Cristian Bota: „A valuable actor is like a chameleon capable of changing in any second”

31 March, 2020

Cristian Bota is one of the most promising young film actors in Romania. He had his first major role in “White Gate” (2014), a drama directed by the well-known Nicolae Mărgineanu about one of the forced labor camps at the Danube-Black Sea Canal created by the communist regime. He became known especially for his role as the bad boy in “One Step Behind the Seraphim” (2017), the spectacular directing debut of Daniel Sandu, who has also cast him in his latest projects, which are in post-production: HBO miniseries “Tuff Money”, and feature film “The Father Who Moved Mountains”.

He also played an important role in one of the most successful Romanian short films in recent years, “A Night in Tokoriki” (2016), by Roxana Stroe. Last year he could be seen in supporting roles in “Heidi”, by Cătălin Mitulescu, and “The Cardinal”, by Nicolae Mărgineanu. He also directed two short films, in which he also stars: “Karmasutra” (2016), nominated at the Gopo Awards, and “Lame Duck” (2017), and is currently writing a screenplay for a feature film – about how difficult it is to maintain a romantic relationship – which he also wants to direct.

Born on May 16, 1992 in Bucharest, Cristian Bota went to school at “George Enescu” High School, where he studied piano. Up until high school, when he started to lose interest in piano, he had participated in music contests and olympics and had won diplomas and awards.

“In ninth grade, I became a thug. No longer studied to achieve excellence, just enough to get good grades. No longer kept exercising on the piano, just when I had my exams. I was no longer interested, I gave it up”, remembers the actor, blaming the age for those changes. “I was chasing girls, going out in clubs. My mind was more on having fun, rather than thinking about what I’d like to do in my life,” he adds.

But now, after a few years of working in theater and film and writing a couple of screenplays, he sees art “as a way of being, when you have to create all the time”. So he would like to play the piano again, being also encouraged by his former teacher, pianist Viorela Ciucur: ”I have come to the conclusion that I would like to do it again, this time with a much more educated, softened, disciplined mind. It’s the thing that made me who I am, and is the closest to my heart. It’s an incredibly beautiful and spectacular art, even if it’s a little bit outdated.”

Towards the end of high school, when he had to think about college, he initially wanted to go to Law school, being also encouraged by his parents who used to tell him that he was “sharp”, always looking for justice, honesty and change. He started studying for it, but he soon realized that Law doesn’t really interest him. His father, who had divorced his mother, once told him that he should do whatever he likes in life, and that stuck with him.

Therefore, he thought about acting: “It’s very funny and quite lame, but I do admit it. At that time I was watching soap operas, Lacrimi de iubire. I didn’t know much about Romanian cinema, and I thought it was weird and pretty simple – everyone was silent and walking from one place to another (laughs). Being in the spotlight, being in movies, I liked that idea. So I thought I should give it a try. And began a thorough training for the exam.”

In 2010, he entered UNATC, on his first try, after training with actress Monica Ciuta. “I am grateful to her for the way she introduced acting to me. The most important thing is how you are introduced to a profession. The first principles you understand are going to lead your entire artistic journey,” emphasizes Cristian Bota, who remembers that he didn’t get in among the firsts, and during his admission exam he was told that his voice wasn’t very good and that “I’d rather be a bank director than an actor, that I’m not genuine, I just know how to lie very well.”

He says that, above all, film school meant meeting actor Adrian Titieni, who was his class professor, and his teachings: “Everything he said remained rooted in my soul, in my brain, in my way of being. They aren’t just words: for me he’s an important person, whom I greatly appreciated. I met him in school. Before, I didn’t have a clue who he was. He has never been like a celebrity for me. I took him as a normal man.”

After three years of college of which he has fond memories, he followed a master’s degree in acting, which turned up to be a “total disappointment” and eventually led to his conflict with the school. “You feel like you were raised by someone who at one point abandons you. Teachers didn’t come to school anymore, there were colleagues who passed the exams without even going to school,” he explains.

Immediately after his graduation performance, when he was about to enter that “discouraging period”, when it’s all about “struggle” and “stress”, when “you don’t know what is happening and what you’re gonna do with your life”, he had the chance to receive the main role in White Gate, a drama signed by the well-known director Nicolae Mărgineanu, about one of the forced labor camps at the Danube-Black Sea Canal created by the communist regime. He plays a young man who arrives at the Canal, and for his role got a nomination in the “Young Hope” category at the Gopo Awards in 2014.

“I went to an audition. I prepared a monologue from my graduation performance, which had nothing to do with the story in the movie. Mr. Margineanu probably perceived a certain emotion in me. He saw something in my trembling, in my fear, in that unknown”, remembers Cristian Bota.

“After I found out that I got the role, I decided to eat very little and not sleep at all during the shootings. I didn’t even tell the director. Those who knew about that told me it was stupid. But I thought that if I went there all rested, I wouldn’t be able to act being tired. And weariness is very difficult to play. What I liked is that there was a noticeable physical degradation from day 1 up to day 28”, he explains.

After that project, a rather difficult period followed, “a long period of inactivity”, with only a few appearances in some short or feature films. He was out of work and his wife was to give birth to their child.

So he started writing screenplays and directing. He has made two short films so far, with his own money: Karmasutra (2016), nominated at the Gopo Awards, and Lame Duck (2017).

About Lame Duck, where he plays alongside several fellow actors, as well as Adrian Titieni, he says it was more of an experiment (a group of friends gather in a park and they start distributing flyers to make a buck, but things get out of control). About Karmasutra, the complicated story of a couple, he says that it was made with all his heart: “When I wrote it, I told myself that I might not achieve cinematographic perfection and that I might fail on so many levels. But I knew the story was strong enough to overcome all those flaws. And the viewer would overlook them and think the story is very cool”.

