Interview with Elina Vaska (Latvia): “I feel like I’m the best version of Elina when I’m on set or on stage”

by February 20, 2017

Elina Vaska

Elina Vaska (©Ralf Uhler for EFP)

Elina Vaska was studying Theory of Audiovisual Art and Theater at the Latvian Academy of Culture when director Renars Vimba held an audition for the leading role of his debut film “Mellow Mud.” With no prior physical training, but thinking that she had nothing to lose, Vaska auditioned for the part and was continually called back in for extra auditions. Finally, she got the leading part, in what would eventually become the most successful Latvian film of 2016. Winning the Crystal Bear for Best Feature Film of the Generation 14plus section at the 2016 Berlinale, the film continued on a highly successful course worldwide, catapulting Vaska into stardom and providing her with her first award, the Silver Peacock Trophy for Best Actress at the International Film Festival of India.

Ismene Daskarolis spoke with her about her role in the critically acclaimed film, her experience shooting with Renars Vimba, Latvian Cinema and what being a Shooting Star means to her.

 

 

How was it to go from being a student at the Latvian Academy of Culture to an award-winning actress in such a short period of time?

Elina Vaska: You know, when I was cast for Mellow Mud, I was already studying theater at the Academy. I was studying theory, so it had nothing to do with acting in practice and I’m just really happy and blessed that it went so well so far; that this debut went so well. Last year, we won the Crystal Bear at the Berlinale, and now I’m a Shooting Star and I have also made my stage debut.

What do you think the director saw in you when he did the casting at the Academy and said: “There’s Raja”?

E.V.: He saw me for the very first time when I was still studying at Secondary School. There were a lot of stages in the casting process and I kept being called back again and again. When we met for the very first time with Renars, I don’t know… You feel it in other people – their interest in you. I felt that he saw something from his Raja in me, because he’s not only the director but also the scriptwriter. I felt that he saw me as a possibility for the role.

Indeed, it was quite challenging to portray, with all the emotions and situations Raja had to go through. How did you prepare for the role and what do you think connected you to Raja?

E.V.: I feel I do have some common characteristics with the main character, for sure, like for instance if I have an aim or a target, I really go for it and that’s what I did. And, Raja, she’s the same. But, we had a great preparation for the role. First, I was reading with he director many, many times, going through the script and I was really blessed because Renars is a type of director who is open. It’s not like someone who says: “You do that” and you have to do it. We had rehearsals with other actors but not too much. So, it was fresh on set. We mostly just went through the script and talked about the characters. I also had a voice coach to help me. But, once I arrived there for the first time I just felt it helped me a lot to imagine how it is to live in the conditions Raja did.

Was it difficult to have to carry an entire feature film on your shoulders, with no prior experience?

E.V.: Well, you know, maybe it was an advantage that I did not have any experience. I was like: “Oh! Dude! I don’t know exactly what it means!” The very first shooting day, I was sitting there, waiting for it to start, and, suddenly, when we started shooting, I had this great, great feeling. When I am on set or on stage I feel most comfortable, but in a good way because, sometimes, feeling comfortable for actors isn’t a good thing. I feel like I’m the best version of Elina when I’m on set or on stage, so I enjoyed it. I wasn’t really worried about anything.

But, it wasn’t a big dive into something new only for you but also for Renars Vimba. How was it working with a debut director?

E.V.: You know, I wasn’t that worried. Maybe, he was more worried than me. He had some shooting experience, for sure; he finished as a D.o.P and then he continued with directing. I enjoyed it and I felt great and not that worried about him. But, for him, it must’ve been crazy, I guess, because he was forty years old and this was his debut. He has been working on this project for six years, and only then did he finally receive the money, so he was like: “If I do it well, then it’s good, but if not, then I can’t be a director anymore.” It’s a one-time chance. But, I never felt a big pressure from him. For me, it was way easier.

 Mellow Mud really stood out last year, winning awards and traveling worldwide. How do you feel about Latvian cinema? Do you think it has a future and do you think Mellow Mud opened doors to it on an international level?

E.V.: Yes, for sure! I mean, last year or the year before that, there was also a Latvian movie in the Generation Competition at the Berlinale and it also won an award. Every year, there’s one film that is screened at really great festivals. And, I do believe there is a future for Latvian cinema. It’s just that there are only four or five features per year, so it’s very little. If you want to be a film actor, you have to look for opportunities abroad because, for actors, I think, it’s more difficult than for directors.

Tell us how you are experiencing Shooting Stars. Are you nervous or excited? Where do you think it will lead your career?

E.V.: No, I’m not nervous. I really enjoy being here. Ιt was a lot of fun! Yesterday, we had meetings with casting directors and agents and, for me, it was what I was looking forward to the most. But, everything else – taking photos and walking the red carpet and receiving awards –, it’s just fun and it’s good to do. These meetings were the most important thing for me.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

E.V.: This year, I am in theater. I have this one performance where I play a fifteen-year old boy. It’s a play based on a Russian scriptwriter. First, he did a film, and then, he was asked to do it for the stage. So, he came from Russia to Latvia, for one of the biggest state theaters in Latvia. I received a call and he asked me. I thought no one actually in Latvia works with non-professional actors, the ones who don’t have a Bachelor degree or have studied… So, I thought: “OK! I’ll try it,” but only because he offered me such an interesting thing to do. There are videos in that performance where I also play the mother and then, onstage, I play the boy. So, that way, you can see that they look alike.

By Ismene Daskarolis