With Igor Babiac, on what it means to be a young film actor in the Republic of Moldova
At the age of 30, Igor Babiac is the best known and most appreciated young film actor living in the Republic of Moldova. The first major role – which got him recognition and opened the door for other films – was in The Unsaved (2013), a drama by Igor Cobileanski, a Republic of Moldova and Romania co-production filmed across the Prut river. Since then, he has starred in several films, most notably What a Wonderful World (2014), by Anatol Durbală, and Beautiful Corruption (2018), by Eugen Damaschin, both made in the Republic of Moldova, and Love 2. America (2018) , by Florin Şerban, made in Romania and announced to be released in theaters next year on January 10. At the beginning of 2019, he participated in the Berlinale Talents platform of the Berlin International Film Festival. Also this year, he gave up the theater and, in parallel with film acting, he is a driver on his own coach.
His characters are simple young people, with good intentions, slightly mysterious, but seemingly introverted and downhearted. His performance has a special energy, which makes the protagonists he plays difficult to forget. I spoke with Igor Babiac about his career, about acting, but also about the situation in the Republic of Moldova, where he says he likes to live, even though, because of poverty and hopelessness, almost everyone wants to leave.
Igor Babiac was born on June 5, 1989 in Sângerei, “a town with about 10,000 inhabitants” in the Republic of Moldova, where he lived until he was 18, when he finished high school. In 2008, he entered by chance a faculty of industrial economics at a university in Turin, Italy, but he immediately gave up and returned to Chișinău, to study acting at the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts (AMTAP).
“I was in the 12th grade. My mother was already in Italy. My plan was: graduate from high-school and go to Italy to work, get a small job. I had no other ideas, no other plans. I went there in the summer and met an Italian who was working in economy and told me to give it a try, and he would help me prepare for the exam. So I did and got in, but in fact I’ve never thought of studying economics. It was just a suggestion from a man who came into my life,” he recalls.
“I was going to college, but I didn’t feel like that was my place. I didn’t even feel like communicating to people. I just kept to myself. I became an introvert. Suddenly I began to think about how nice it used to be in Moldova, how many friends I had at home. So from that point I got the idea of finding something else. And leave college. I went at school only about two weeks. I didn’t even try to get into it. I wasn’t interested,” says Igor Babiac.
He found on the internet a photography contest where the prize was a trip to New York or a good camera: “Being naive and wanting to change things, I told myself I’m gonna start taking pictures, win the contest and go to New York. The best plan (laughs – n.r.). In the morning, my mother thought I was going to college, but I would randomly get on public transport and stop wherever I wanted in order to take pictures. I was staying out until the classes would be over, then I was coming home, supposedly from college.”
At one point, he came across a poster with some theater classes for amateurs. This reminded him that in high school, in Sângerei, at a festivity, he performed with a classmate some skits inspired by those with Garcea, a character who was also popular in the Republic of Moldova due to the Romanian television broadcasting there. “I remember having some beautiful emotions, all eyes were on us, the school principal was laughing so hard. It was very nice. I really liked that experience. So, suddenly, in Turin, I connected the dots. I thought that was the place for me and went to those classes. Several times. They were held in the evening. It was an amateur thing. People of all ages came, people who needed to spend their time somehow. I liked it. And I understood that I have to do something in this direction,” remembers the actor.
So he decided to tell his parents – his mother was with him in Italy, and his father was in the Republic of Moldova – about his decision: “I got home. I had just received a package from Moldova, there was also Moldovan wine in it. I got this crazy idea, I don’t know how. I dressed in my graduation costume. I also put on my tie. I drank half a bottle of wine, I got drunk. I called my dad and told him I wanted to come home. And he, probably because he was busy at that moment, just said “come” and hung up the phone. And I said to myself, “Well, if Dad told me to come, I’ll go then. He’s waiting for me” (laughing – n.r.). He also told his mother who tried to convince him to stay in Turin, especially since he had entered a good college. “It came as a shock, but there was nothing to be done. I really didn’t feel good there. Now, looking back, I realize that I wanted to go home because I missed my friends, my homeland. But, as it happened, when I returned, everyone else had left for Europe, where I got back from. I was alone again, only in Chișinău, not in Turin,” says Igor Babiac, amused by the situation, and always finds a pleasure in talking about it.
