Credit: My Photo
Are we meant to be someone or we craft our own destiny? How can one implement a variety of different skills in a job one currently performs? These questions are answered just below by the talented and determined, kind and serious, adventurous and full of ideas, beautiful fighter, whom I had advantage to have for my sister. Many people believe that actors and directors are someone who are very different from ‘simple’ people, that they are far away hence are unreachable, it is always a gratitude to meet them, talk or grip. In fact they are normal people like any of us, the same ‘species’ who have families, bad habits or hobbies. Welcome Valeriya Guliaieva, the Ukrainian actress who has about 10 years of experience counting more than 30 projects with main and secondary roles in the Ukrainian and International cinema and theatre. Please enjoy!
- Was it your dream to become an actress?
No, it actually wasn’t. In my childhood I was dreaming of become a teacher. I remember when I was little I was siting my toys around me, giving them pens and copy books, then taking the schoolbook about literature or writing, and was giving them a dictation exercises. But after I started ballet dancing classes I wanted to be a ballerina for a long time. I wasn’t thinking of acting profession until I went to the theatre choreograph studio for children: after I started taking part in rehearsals and performances, I got interested to try myself in the life of an actress and its inside processes. There was a moment, I suppose, when I was led to it: I was taken in the film, [my first project]. Then I started seriously considering it.
- Yeah, they let down (audio pun on led) sounds ironic and ambivalent. (The word ‘подвели‘ (‘podveli’) in Russian also used for both ‘to lead to smth’ or ‘to let down’). [Lera laughs] You wanted to be a teacher, and became an actress; while I wanted to be director or scriptwriter but end up studying English BA.
Partially I AM a teacher because I’m working with children. I don’t work in university or school but what I teach also is not a school program. I don’t work by schoolbooks. Of course, there are specific sets of skills which I have to deliver but they are interconnected creating the full complex. I have visited a masterclass recently of one of my ex- professors, and she confirmed my thought: this profession is quite difficult, you cannot read or hear about it somewhere, you need to look and ‘touch’ it from the inside. When I work with children, on the one hand, I’m a teacher, on the other hand, I’m an actress and a director. I like this combination though.
Moreover, my ballet skills I will use in my next project.
- I remember you have had already the role of ballerina before.
Yes, but that was a small episodic role, they gave me 3 days to learn how to stand on the pointe, however in the studio where I was participating as a kid they couldn’t let us dance pointe. So I lent pointe shoes from my friend and she spent couple of evenings teaching me how to stand and recreate some movements. There was another project, when I got all excited and understood that I should have my own pointe shoes so I could practice and always be ready. It is very important for acting profession to be always ready. We bought them and everything additional to it. I pommeled them, re-sewed for my feet, added special small ‘pillows’, and I think for the whole month I was training. Unfortunately because that project got ‘frozen’, I sort of stopped my training. Thankfully to this project, even though I have a small role, I can proudly say that have my own pointe shoes and I can not only stand, but also warm up properly and even dance. Everything I ever learnt I can include and use in my job.
- You’ve already mentioned what and who pushed you in this direction, right? How exactly was it?
[Lera laughs] There were many discussions with my teachers from the studio and directors we knew, but funnily enough they were dissuading me. I think my great desire and this dream plus my stubbornness played a huge role in the final decision. Before I entered the Uni, I had already had a variant in another prestige university where I got a budget place for the journalism.
Despite this I was still determined and driven by the great desire to enter the Theatrical Uni, especially after having tried roles in our studio, in the cinema (the first project), watched many live theatre performances where our teachers took part.
- What was the best and the worst thing about studying in Uni?
The best thing was the experience of receiving the priceless lesson of life. Obviously there was a specific group of people with whom we had some ‘moments’ and situations here and there, but today I recall my Uni with happiness and nostalgia. Sometimes I hear a song from university years and many images immediately appear in my mind which brings tears to eyes. Bad stuff?.. Well, we didn’t sleep much. Having had a difficult schedule from 9am to 9 pm we were rehearsing, sometimes we didn’t even have weekends. We were creating etudes and sketches, pieces from plays. All the time we were in this process. I think it is the best thing for an actor, because this way you feel needed. For each other, for professors, for this profession. We didn’t have a fear that when we graduate we will find ourselves in some kind of emptiness. We were living a wonderful life even when we were receiving comments or reprimands from professors, arguing with groupmates. I consider it to be the golden years of my life. This was the time when my personality has raised and grown stronger.
