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Saturday 6 October 2012

Interview with LJUMA PENOV, Star Of 'LOVELESS ZORITSA' (Crna Zorica)

A week ago, I saw a film called 'Loveless Zoritsa'. I was blown away by the acting performance of its star, Serbian actress LJUMA PENOV. I wrote, "It's definitely Penov who stands out the most in a role that is far more crazy, exciting and mysterious than what Hollywood actresses usually get to play." 

'Loveless Zoritsa' is one of the more wacky films you're ever likely to see. It's about a woman who is the first female member of her family ever to be born without a moustache -- which means she is cursed and therefore any man who falls in love with her instantly dies. Despite the insanity of the film, and the character, Penov's Zorica is a highly relatable and complex character. 

So I just had to interview Ljuma herself. I wanted to not only find out more about her and the great work she did in the movie, but also about the Serbian cinema scene -- does she get a lot of work? Does she agree that Serbian cinema has a growing reputation in the film community? So much to ask, and such fascinating answers, from an actress who is as passionate and dedicated an actor as you're ever likely to meet.

"I think that every actor should work on himself, above all to get to know himself. Day to day, hour to hour, he should get to know himself, because every person, actor, is changing constantly, day to day, hour to hour."
-Ljuma Penov

I really enjoyed 'Loveless Zoritsa', and I thought you were fantastic in it. How did you first find out about the project, and how did you get involved?

 I first found out about the movie when the production contacted me for an interview with the directors about the leading part in the film. That was an interview, but I also got a few scenes which I had to prepare for the test shooting. When I read those few scenes, they immediately attracted me, as if I had already felt the character of Zoritsa. 

Since I had only seen those couple of scenes, and not the entire script, my own feeling and intuition lead me as I was preparing for the test shooting. When I went on the test shooting, I found out that they have already seen a lot of girls, and I didn't expect much, but in such moments, I always carry a positive spark in me, so I gave them everything I got. From a conversation with them, I found out that the directors already watched me, by recommendation, in one play where I had a large and demanding part in one of the biggest theaters in the country. Then I got a rough synopsis and showed them certain scenes which I was given to prepare. 

Directors have watched me fixedly, and I think that they then realized that this is Zoritsa. I went out of there knowing nothing, but after a few weeks, a phone call arrived that I got the part and then I was given the whole script. I was very happy when I read the script, I realized that it was a very big task, and I have already started to think about her, about Zoritsa. And that was it, Zoritsa was in my hands, and I was in hers. Later, after numerous conversations with the directors followed and preparations for the shooting itself. Since we met each other, Zoritsa and me, we have become inseparable and it was like that until the very end of the shooting.

Even though the film is so unique and crazy, I think your character is someone who the audience can relate to -- is Zoritsa similar to you in any way, or are you very different? 

I really worked hard on this role, because I haven’t played in this type of genre so far. Although all characters in the film are somewhat displaced, Zoritsa is too, but in her there are a lot of things that are real and unreal, and it is hard to merge the non-mergeable. 

I was creating Zoritsa sincerely and faithfully. Zoritsa is a girl that is turbulent and expressive, stubborn and persistent, that is her nature, she is in the depths of her soul gentle and fragile, tenuous and sensitive. I tried to carry out my part the best possible. Zoritsa is a very complex character, with a lot of layers, with very tinted emotions. You had to put a lot of work in this character, especially because of all those layers, which I wanted to get out in front of the character, in every moment. I wanted to weave into her realistic characteristics, but also layers of deep and suppressed characteristics that don’t come out in every person. Considering the genre of the film, I was creating Zoritsa in this way too.

I think that every actor should dig deep into himself, in the depths of his own being, so he can find and draw out from himself characteristics that are connecting him with that character, and then to add other characteristics that the director is asking from him. I think that every actor should work on himself, above all to get to know himself. Day to day, hour to hour, he should get to know himself, because every person, actor, is changing constantly, day to day, hour to hour. Me also, I try to get to know myself constantly, I think it is priceless for an actor. Sometimes I was in that process of getting to know myself while working on some part, realizing how much I have in common with those characters, although I wasn't aware of that at the time, because I thought I already know myself, and that is the true charm of this work.

It was the same with the character of Zoritsa. She has a lot of similarity with me, but she is also very different from me. But it all had to combine, so that the character would be natural and alive, and so that the audience, and of course me, could unite with her.

When did you know you wanted to be an actress?

I think I have always known that, but I was not even aware of it. From a young age I went to the cinema and the theatre. First I met the ballet, then I was attracted to opera, music and solo-singing. Later on I was composing and dancing. Until at one point I wanted to be someone else. Then I realized that only acting can offer me this. This is when I decided to become an actress.

What is it like working in Serbia -- are there a lot of interesting roles for you? Are you always working? 

This is a small country where it is not easy to make a film or a play and therefore it is not easy to get the parts. It takes a lot of dedication and effort to work and be an artist. The production is very small and it is therefore difficult to get to parts on film. I think bravery and luck are still the most important.

As for the parts, any part that is offered to me is interesting to me and intriguing. I'm trying to draw out from each of them and from myself the best for the project. Because each part is a kind of gift to me. I had the luck to work in international productions and co-productions, which brings me a lot of joy and which I would very much like it to continue.

I think Serbian cinema has had an interesting couple of years -- the films seem to be growing in reputation and finding an international audience. Why do you think that is? 

We have a lot of great authors that had already placed us in the world cinema, throughout the years. I think that Serbia, but also whole territory of former Yugoslavia has a lot of very talented authors. There are a lot of talented artists and their imagination and creativity wins over all the difficulties which surround them, they find the ways to express themselves and get to the wider audience.

What kind of work do you want to do in the future? 

I think I am not the one who should say this, since it depends in which part the director sees me. If the director sees me in some part and succeeds to convince me in this part, I will also love that part, the same as all of my previous parts. I also think that it is not me who finds the parts, but they find me. Therefore I think that I could find myself in variety of parts.

If you were not an actor, what would you be doing with your life? 

I would always be an actress because I think acting is one of the most valuable and profound professions, and there are only a few such professions in the world.

Who in your life has inspired you the most?

I always found greatest inspiration in myself, because this is sometimes a very difficult job where at times no one can help you but yourself.

What was the most difficult thing about filming 'Loveless Zoritsa'?

The shooting of the film was very physically demanding. At the shooting of the film there were a lot of exciting happenings. I was jumping into the water from great heights, I had to learn how to drive a tractor although I have never sat on it before, and it was very interesting and exciting. At first, it was scary, but with time it turned out and very fun. The most difficult was to play under water, 4 meters deep, in a freezing cold sea water, where scary divers drag you and you think that there is no help, but you have to be focused and to act too… Thanks to good preparation and previous exercises… even that turned to be interesting. 

At the time of writing, 'LOVELESS ZORITSA' still remains without international distribution, but surely; it's only a matter of time. After doing well in its homeland, Serbia, and two sold out screenings at the Raindance Film Festival 2012 in London, it's impossible to imagine this truly unique movie won't be in a cinema near you soon. 

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