Ana Ularu played her first parts when she was 9, in two Romanian-French films. At 15, she began theatre rehearsals for Lolita and at 25, she played the lead role in Outbound, which got her best actress awards in Berlin, Locarno, Vienna, Thessaloniki, as well as the Romanian Gopo award. By now, at 28, she has appeared in twenty films, seven plays, five music videos and two TV series.
Why Ana? Her acting talent aside (Outbound is a must-see), we were intrigued by her fondness for anarchists, her rebel attitude and buoyant spirit that gives dimension to any surface she appears on. Ana seemed to be exactly the Kick-Ass Lass we’d been looking for our first issue. Did we get it wrong?
This is the beginning of an afternoon with Ana…
We met in Tineretului park, her childhood playground. She approaches the bench where Vlad and I were sitting in a determined, boyish stride. She salutes us, her hands held up in rock signs and an accompanying badass grin on her face. ”And the fun begins”, I tell myself, instantly charmed. She envelops us in her energy cloud and the three of us start walking in a determined, boyish stride towards a spot to lay our blanket on and talk about life.
Ideal grass patch found, blanket laid out, ourselves thrown on top of it. Got the basics out: cameras, tape recorder, notebook, pen, pretzels and chocolate biscuits. Recorder turned on and left forgotten among dry leaves. It’s sunny but the park is still numb on a Friday around noon. It’s empty and quiet.
Almost. You can hear some folk music playing in the background and Ana catches one of those distinctive tremolo: ”a-a-a-a-a”. She breaks the lethargy with her firm, almost rough voice, which she handles well.
Are you still singing, by the way?
I haven’t sung in a while, since I was on Guerrilive last summer. I sang a bit in Nepal and at a karaoke at the closing party of the last movie, but I haven’t done it professionally in a while.
[Ana sings. She provides the vocals in the band Sunday People (currently in hiatus), with whom she recorded an album.]
Don’t you miss it?
I do, terribly. I really miss singing. I have music studies, guitar and piano, but I didn’t like them at all, I never studied. I liked the canto lessons, but I’m not a proper singer, I’m more of a fiddler. And that works for me as long as there’s chemistry between a team of musicians and myself. If there’s chemistry, I’m really happy and inspired. If I’m given the music, I can do lyrics, I can write, I can do my own melodic line…
So it’s more than a hobby?
Oh yes, yeah. At one point I was saying that I was never happier than when singing on stage. It’s an amazing feeling. Especially in an occupation like mine, where you have to speak someone else’s words, regardless of how you modify them or how much you love them. But when you’ve got your own message and lyrics, your own thing, you are nothing but a vehicle, an issuer. You don’t have to act up a character, you don’t exist, you’re just the sender of a message.
[First impressions: Ana likes people. You can tell that from the first seconds when she looks you straight in the eye, waiting for some cue to which she can react to. She’s always ready. She one of those people in a constant need for expression, with whatever means available.]
Would you like to write something, a performance, in which you would play yourself, eventually?
No, as I was saying, I don’t like playing myself. I never got the hang of writing fiction. I like writing music video synopses, the more lush and expensive they are to make, the better. I write essays, I’ve been doing a lot of that, and reviews, but I don’t do fiction.
[Ana has appeared in music videos for bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, Hurts or All Saints, some of those with the scenography done by her mother, Mihaela Ularu.]
If you could live for a year as someone else, would you do it? Who would you be?
No, I wouldn’t. Even if, being very, very critical of myself, I often think ”I’m not OK, I’m socially awkward, I’m weird, I’m this and that”. On the other hand, I think of my life so far, with all its joys and misfortunes and I can’t help but liking it, because it’s my own. And my only problem with the fact that I will depart from this world eventually is that, being extremely curious, I won’t get to know what happens afterwards. No, I wouldn’t give away a year of my life.