- How do you prepare for projects and rehearse your roles and scenes?
When I receive a script and I firstly read it while the inner work through plot is going on inside me. I image characters, think about their life circumstances and reasons, actions. I had a variety of roles, I had played good and bad characters, but I was always taught that whatever character you have you need to find the way to justify him/ her for yourself. Why this character is that kind of person? Why does he/ she act this way? Everyone has own motifs and reasons for actions, even if you are a bad character you still have to find something human in him/ her. Absolutely good or absolutely bad people do not exist. When I prepare for a filming, I go through the different stages. For example, fitting of clothes, or rehearse beforehand with other actors, but, unfortunately, today there are less and less cases when actors meet with a director and they actually analyze the scene, think how to shoot it, what it is about. As for me, I have to make sure I look good, so I need to keep my appearance in a good state. Of course, those are trifles, but such thing as manicure, pedicure, rehabbed and healthy looking hair is not going to appear from nowhere. Sometimes I have to change the length of my hair, so you cut it and extend. Unfortunately, usually project team already expects you to look good, and how you do this is your own problem. For example, for one of the current projects I was asked to lose weight, I don’t really know how I am going to manage, because there is supposed to an anorexic person, and I’m afraid to do that.
As for rehearsing when I already received the concrete scenes, first of all you need to learn the text. Before I used to learn text on my own, but now I ask somebody to accompany me and read with me, because this process of memorizing works better. Sometimes I correct or change the lines if it’s acceptable, being governed by How would I say it if I were in the shoes of that character? Sometimes the text doesn’t sound organic or I would even say alive. In the shot we reproducing life, so I don’t want it to look like dry reading. Obviously, sometimes you are not allowed to remove some phrases and you have to play strictly according to a script. There are some sophisticated expressions which you can call bookish or literature ones, which do not sound like a real life conversation. With such ones you might have difficulties indeed to make them live.
Every project requires its own special preparation. There was one project where I had to learn to ride a motorcycle so I was taught beforehand, and that scene was rehearsed. The same was with horse-riding. Sometimes we do some photoshoots for those photos which would appear in the shot. There was one project where my character was an acrobat in circus, so went to do the photoshoot for the poster of our circus performance.
Also it is very useful (when you have the full script in front of you) so you can take your pencil and analyze how your character changes throughout the plot, his/ her inner motifs, mental state, actions. However it is difficult to guess on your own what a director wants to see. If your perspective is different from what director imagined – you have to start from the scratch. Many things are made on the spot, sometimes they call the night before, so you physically you cannot prepare yourself apart from memorizing a text. You don’t do this sort of thing for the good movies, but in series industry it is wide spread practice. Every actor has own ways of preparation, habits, moods. When you have some personal problems and you have to go play, let’s say a happy person – it is difficult. But if you had rest the night before and put forward the right attitude – it simplifies the working process for every member of the filming team.
- Do you feel like you are an Actress? For many people it means to be something special.
I see myself as a normal person. Actors are normal people as anybody else.
Of course, people see our job as only this constant creative process, rehearsals and performances, as an endless firework. Firstly, we are humans, and we have to understand and be able to transfer the human nature through a shot, that’s why I think that actors’ job is quite deep. I might see and perceive things differently but I don’t feel myself any special. However I think that this job is even harder than the office job.
- Would you be able to change you profession to, let’s say, a job in office?
I have thought about that. [Lera smiles] In the moment of self-doubt I had this desire to change everything radically. Would I be able to? Yeah, I think I would. Sometimes it’s hard and you are at the point when you are determined to quit everything. But there are also moments when I realize that no, there IS something to it, I do the right thing. It’s quite painful to think of quitting this, honestly.
- What do you think is you genre?
I think it’s drama-melodrama. I’m not a Situational Comedy (ситком) type, I’m not a ‘clown type’, it’s difficult for me to produce naturally those acted out emotions. I would like to try myself in some good comedy series; it’s not as grotesque as Situational Comedy. A good comedy it’s when you don’t need to force laughter out. I don’t like the word genre in general. Before there was a clear separation among actors on the basis of genre. There were heroines, roles with a strong or spicy character. But now whatever appearance you have you can play whatever you want or can. For example, I would be classified as the old actor’s genre travesty. That is, for example, when there is a girl who looks like a boy. Because before the classical type of heroin was a tall, with a dark hair girl. Now things are changing. Now they look for inner abilities. Imagine, I understand and feel that I can play this or that but they do not give those roles for me because of my appearance. Not fair, right? Today, also a lot also depends on producers and what final product they wish to get.
