Ana Ularu: ”I take much more pleasure in discovering than in seeing the final result.”
I think it’s safe to say Ana Ularu isn’t a novelty for anyone anymore – her name is popular even amongst those people who don’t go to Romanian films or theatre shows. However, I believe too little people can actually say they know more about her. She’s not giving interviews often, maybe because she’s a discreet artist, or because she works and travels so much she doesn’t finds the time. I believe it’s a combination between these two.
For me, Ana is a complex, eclectical, tough woman. Always growing and opened to learning – about herself, people, places and things. She never gets bored – is actually what she says in the interview below and something I have observed at her, solely by observing the way she moves through life. I have invited her over for a chat because she’s back on screen in Netflix’s Sci-Fi series Tribes of Europa. Bozie Grieta is a fighter, part of the Crows tribe, a woman who writes her own destiny, without being influenced by circumstances, nor people. Like Ana states, Grieta doesn’t fit in the so-popular-and-cliche female character we all got used to. So we talked about her character, which lead us to a long conversation over what feminism is, actually, how she chooses her characters and many more. And because I consider Ana to be really eclectic and open-minded, we played around with some pictures of her (by Marc Rissman) which were turned into some beautiful collages by Belgian visual artist Veerle Symoens. You can find out how everything got together in the interview below.
Ana, tell me about your childhood – what stayed with you from all your parents’ theatre shows? Were there any defining moments for you?
Not much has changed, I wasn’t much different than I am now; I was sensible, sociable, a bit obsessed with staying late at my parents’ parties. They used to throw parties a lot, the guys from Divertis (ie. – a popular Romanian television sketch comedy and variety show) would come often since they were really good friends with my folks, and for me it was a tremendous joy to spend time with them. I believe a good part of my humor comes from them, combined with some Looney Tunes and my parents’ silly humor– it’s definitely one of my best weapons.
I used to play alone a lot, I have no brothers, nor sisters, but I never felt bored; I would invent dialogues and play three characters at once, in the same scene, usually a conflictual one. I also enjoyed drawing and wherever I would go with my paps, they would leave me in a corner and I would draw until forever. I really can’t think of any moment when I felt bored, there was always something to do. And now it’s the same, even if I stare for half an hour, doing nothing, I still don’t get bored.
Two things stayed with me from my parents’ theatre plays – the shows I wasn’t allowed to watch because, you know, I was too young and their content wasn’t really appropriate, but I would watch how they get ready for it, how they prepare everything, and I loved the whole process – they used to make such beautiful sketches. I had one in my bedroom, as a teenager; it was made for Turandot, directed by Gelu Colceag, a bas-relief made out of rags, a marvelous piece of art!
This prep they always went through before a show, I really enjoyed and it stayed with me, as well as the love and joy they shared for their profession.
At the end of the day, these are the reasons I am an actress, it has nothing to do with vanity, just this joy of playing around, of fixing things and situations.
Where does this joy come from?
It’s a joy I experience every time I’m acting, even though I know what will happen and I’m always thinking two steps ahead, a lot of time I surprise myself with what actually happens. And this whole process is the most beautiful part; there’s no red carpet or praise that could compare with that moment when you discover something new in your act, even though these are also beautiful parts, or bonuses of my profession.
Do you ever feel you have something to prove?
Not anymore. When I was younger, yes, but I believe it happens to each of us. I think for me it was while I was a student, when I felt the need to be praised. From one point onwards you stop and simply enjoy the act. Now I take much more pleasure in discovering than in seeing the final result.
I believe it comes with age.
Yes, it comes with maturity and with the freedom to refuse what doesn’t suit you. Not taking on a role just to prove something, but following your instinct, no matter the fame or the money you would get, or the people around.
I know you’re a big fan of arts, of all the creative industries. You’re most popular as an actress, but you also sing, direct music videos and sometimes write screenplays – do they complement one another? And have you ever had moments of total confusion, when maybe you felt more attracted to one of them?
First, let me thank you for this question. And no, I never felt confused. I don’t do all these for something, or someone, each one is a part of me. Like now, right now, I really want to write a short film. I have the idea and until it’s not out there I will feel a huge frustration. I believe creativity is a whole. I have moments when I miss singing and I’m lucky enough to have friends who call me to sing something for them, it feels like my wishes are heard in the Universe. Everything comes from the desire to express myself, so I could never feel confused, only happy I have the freedom to express myself as I feel. I would also enjoy trying stage design – at a basic level, because I’m like a fiddler, in everything. I play by ear and use what I like and see – for example, the play The Caretaker (dir. Radu Iacoban), where I worked on nothing else than stage design for over a month. And I believe my passion for all these things comes from the joy of solving, fixing things – exactly what I’ve seen at my parents while growing up.
It’s definitely a consequence of being part of a very artistic family.
And for that, I feel lucky. I’ve heard a bunch of times from various people “Ana, I don’t have a background like yours” – I don’t think my childhood was better or worse than others, hypertrophies also have atrophies. This is my background, my past, what has formed me and gave me my shining moments, as well as my fears or my flaws.
You said each one of your talents is a part of you, but are they also different identities?
I think we all have various identities – it’s an obsessive idea I have since I read Pirandello for the first time; you do not have just one identity, you are the result of everyone’s perceptions of you.
You play in the new Sci-Fi series Tribes of Europa, produced by Netflix, where the action takes place in 2074, in a world destroyed by a mysterious technological catastrophe. The only remaining continent is Europa and people are organized in various tribes. Starting from these premises, let’s try to imagine the future world, given the present context. How do you see it?
