Ana Dumitraşcu: “Through acting, I always discover new things about myself”
Besides its unique topic and the unexpected aesthetics, “Immaculate” (2021), directed by Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark, brings into the spotlight a young actress at her first role in a feature film: Ana Dumitraşcu.
A demanding role, which Ana Dumitraşcu got while she was an acting student at UNATC and for which she prepared long and intensively. Daria, the protagonist, is a young woman who enters rehab to overcome the drug addiction her ex-boyfriend, now in prison, left her with. Her display of innocence saves her from the sexual advances of the mostly male junkies inside and gains her their protection. Suddenly thrown into the spotlight and enjoying the attention, Daria soon finds out that special treatment comes at a great price.
“Immaculate” won the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Best Debut at last year’s Venice Film Festival and will soon be released in Romanian cinemas. It is the first Romanian film to receive this extremely important trophy. “Immaculate” was presented in the independent section Giornate degli Autori, where it also won the top prize.
The cast also includes Vasile Pavel, Cezar Grumăzescu, Rareș Andrici, Ilona Brezoianu, Bogdan Farcaș, Ionuț Niculae, Florin Hrițcu, Tiberiu Dobrică, Ninel Petrache, Dan Ursu, Ozana Oancea, Diana Dumbravă and Cristina Buburuz.
With the action limited to the space of the rehabilitation center and a 3:4 aspect ratio, the film conveys a strong feeling of claustrophobia, tension, discomfort. And Ana Dumitraşcu’s ability to carry her character through various states of mind and the force with which she swings from fragility and submission to a certain release announces an acting talent that is worth following.
Born on December 5, 1997, in Bucharest, Ana Dumitraşcu moved back with her parents to Drăgăşani, Vâlcea, when she was six years old. Her parents, dentists by profession, finished their studies in the capital and returned to their hometown to work.
She says that as a child in such a small town, where there wasn’t much to do, she liked hiking and reading. She wrote poetry and even thought of becoming a writer. Over time, although she was still shy, she realized that she liked to express herself in a more visible way, that she wanted to be seen.
“In high school, I started watching a lot of movies, especially arthouse films. Hollywood was never my thing. I never liked blockbusters. They always seemed like movies for boys to me (laughs),” the young actress remembers.
She thought about pursuing theater directing. In the 11th grade, she created a small theater troupe in high school, which she named the Habarnam Troupe, which performed in a movie theater that was no longer functional: “I believed a lot in it. There was no theater or cultural center in town, so people did come to see the plays. We originally staged comedies, such as A Stormy Night and A Lost Letter. I wasn’t acting, just directing and coordinating.”
At the end of the 11th grade, she staged Eugène Ionesco’s The Lesson, in which she played the teacher. “After the play, I had a big fight with my father. He didn’t want me to study theater, he wanted me to go to medical school. I was in love with a boy who was a theater student in Cluj. We weren’t seeing each other, but we were talking on the phone. He would tell me about college life and I was fascinated by it. I didn’t want to end up like my parents, working all day long. I wanted to have a job that would make me happy. So I went to Bucharest. I ran away from home for two months during that summer (laughs). Then I made up with my parents. It wasn’t easy for them to accept my decision. They agreed to let me apply to theater school, but had I failed, I would have had to go to medical school. Luckily for me, I got in,” Ana Dumitraşcu recalls.
She says that her decision to choose acting over theater directing was also influenced by her mother: “My mother drove me towards acting. She said directing is not for women. That it’s a man’s world. Now I think she’s wrong because we’ve seen a lot of women directors emerging in recent years. Things have changed a lot.”
She didn’t know much about UNATC before moving to Bucharest, so she rather imagined what it might be like: “It was overwhelming. In the first year, which I remember very fondly, I changed a lot. On my first day of college, I was dressed in a long coat and a pleated skirt and had makeup on. I was so different from all the girls around me; they were cool, wearing casual clothes, and without makeup. Even at the admission exam, I had a chic hat on, which really doesn’t fit UNATC’s style. Reality hit me. I realized very quickly that it’s not about being seen, being in the spotlight, or being important, but about connecting with people, being present, rooted in your principles. Things that are very important but which I wasn’t aware of then. At that time, I just wanted to be an actress, to be seen by people.”