- What is your daily schedule?
I don’t have one. If I have a free day in the morning I go to the gym and swimming pool, I have group classes there. At the day time, if I have children studio I plan my day around it.
If I have shootings or castings, I have to adapt my schedule to it, because it is always different and it’s impossible to build a stable schedule.
- Since you are directly connected to the cinema, I would presume you have a favorite movie?
Titanic, I guess, I don’t know honestly. [Lera smiles]
- What about Ukrainian movie?
Well, I don’t have any Ukrainian film, but there are favorite Soviet ones: Office Romance (Служебный роман) and Love and Pigeons (Любовь и голуби).
- Who is your favorite director?
James Kameron and Oles Sanin (Ukrainian), with them I would like to work.
- What is your favorite book?
On the banks of the Seine (На берегах Сены) and On the banks of the Neva (На берегах Невы) by Irina Odoyevtseva (Ирина Одоевцева).
- Who is your favorite band or singer?
I don’t really follow songs and singers, but I really like Yann Tiersen (he is a composer). However in general I like sound-tracks for films.
- What is your favorite food or dish?
The dish of all times: my grandmother’s chicken soup with homemade noodles))) Yami-yum. Even from a thought saliva drooled from my mouth!
- What is your hobby?
Sleep and eat. [Lera smiles] It is if I’m very tired in the shooting process. In my free time I can do from embroidering beads to walking or traveling. Now one of the hobbies is associated with the teaching in my children’s studio.
- If you were to take a pseudo-name what it would be?
It would be Lera Guliaieva (Лера Гуляева/ Лєра Гуляєва) because this is how they write my name in film/ series credits, plus it is the mostly used version of my name.
- Many actors go into the director’s career, do you think it is a good thing or not and why? Would you go yourself?
The crucial here, I think, is understanding of the ‘acting kitchen’. I had experience of work with the director who was an clipmaker before, Maksim Papernik (Максим Паперник). He is Ukrainian and we were working on the project Window of Life (Окно Жизни/ Вікно Життя). I was given a full freedom in the interpretation of text and action. Obviously, he watched me, governed and changed what he wanted, has given advices. But the way he did it was very correct and polite. He never pressured me. In fact, a filming team bases itself on the human factor. I think it is a good thing because a director needs to understand how actor works. Sometimes directors give you some a task without a slight idea how he or she would embody it. They think of it as a genius one but in reality it is impossible to be acted out. They do not care how you would do it, but they still expect you to manage. If person tried ‘acting shoes’ there is a bigger chance the working process with them will be pleasant and easy, unproblematic and helpful. He or she would know how to work with a scene, miscancen, not made up but lively fulfilled.
There are different cases, obviously, for example, when a director plans everything up to the smallest detail and second. “At this word you are looking here, then you are moving your sight there and continue saying your text, NOT BLINKING! Then you look at your partner and say everything else looking right into his/ her eyes.” I personally don’t consider this to be a good way, because it pressures my inner acting freedom which bothers the filming process and a real representation of a character I try not just to act but to live through.
Yes, I would like to try my skills in directing. I think as an actress I have grown up from the state when somebody tells me what to do. However, I don’t know if I would be successful in filming because I’m lacking the basis for it. That’s why I consider going to study this. I would love to try myself into this. My problem is that yet I don’t see the shot like a cinematographer. I can tell that I have tried myself as a theatre director through the work with children in my studio. To create the vision, to work with students, to rehears, to think of the audience, of the light, choose the music, record the voice for the performance, to find or sew costumes, decorations etc. basically are parts of the full-shot directing process. I realize the responsibility and administrative job behind, what it means to find a place and time to rehearse for everyone. It’s not as easy as it might seem to appear.
P.s. All photos are taken from the personal archive with a permition of Valeriya Guliaieva
Lera! Lots of kisses from abroad and thanks for sharing of your personal story! I wish you luck, development and creative inspiration in your future cinematic work!