Among those who prefer surprises and those who want certainties and have an entire life planned out, where do you stand? Although it’s probably impossible to have certainties as an actor…
It is impossible. There’s a brilliant essay, an apology for actors, written around 1800 by William Hazlitt (ed. On Actors and Acting, 1817) which talks exactly about that. He says, stop accusing actors for being frivolous because with this job today you’re on a roll and tomorrow you’re in the gutter. They enjoy themselves like crazy during the good times, but then follows a period when they don’t know what will come.
Could you have been anything else if not an actress?
Of course I could’ve been something else. I keep telling myself this: had I been a better painter or a better singer than I am, I wouldn’t have been an actress anymore.
[Ana paints, ever since childhood, but doesn’t like to show off her work. She’s a big fan of Hieronymus Bosch and you can tell that his bizarre, fantasy influences have made their way into the paintings and collages that she makes for friends.]
Yeah. At one point I wanted to go to filmmaking school (I haven’t given up on that idea yet), but lately I’ve started enjoying what I do more than I used to. I grew up, which is a good thing, and by growing up I’m not so uptight anymore. I relaxed a lot and that’s why I started enjoying my profession more. If I had set my mind to it and it didn’t happen that I was born into a family of artists, but, say, in a family of doctors, I probably could’ve been…
Vlad: But when you were first aware of things, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve wanted to be an actress since age 6.
V: Nice. This is probably a milieu thing. What do your parents do?
They are scenographers. The scenographer has a cursed job, he is the first to arrive and last to leave, he gets all the abuse, both in costumes and in sets, because of the insecurities of others.
My parents, who are very funny people, they have a tremendous sense of humour, both told me, separately (since they’ve been divorced for years) and on many occasions that they would never be able to do what I do. My father, who’s a teacher now so he’s used to holding lectures told me, “as long as I have to talk, it’s all fine. But put me up on a stage and make me do a character and that would be impossible for me. Impossible!” My problem is rather getting up on stage and talking, as myself, about something. I can write, I can write a lot, I can sing, I can do anything. But when it was me, Ana, that had to talk, even if it was just to present a Gopo award, I was shaking like crazy. It’s really odd… and no one believes you.
V: It is believable. As an actor, you lend your body to some characters, but that can also be a form of protection.
You lend your imagination, that’s the truly important thing.
To me, acting is definitely not a form of protection. Many times I was very aware of the fact that what we do is not normal. What we actors do is somewhat against nature. When everybody tries to cover themselves up in clothes, on Facebook – a giant mask in fact, all these things are masks – we actors come and show ourselves in all our ugliness, in all our nakedness. However much a “character” the actual character is, when I cry, or when I’m naked, or when I’m laughing… that is still my face, that is my voice. There’s no protection.
V: I was thinking of those top actresses or models that say they can’t just go out of the house wearing whatever, that they have an image to protect, which is in fact the product of a whole team of people.
Wait a minute, I’m no Charlize Theron. I don’t care how I look. I very often forget how I look. I like clothes, that’s it. I never cared about going out without wearing make-up, for example, most of the time I don’t wear any. Nobody photoshops me either, they’d need to do a lot of work to get me looking like the standard. So I have no problem in this area.
A: I had the same impression, that a character is a sort of mask. Does that mean that if you’re feeling depressed and you have to play a character who’s bursting with happiness, would the role actually help you? Can it work as therapy?
No, the one has nothing to do with the other, to me those are two different worlds. There are some actors who purge their demons through their work and I partly envy them, but I don’t want to deal with myself. I mean, I use my resources, my knowledge, the mathematics of my face, I use all that. But I’ve never used anything from my background in a role. Because when I tried to, in a specific case, it didn’t work for me. When I figured “let’s see, this situation is somewhat similar to that other thing”, it didn’t work out. I’m not interested in being me. That’s a different person, it’s not me.
I think an actor should be a very sane individual, seriously. I learned that in acting school and it’s something I really hold on to. And if I’ll ever get to teach, that’s what I’ll tell my students, too: “guys, you have to get your head straight.” It won’t work otherwise.
