving the German Film Prize and the Silver Bear of the IFF Berlin. The film was also celebrated abroad and followed by the international success of "Lili Marleen". The same year, she also played the role of Eva in Fassbinder"s sumptuous adaptation of Döblin's "Berlin Alexanderplatz".
In 1979, Schygulla worked at the Münchner Kammerspiele, and went on several theatre tours. From time to time, she starred in international productions, among them films by Jean-Luc Godard, Carlos Saura, Margarethe von Trotta and Andrzej Wajda. In 1983, she was awarded a prize at IFF Cannes for her performance in "Storia di Piera". In 1985, Schygulla appeared in her first US production, playing Katharina the Great in the TV miniseries "Peter the Great". After that, she was cast again and again in European and American film productions of great variety. Living in Paris, Schygulla also gave numerous concerts, singing chansons by Jean-Marie Senia.
After a longer hiatus, Schygulla returned to German cinema with the tragicomic love story "Die blaue Grenze", in which starred together alongside Dominique Horwitz. It marked the beginning of her successful movie comeback, followed by Hans Steinbichler's "Winterreise" and her impressive performance as a grieving mother in Fatih Akin's multi-award winning drama "Auf der anderen Seite", for which she was nominated in the category "Best Supporting Actress" at the 2008 German Film Prize.