“In the first semester of the first year, you play all sorts of games. I was very competitive. I wanted to win every game, to be the best. But, initially, I didn’t see the point of these games, I didn’t understand why we weren’t moving on faster, why we weren’t acting. I wanted to act! I had a different idea about what theater should be like. We would stay on a line for two hours at a time. I didn’t understand why we were doing things this way. I didn’t have a strong critical sense, I thought that what I and my colleagues were doing was okay. I wasn’t mature enough, emotionally and professionally, to understand that it takes time to develop yourself and build a character. I wanted it all to happen fast, I wanted us to perform. I was overhasty. I regret not trusting my teachers more and always trying to do things my way. Only recently have I understood that the process you’re going through at UNATC is very important. I really felt that I should have taken more advantage of it,” the actress recalls.
She believes that three years of college are not enough, especially since the outbreak of the pandemic compromised her final year: “Acting school should last longer. I graduated during the pandemic. I lost a whole year. There was a complete shutdown. The lockdown had just begun. I feel that we missed a lot of stuff. Being our final year, everyone was repeating for the final exam, we should have performed on stage. But the pandemic cut us off. We didn’t get to perform. We had no audience. I think everyone from my generation feels discouraged. It affected our path a lot.”
In her opinion, 30 students in a year at Acting is not too many, because, although those who choose this school want to perform, not all of them will end up, realistically speaking, practicing this profession, some will make a career change: “Everybody has their own path.”
“I really want to be an actor. But I know from many older colleagues that there are times when there is nothing to do, when you just have to wait, have faith, work, learn monologues, keep a sane mind, so that when a casting comes along, you don’t get too nervous that it’s been a long time since you’ve done that or that you haven’t prepared any monologue,” says the young actress.
“Before the final call back for Immaculate, between the second and third years of college, even though I don’t have a close relationship with God and I don’t go to church, I prayed and said, «If this is really my path, if acting is what I have to do, I’ll get the part. If not, then I won’t pursue it any longer.» I got the part and since then this is my mantra: «I got the sign, so I can’t give up.» But during the pandemic, I felt really low. I was supposed to play the lead role in a play, but it was canceled. I had other projects too – theater plays and short films – but they didn’t happen anymore. I felt like I hit a wall, like everything went down the drain,” she adds.
After graduating, although she wanted to pursue a master’s degree in acting, she realized that the classes would still be held online, a prospect she didn’t enjoy at all, so she chose film production instead. But this year she would like to enter the master’s programme in acting, not so much for a diploma, but out of a desire to work and be among people.
During college, she had the chance to star in several student short films, which helped her very much. “One mistake people in my college do, whether they’re theater or film directors, is that once they discover an actor, they only work with them. They don’t try to look for other people. In my first year, I was lucky enough to replace someone who could no longer play in a short film. I was seen by other colleagues of the director and they called me to play in their films too. For two years and a half, I went to anything that came my way, I wasn’t even reading the script. So I starred in a lot of films. This experience helped me, because in college we had just one optional course of film acting. I learned, for example, what it means to hit your marks. It helped me keep it together during the auditions for Immaculate and not get nervous when the camera would get too close. I learned to ignore the feeling of having all eyes on me,” says Ana Dumitraşcu.
She has no regrets about choosing the master’s programme in film production: “I think there are many things that I can learn as a producer which can also help me as an actor. Now I understand why someone might not choose you for a part when you go to the casting. Often, it’s not even about you not being good enough. You’re just not right for the part. Maybe the director imagines it differently and you just don’t move as they want. I’ve learned not to take it personally anymore if I don’t get the part (laughs). Plus, I better understand what a film budget means and what the production conditions are. I made a film in the first semester and I got psoriasis from all the stress (laughs). But I really liked it. And I understood another thing. I realized that there are so many unpredictable aspects in the process that can ruin your original plan that often it’s not even the director’s or production’s fault that the film doesn’t come out as great as it seemed in the script. I think you have to learn to handle all the things that might change when you start shooting, no matter the project.”