Well, I’m sailing in two boats here. On one hand, I have a big dose of optimism – I believe that all this poison and all the shadows that have surrounded us have also brought some light; the new generation must realize it is mandatory to save this planet, as we have nowhere else to go. On the other hand, I’m outraged by the selfishness that destroys us, and how we tend to think on a short-term, not seeing the whole picture. So I see the future as a battle between these two forces.
I’m thrilled the US is back in the Paris Agreement – it was the most important element of these elections. If the US – which is a huge pollutant, wasn’t coming back, we would have been screwed. And there’s a long road ahead anyway.
How about Romania – do you think it will progress enough that our disappointment will fade, or even turn into a feeling of pride?
It all depends on the future generation and sadly it is raised by the one before it, and this current generation is still based on a selfish mentality. Can’t you see what happens with all the burning hospitals, with the extremely polluted air of Bucharest?
I hope Romania will overcome these shortcomings and get back on its feet, and that the future generations will understand it is time for change.
What binds you to Romania, besides your roots, family and friends?
Everything. I was checking Cinepub yesterday, because I want to watch The Moromete Family again, and just watching all those Romanian film titles, I felt homesick; I miss waiting in line at Studio Cinema for a film premiere, I miss the traditional pastries in Amzei Market and so on. I do not consider myself a citizen moved from their country, but a citizen without a country.
Going back to Tribes of Europa, I just want to say how much I enjoyed watching Grieta – although it’s a “dark” character, it has a subtle sensitive side, which I liked and you also do a good job adding a bit of humor. What convinced you about Grieta?
I saw a lot of potential for a female character – there’s nothing in her anatomy that determines her to be a cliché female character. Just think about her journey – she’s not bound to anyone, she’s a fighter with her own failures, she’s nobody’s wife or lover, and she’s not in love with any dude – Grieta is a totally independent character. And there’s also the series’ concept, which I found very cool; besides the fact that I love science fiction, this time it doesn’t follow the same recipe as the other movies of the genre. I’ve never seen another Sci-Fi where we are depicted as squalors, where without technology we go back to living as tribes, as animals who once again dream about expansion and empires. And I liked this idea of non-borders, because when you think about it, it’s absurd – all the mountains and rivers that are seen today as borders; the only border between us are the different types of mentality.
And I liked my tribe a lot – The Crows, for example how they speak, they have an unusual way, like they recite poetry. Imagine a bloody tribe, always on drugs, with a Shakespearian way of speaking – it’s a fabulous combination!
I had a good creative experience with both Philip Koch (creator of the series) and Florian Baxmeyer (director), who let me play around. We all went with the flow, discovering where it takes us.
In the first season of the series, each woman is portrayed as a fighter, they’re all independent and strong, but showing a subtle sensibility. I feel that in the last 3-4 years women became more visible on screen and their roles became stronger and pivotal. How do you feel about all this and what does feminism mean to you?
It is absurd not to be a feminist nowadays. It’s like saying “I don’t like people” – what I find interesting is how suddenly this transition you mention happened, and I don’t think such a sudden manifest is the smartest way to do it. In Tribes of Europa and also in Emerald City, this transition came more naturally, their creators didn’t think to write some female characters just for the sake of it, but because it creates diversity, which is good. And by the way, what I also really liked about Tribes of Europa is that we have Lord Varvara and Bozie Grieta – there are no gender limitations. I don’t think feminism should be turned into something fulsome, like “I will hit you in the face with the ideology”. Any revolution related to our way of thinking should be introduced subtly, otherwise it will always face resistance. The #metoo movement was good and useful, even if a lot of people think that some women have benefited from it, I don’t believe this matters. For the victims it was extremely important it happened.
I’ve noticed that you like challenges and that you are open to new experiences, it’s a way of learning things; is there any kind of character typology that you think you couldn’t master?
I don’t know if there is such a character, but I would love to meet it, and I’d surely give it a go, if it’s well-written. I’ve turned down projects because I felt that the characters were badly written, or lacking in depth, or in any consideration towards reality itself. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but I was trying out for the lead role of Ana, Mon Amour (dir. Calin Peter Netzer), all the while being a good friend of Diana Cavallioti, whom I adore – I think that what she did in that role is incredible, it’s one of the coolest female roles I’ve seen so far, and I’m oftentimes thinking about the fact that I might not have been so good at it. I think Diana took the role exactly where it needed to be. But the harder it is, the better. I like interesting characters.
And this takes us back again to your childhood, to your need of solving various things and problems.
Yes. And I’ve had many of them, for example, in the case of Carousel (ie. – a theater play directed by Andrei Serban). Rodica Mandache told me something really valuable after the show; she called me and said “Annie, even if there were a hundred actors available for the part, you still would have been my last choice” (laughs) – “and that’s why your performance is so valuable”. I thought that was a lovely compliment. I’m very thankful for Andrei Serban’s idea of gathering cowboys at King Arthur’s court. He stripped me of my swords and weapons and just put me there. It was wonderful, even though I thought I wasn’t up for the part.
I’ve always been introspective and ready to sabotage myself. To understand whatever there is to learn. Where there is an instinct, where there’s conditioning, where there’s just pure stupidity and so on – maybe that’s why I never get bored. (laughs)
Finally, Ana, I’m curious whether you have any goals that you have not yet fulfilled, and which you are comfortable sharing with us?
I want to own real estate (laughs). In all honesty, I’ve never set goals for myself, I find it amusing to simply wait and see what life has to offer. Now I really am in a phase in which I want to own real estate and I also want to get my driver’s license – which is a goal that I’ve left hanging for many years now.