He has played in several theater shows, including three at the National Theatre Bucharest, without being employed by any theater, though. He worked, among others, with directors Alexandru Dabija, Lia Bugnar and Radu Afrim. His latest part was in a play by Radu Afrim, Forest of the Hanged, but he says he has retired from it.

He didn’t feel quite OK in the projects he was part of and didn’t like the overall atmosphere of the theaters he collaborated with. “Every time I tried to change something or convince people that it’s not OK what’s going on there, it was a fail. All theaters have this cheap, communist attitude. It’s a kind of place where you go to worship the Almighty, who is deaf anyway. Totally different generations. I had to deal with that. It’s not the golden generation, it’s what came after it and it’s just a bad copy of the golden generation. Theater means communist structure, it means laundered money. It means you have to negotiate down to the very last penny for your fee. It means “you either play by our rules or there’s no place for you here”. And they’re not even some strictly written rules. Fictitious hiring, manipulated contests. It all seems very simple, but it’s such an outrage that it kills everything that could be perfect there. So much dishonesty, and I hate it with all my being”, he explains his sharp position.

He didn’t like the attitude of his colleagues either: “There hasn’t been one cast where I would feel good. Do you know what it’s like with theater casts? In the first four-five days, you feel good because people feel energized by the start of the project. After that, it’s torture, no one can stand anyone anymore.”

Not even independent theater attracts him: “I prefer to do something else with my time. I trained to be an artist, I didn’t go to school to mess around for 50 lei, just for the idea that I’m making art. Years will pass and I’ll get to the conclusion that I haven’t made any art. That nothing actually happened with that independent show.”

“I was lucky to work quite a lot in film. Thank God for that. I gained experience. I understood who I am and what I can do. At this time, I can do much, much more in film. I could do a lot in theater, too, but only as an actor. You put in a lot of energy, soul, emotion there. Playing on stage is not like in movies, where the camera is right beside you and the truth is on your side. And if you want to be true, too, it gets bloody hard. And frustrating at times. And it can even come out as false, even if you, with all your being, try to make things true. So, then, why all these sacrifices? I rather stick with film”, says Cristian Bota.

His meeting with director Daniel Sandu, who cast him as one of the “bad boys” in his debut feature One Step Behind the Seraphim (2017), was quite decisive. They stayed friends since then, often in contact, and Daniel Sandu gave him one of the two main roles (the other played by Alexandru Papadopol) in an original miniseries, Tuff Money, which he has recently completed and it will be released this year on HBO, as well as a role in his latest feature film, recently shot – The Father Who Moved Mountains.

He was surprised, but also nervous, that at one of the auditions for One Step Behind the Seraphim, where he went with actor Anghel Damian, Daniel Sandu told them that he would give them pros and cons for their performance. In the end, he was cast as the second bad boy character, Voinea (the role of the “main thug” went to Ilie Dumitrescu Jr.), after Daniel Sandu initially told him: “I called you because I saw you in White Gate and I liked you a lot. But I don’t know what to offer you, because I see you as a shy, decent guy.”

“Daniel changed my life and I can’t help but acknowledge that. In a world where most people are selfish and wrapped up in oneself, when someone reaches out for you, no matter if there’s self-interest involved, you must be grateful for that. He’s an incredible artist. He reinvents himself every day. Doesn’t work by some fixed ideas, labels or a textbook. He is a man who carefully watches everything that happens in cinema, but also the news and the way they are delivered”, adds the actor.

He admits that it’s “very difficult” for independent actors, let alone there are so many of them, but adds immediately: “I don’t want to come out as a hypocrite. It can also turn out well. You can make a lot of money and not worry.”

Throughout his career he was cast to play opposite characters, either a sensitive boy or a thug, but that depended on how he was perceived: “People might be deceived by the human image you show. Or, my personality is constantly changing. Which I think is very good. I have seen very rigid people throughout their lives, who stop changing from a certain age, and I find it disastrous. In college, I was obviously loud, restless, so I created this thug image. In theater plays, for the first three years, I was the bad boy. After White Gate, the opposite assumption emerged, that I would be suitable for more sensitive roles, that there’s sadness in my eyes. I realized that face is more important than voice. It’s a weird set of which a director needs to know how to make use.”

After ten years of acting, he says he learned to deliver quickly what the director asks of him or what it’s necessary at a certain point: “If you tell me to cry or laugh, I don’t even ask myself any other questions, if it’s good or bad. I’ve come to believe that an actor is more valuable if it’s like a chameleon capable of changing in any second, capable of accepting any directing preference. As an actor, you must deliver art of the highest quality under the given conditions.”

But he admits that “there has to be some kind of schizophrenia” in acting. “In order to be true, you have to believe yourself. When you do believe yourself and switch from one minute to the next, now you laugh, now you cry, you start wondering about stuff”, he confesses.

Now he’s writing a feature-length script, which he also wants to direct – a different kind of love story: “I truly wish for people to understand that there is no perfect love relationship or perfect family. We’re always looking for perfection. But for a family or a love relationship you have to make many sacrifices that can be hurtful. Compromises that ache. Things that stick with you and bother you in time. I want to show that in my movie and how each problem you want to solve eventually leads to other problems, and so on. This journey never ends. That, and the fact that if you’ve done something wrong, you gotta pay. You always have to choose: am I free to do what I want or do I stay in the family? The version I come with for this movie is with two people, two actors, who are struggling to stay together and be there for each other in bad times. And things get worse, because that’s how life is.”

Journalist and film critic. Curator for some film festivals in Romania. At "Films in Frame" publishes interviews with both young and established filmmakers.