V: What’s your take on actors who say they take their parts home with them?
It’s one thing to take your part home in order to act it out for a while, as training. It’s like having to play a certain accent and for a while you only speak in that accent to get the hang of it. But there are actors who have taken up monastic life, or killed themselves… that is taking it too far. To take your part home in that you’re wearing the costume, talking like the character and doing the puns, that’s part of the work, I think. As long as it’s nothing pathological, as long as you don’t get the feeling that you really are that character… Because you’re not that character. And you have to get rid of it afterwards, ‘cause there’s another character on the way. This is the neat part and the most fertile moment. Especially if you work a lot, if you get to identify yourself it’s really weird because you have to do another part afterwards. And if fortune favors you, the next role is going to be really different. So what do you do then?
A: So, to recap, you don’t have to be crazy to be an actor, on the contrary. And you can’t take yourself too seriously. I think that’s cool, that growing up means…
Not taking yourself so seriously all the time. This was my process. I was just thinking now that the ideal actor (oh man, this would be the perfect actor!) would be the one that could turn himself into that person. He would just morph into the person he has to play. To become a man, a woman, anything. If I wanted a superpower, this would be it.
Man, that would be really really awesome! To take up any face I want. Face, voice, body… to be able to play a man. To be a man, tomorrow. A 50 year old man. That’s it, that’s all I want. Not eternal life, not perennial beauty, this is what I would reaaally enjoy.
A: About your boyishness, growing up did you ever have a moment where you suddenly realized something like ”man, I’m most definitely a girl”?
Yeah, I had problems with that. When I was around fifteen, there was a time when I started wearing my dad’s clothes from when he was young. Bell-bottom jeans and other stuff from my dad’s hippie days… That’s because, out of some silly pride, I kept telling myself “no, I am smart and I want the world to see me through my mind, not through my body” or some other such nonsense. I didn’t like the fact that I’m a girl for a very long time. And from a certain point of view, I still don’t like it. But there wasn’t any point where I just went “man, that’s it!”, I was always aware that that’s how it is, somehow. And there are things that I really enjoy. The fact that I can bear children is a real joy for me. Because when that happens… I can hardly wait!
A: Here at MĂRIE! we’re determined to show the beauty of diversity. I wonder, how does one encourage a benevolent curiosity towards others, different from oneself, and replace prejudice with an inquisitive and open attitude?
This curiosity thing has been my lifelong motto. But I think it’s a matter of inner workings, you are structured in a certain way. Or you are flexible enough to be able to say, at some point, ”aha!” I think everyone’s timing is really different. For instance, I look at my grandma, who’s 84 and she is one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever seen. But she only recently became so. Not that she was ever close-minded, but she sort of relaxed as of late.
A: What’s your view on our generation? Are we mad and heading for a dystopia? Or is it business as usual?
Yes, we are heading for a dystopia, but from a different point of view. I think the dystopia is about resource depletion and the way we’re killing our planet. I was reading about that Fukushima thing, the underwater tanks full of radioactive fuel and how, if they don’t do anything within the next months, the whole Pacific Ocean will be polluted to the brim… This is what scares me. The fact that gay marriages are now legal is a commonsensical thing for the century that we are living in. And I will fight anyone who says it’s an abomination, or that it’s unnatural… What is natural? As long as you’re not hurting anyone you have the right to any pleasure you desire. I find any such judgments absurd. There are way bigger problems than that. The planet is headed for disaster because we’re polluting the sea, not because people are changing their gender.
A: Have you ever thought that you might have a role as an educator?
I’m not presumptuous enough to think I could be someone’s educator.
V: But you are, in a way, by means of your work.