She was called to audition for Immaculate via the CDF Casting agency, run by Viorica Capdefier. “They sent me the script. I made an idea about how I should build my character, but I didn’t stress about it. I had pink hair at that time and I was very chill. It was summer. I didn’t imagine I would get any part. I wasn’t too nervous about it because I didn’t have high expectations. They liked my first audition, which I found encouraging, especially since I hadn’t prepared much. The casting was a long process. I had many call backs. I was waiting and waiting, I was really nervous. I was always checking my phone. At one point, I wished they called me to tell me that I hadn’t got the part, just to put an end to my torment,” Ana Dumitraşcu recalls.
“The more auditions I went to, the more I started working on the character, wanting the part more and more, getting more and more into Daria’s mind. I was often asking Monica questions. I felt that Daria looked a lot like me at 18 and that I could give her something from me. Being unable to say “no” was also something that I went through at her age. I was a people pleaser and I was afraid to make people feel bad, to refuse them. In the meantime, I’ve grown and I’m not like that anymore,” she explains.
At one point during the casting, director Monica Stan told her that it came down to her and another actress: “I realized that if they can’t decide between the two of us, it means that the other girl, whom I’ve never met, is also right for the part and has something important to bring to the character. I worked a lot on the script, changing, removing or adding things to my character. I also made a playlist of what music Daria would listen to. I adopted certain gestures. I kept thinking about what the other girl was doing and what I could do. Then, there was a moment during the casting when I realized it had nothing to do with what I could or not do, what could be better or not. I decided to keep what I had built until then, to be confident about it, and just connect with the person in front of me. The actors with whom I gave the auditions and who had already been chosen also helped me a lot.”
“During this period, I stayed away from everyone. I was only talking to my parents on the phone from time to time. I had to lose weight, as did all the actors, because we needed to look haggard, like heroin addicts do. I was on a strict diet but under the supervision of a nutritionist. I was walking a lot. I was constantly listening to the same music and I was always thinking about what stage I was in with Daria. For example, when I was going to the store, I would ask for things like Daria would,” details the actress.
The process was so stressful that even after learning that she had got the part, she continued to feel like she was auditioning: “I had the feeling that I still had something to prove. I was under constant pressure. I didn’t want to do anything wrong and asked a lot of questions. I didn’t want to be fired (laughs). I was so nervous and scared, and at the same time, I wanted it so much. Plus, it was the first time I was working with people I admired. I had seen them all before and I was really excited to work with them. I considered them such great actors. I was afraid they would think I didn’t deserve to get the part and that I was a bad actress.”
She says she got along very well with both Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark: “They complemented each other. Monica gave me a lot of freedom and told me about her experience, and that helped me build my character. On the other hand, George kept it real and would tell me: «Stay present, stay in the situation, stop it with the nonsense, stop thinking about how you look.» They both worked on two levels that helped me a lot to keep the character a character and not immerse myself too much and be all me.”
She also explains that the whole experience on Immaculate was like a laboratory: “We, the actors, Monica and George would meet in an apartment and improvise on the situation. It was all very special. During shootings, we would meet in the morning, change into our costumes, we were all dressed the same, get our makeup. There was some sort of intimacy between us due to the situations in the film and the way we were shooting. Because Daria was going through tense situations, abuse or even rape, there was a silence hanging over us. But we understood each other in that silence. We have connected at a higher level. We trusted each other.”
“At first, I thought Daria was an inexperienced girl trying to be a people pleaser. But then I realized that she was much more than that. In the end, it becomes quite clear that she actually has a lot of strength. There are many moments when she knows how to manipulate, not just to be manipulated. I think that she has a lot of feminine power and sexuality that she doesn’t know how to handle very well, being so young. It’s important to keep an open mind while building a character. The character is also a person and they change. They’re going through a process of transformation. Although we didn’t shoot it chronologically, I understood her evolution from the very beginning, even if she doesn’t talk much and doesn’t have very obvious reactions,” she describes her character.