That’s why I became an actress. Let me tell you about the moment I wanted to become an actress: I was about 6 years old and was going to some rehearsals with my mom. Maia Morgenstern was rehearsing there and I could see how different she was there, on stage, as opposed to real life. I didn’t understand much of what was going on there but at one point she went up on stage and had a monologue… and I was moved to tears. And I said to myself “wow, that is so cool! I wanna do this to others!” That thing, that pure feeling that came out of nothing (or maybe it appealed to something, but to what could have it appealed at that age, for Christ’s sake?!). Especially since the text was absurd, Vișniec, so it wasn’t talking about the death of a cat. I thought that that’s what I want to do, too. I want to stir something in others. That is what still gives me joy about actors, films, theater, music, anything; that moment when, completely independent from myself, it awakes something in me.
I was watching Game of Thrones last night, that’s some monumental acting right there, excellent situations, statuses, the way they play and how… it’s just wonderful!
V: What, you haven’t seen all of it yet?!
I just got around to watching it because I had preconceived notions about it, like everybody else had. And last night I saw a scene that was perfectly banal but it gave me goose bumps. Well, that is what I like, that is what I want to do.
When Outbound premiered in Locarno – 4000 people, fancy, bustling – I was also going around the screening rooms to see what happens when there’s just 60 people. I sat down next to the chairs, tip-toeing so that they wouldn’t see me and recognize me. The money scene was on (if you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil it for you) and I heard someone in the theater going “iiiisssshh”. Man… that’s what I was after! That’s exactly what I was after, more than the applause. Applauses many times come out of conformity. I’ve seen some really awful shows and even I ended up applauding. Although I can’t manage that anymore. Nowadays, if I don’t like something I just get up and leave. Inconspicuously, because I don’t want to make a point out of it like “oh, I am so terribly disgusted”, but I just can’t applaud. So it’s sounds like these that I cherish more than the applause. Oh man, I really like them… That’s why I’m saying, that’s a subtle way of influencing someone.
I don’t think there are any educators. I’m no more of an educator than either one of you is. I’ve received some serious lessons in life… It may sound weird, but I’m down to earth and I don’t bullshit: I’ve watched children in Nepal with baskets on their heads at age three, standing tall and carrying those baskets around, strong, climbing mountains, without a problem. Seeing that was more of a lesson than a lot of the stuff I learned in school. As an attitude to facing the cold, the wind… If you’re open to learn, you can learn from anybody and anything, as long as you don’t judge. And this has almost become a problem because, two exceptions aside, I can’t not like people anymore.
Yeah, I can’t despise people anymore. There are a couple of people that I despise anyway but I still think that spending 5 minutes with those two that I currently loathe will make me end up liking them. It happened so many times. It’s because I get really interested in them and I think “man, that’s cool, these guys have an entire life! And they have a lot more life to go. Man, oh, man!” I respect and appreciate the life within them.
A: If you like everyone, is it because you’re not easily disappointed, or because you forgive easily?
Oh, I forgive really easily, which is also terrible! It’s horrible… and I want biscuits, damn it! No, I really do get over things easily. It has happened in personal relationships, not romantic but friendships, where I could clearly see something is wrong and I was being backstabbed and I just got over that. I got over it, and I got over it, and I got over it again…
Oh nooo, they melted, thousand carrots!! (ed. the biscuits, left under the sun)
[Update on the impressions: Ana is articulate, spontaneous and free. She offers, that’s what’s amazing about her. She shows herself. She isn’t indifferent, she doesn’t judge, she doesn’t lie (to herself or others), she doesn’t put up boundaries. Not just people, Ana loves life altogether. And life loves Ana back.]
A: Were you always so Zen?
I’m not relaxed at all. I relaxed on the job, but I’m still jittery whenever I start something new. I’ve got my moments of meanness, of envy, of pure evil, of cynicism… I constantly get those. I often wonder “man, what if I’m a horrible person?” And then I think “fuck it!”, I know myself well enough to be aware of these shortcomings too. I know what’s really good about me, too. Maybe it’s my destiny never to be still, never to be fully at ease, and that might be aaalright too…
A: When you feel jittery, don’t you feel like quitting?
I always keep going, I never give up. Once I’ve said yes to something, regardless of my doubts – and I have doubts about anything, I can’t stand not going through with it. I want to know I did what needed to be done.
A: Alright, we know a bit about your past and your journey. I want to ask you about the future now, but nothing specific. How do you picture the future?
See, now, that contradicts my religion (I’m kidding). I am now teaching myself to give up expectations, five-year plans, give up even imagining how things might go.
I have no plan up to ten years from now. The one thing I know is that I want to give birth, to have a child at some point. But other than that, I have no idea as to where I’ll be, or what I’ll be, I don’t know where life will take me. I’ve been up and I’ve been down, I’ve been working for almost 20 years now, I’ve got no more illusions as far as my profession goes.
I keep hearing of actresses that are working abroad and saying “I want to win an Oscar”. I don’t think I’ll win an Oscar. To be honest, it’s not even something I hope for. I’ve wanted a pair of Guidi shoes much more than I’ve wanted an Oscar, because they are something more accessible to me. I know that if I work and do another movie I can afford another pair of Guidis. Which movie that might be and if I’ll win an Oscar at some point, great, but it’s not something I plan on, taking over Hollywood. I just want to work.
A: I could picture you as a teacher in the future.
I would like to raise a generation of actors, I’d really like that, because I was very lucky in that regard. We had this fantastic teaching assistant – she was only slightly older than us, her name is Dana Rotaru and she was there with us from the very first games… She taught me so much! About a month ago she interviewed me and it was weird because I kept answering every question with “but you already know that.” Because she knew me ever since I got into the school, at a time when I had already worked, so without feeling that I’m some big actress, I did know that I had worked before.
On the other hand, I was very self-conscious compared to my colleagues, who were a lot freer. They didn’t compare themselves and they didn’t have such a sense of ridicule (which I managed to lose too, in the mean time), that thing that paralyzes you into doing nothing. I had that for a very long time. I didn’t feel like doing anything, I thought I was ridiculous on stage, which is the biggest nonsense because you actually end up doing nothing.
I thought about the way I grew up. About the way that my life, the way it panned out, taught me to become this way. But Dana, she knew where I was at every moment, she knew how to say exactly what was needed and exactly at the right time… I would like to do that, I’d like to raise a generation of actors.
We wanted natural and natural is what we got. Ana is mercilessly present, alert, spontaneous. There’s no hiding from her gaze. She accepts you from the very beginning and that is overwhelming. Not because you have to show yourself in a certain way, but because you have to show yourself, period. No bullshit, in her own words.
We found out that, at 28, Ana is already as wise as an aunt. At 28, Ana is still a rollicking kid. This contradiction suits her well. It’s the charcoal stove that keeps her in perpetual motion. Ana doesn’t need to ponder her words before speaking, she reacts instantly to anything you throw her way, responding with dizzying sobriety and tenacity. She doesn’t hesitate. You get the feeling that if a wave were to come at her, Ana would jump right into it instead of diving under the foam for an easier passage. Adversity seems to energize her. It’s not that she has no fear, it’s that she can’t stop going forward, searching, experimenting, discovering.
From now on, the image assigned to Ana in my mental library is her face when she has this wide, almost diabolic smile, right after a light bulb which probably reads “Adventure! Danger! Full speed ahead!” goes on. That was her face in the 10 seconds that it took from a playful idea to her having climbed up her childhood tree. On heels.
It’s impossible not to develop a crush on Ana after spending some time with her. It’s impossible not to hurry and watch all her movies. Most recent are A Very Unsettled Summer and Sunt o babă comunistă. Keep an eye on the upcoming Serena, where she plays alongside Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Enjoy Ana and her talent. We’re thrilled to have her as MĂRIE’s first Kick-Ass Lass. She totally is.
Interview by Alexandra Ștef
Photos by Vlad Bîrdu