She saw the film for the first time in its final version at the premiere at the Venice Film Festival and was extremely nervous: “I was breathless the entire time. I was very tense. It was overwhelming. My parents were present, too. I knew there might be nude scenes and that my father would see me in a rape scene and situations drug addicts usually go through. I knew I was going to be in the film a lot. But mostly I was afraid that my performance was awful and that my career was over (laughs). A lot of people at the festival came to me to congratulate me and tell me I was great. I’m glad and I appreciate that people see it like that. But now, given that I’ve grown even more, I probably would have done some things differently.”
The film’s success in Venice, which made it appear even on the news, finally convinced her parents that this is her path and that she no longer has to go to medical school. “They’re cool about it now. Venice was a confidence boost both for me and my parents, who are no longer so anxious that I will fail in life,” says the actress amused.
Although the film has not yet been released in Romania, so the joy of working on such a project is still palpable, and the attention she is about to receive from the press, the public and the guild is only at the beginning, Ana Dumitraşcu admits that she is afraid that it will only be a one-time experience.
“I’ve been told many times, and I see examples around me, at older colleagues, that it’s a profession which requires keeping your faith and being a hard worker. Believing that this is your path. It’s not like Hollywood, where you go to auditions all the time. Since Immaculate, that is, in 2020-2021, I think I only went to three castings, which I didn’t take. There weren’t too many or maybe I didn’t find out about all of them,” she emphasizes.
She says that she would like to be an employed actor at a theater, because she really wants to work and act, although she understands that there might be disadvantages, such as the obligation to perform in plays where she would not feel very comfortable or being forbidden from working on film projects and going to shootings.
“It’s important to work. In the pandemic, after a long period of not working, when I went to a casting, I felt that I had neglected my expression tools – my voice, my body. I then understood that you still have to work out, to train your voice, your mind. Be aware that no audition is the audition of your life. Even recently I had an audition that I really wanted and put all my hopes in it. Wanting so much to do the right thing, that’s what I did. So they didn’t see my sparkle. Every person has their own sparkle. If we don’t show it, doing the right thing is not going to help. Nobody wants to see that. Everyone wants to see your sparkle. I suffered and cried a lot. You have to go to every casting knowing that it’s an audition, that you’re going to give your best, but you shouldn’t let it demoralize you. You shouldn’t set up so many expectations that can end up harming you so much,” says Ana Dumitraşcu.
She thinks that innocent characters like Daria were part of a period of her life that is now over and that she couldn’t play such a typology anymore: “I think I entered another period of my career. I’m more mature emotionally. I’m more confident. I’m at a point where I’d love to do comedy. It feels like something that I’d be perfect for now. I trust myself more.”
Among the actresses she admires, she mentions Diana Cavallioti and Katia Pascariu, but also the late Luminiţa Gheorghiu: “I think you could see she was a good person. That’s what I admire in many actors – you can see that they are also good people. I’m not saying I’m such a good person, but I’m working on it. I think that makes you a better actor, too. It gives you humanity and a capacity for empathy that helps you a lot. Of course, you can be a horrible person and a very good actor, I don’t think one excludes the other, but I prefer the first option.”
She confesses that she likes acting because she can be the way she wants to be, without feeling choked up and unable to speak, and because it helps her discover new things about herself.
“I’m a very anxious and shy person in real life. Like Daria, I often use my feminine energy to escape situations where I feel uncomfortable, anxious, or scared. Acting is a medium where I can use anything else to stop feeling that way. I can be funny. I can be scared without feeling stuck or tense. I can be the way I want to be, without feeling like there is a tightness in my throat and I can’t talk anymore, that I’m getting sweaty and dizzy and that I want to leave the room. I’m also pretty introverted. I like to stay at home, do my own thing, or go out with my dog. Acting helps me to be more open. I discover things about myself that I would never have known about otherwise,” concludes Ana Dumitraşcu.