He managed to convince the teachers from the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts in Chișinău to let him join the acting class that autumn, although the courses had begun for some time and the students were already before their first exam – “Working with imaginary objects”. He didn’t know any poems in front of the commission, as requested, but remembered an exercise from the acting classes in Italy, where he “played” objects or colors: “I came out from thin air, I walked on earth, I swam in water, burned in fire and died. I thought I was great so that day they let me attend the courses. And that was it.”
College was four years, but he finished it in six, because, he says, “there were times when I left, times when I returned.” He regrets not being able to communicate more: “I didn’t make any friends in college, I was always alone. This is how it has been so far. I don’t know what happened to me since I started acting. I’ve shut myself off, somehow. I can’t open myself. I feel like I’m in an area where I can’t find my place. I’m still searching.”
In the second year of college, he received a part in the play The Gull, staged by Anatol Durbală with his graduates, to which were added some students. He was playing Treplev. The film director Igor Cobileanski was present at one of the performances; he was preparing the feature film The Unsaved at that time. “That’s how I met Igor. I was at the right time, at the right place. Pure luck. Right at that time Igor had a project to fit my type. The pieces have fallen into place for me,” he recalls with pleasure.
About the experience of playing the main role in The Unsaved, an interpretation for which he received a nomination at the Gopo Awards in Romania, he says that it was decisive, even though he regrets that he didn’t take full advantage of this meeting with some “interesting” people, whom he admires, such as Igor Cobileanski or cinematographer Oleg Mutu, because of a “psychological barrier” he has. “It seemed like I was dreaming. I wasn’t really aware of what was happening to me. I was acting on intuition. I didn’t do it very rationally. Of course I liked it. I liked being on the set. To look for more. I know I was pretty involved in building the character. In these searches I got even more isolated. I remember walking by random through Orhei (the town where the film was shot – n.r.), to get closer to the boy I was to play. I was trying to explore. I had no method then. Now I have some tricks, methods that are almost mathematical, when I take on a role. Everything is more structured. The first thing that came to my mind was to live the character’s life. And I was trying to reach these states by isolation, by meditating on the situation he was in. I was trying to understand the situation,” he says.
He often thinks about acting, about why he likes to do it: “My relationship with acting is like a relationship with something alive. It is changing, evolving, taking different directions. It is challenging me. It makes me experiment. For example, for a period I can approach acting as a profession, only as a job. And that would mean not necessarily just playing the characters I want, not necessarily doing everything from my heart. I see if it suits me. If there are some things I don’t like, I take them out and keep only what I like. And in another period I try to do only projects that are close to my soul. I filter everything I need. I combine them. I try to build myself, to find out who I really am. Although, I am almost convinced that, in acting, I will learn until the end, until the last second. From project to project”.
He admits that it’s impossible to make a living only from acting in the Republic of Moldova, even if for some years now there has been a National Film Center (CNC) in Chișinău and even if he has the chance to get a project a year (he even refuses some of the offers). Asked if he would like to move to Romania, as many filmmakers in the Republic of Moldova have done over the years, he replies that he has been thinking a lot about it for the last six months. “I am thinking of saving up some money and, at one point, to come to Bucharest for a few months. Just to live there, not necessarily to go to castings. See how I feel in that city. I wouldn’t do it just for acting,” he confesses.
At the beginning of the year, he gave up the theater and the acting position he had at the National Theater “Mihai Eminescu” in Chișinău: “I didn’t feel like it was my place. I didn’t feel like belonging there. If I find myself somewhere and still feel the need to look for more, I am not at peace, it means I have to leave, I don’t want to sit and wait.”
For several months now, in parallel with the film roles that he gets from time to time, he has also experienced being a driver. With the money he earned from Beautiful Corruption and Love 2. America he bought a minibus of 28-30 seats which he drives in the passenger transportation business that his father has with someone else. He did it to experience something new, because he was a little tired of acting, but especially out of frustration that for four and a half years as a theater actor he couldn’t earn enough to lead a decent, normal life. So he received from his father a route: he transports passengers, especially elderly people, to the city of Sergheevca, in the Odessa region in Ukraine, by the sea, where there are many sanitariums. The new job, which he doesn’t want to have for too long, allows him to also work as an actor, when he gets a role, because he can leave and return when he wants, as he has done recently, when he went to London to play in a short film made by a team from the Republic of Moldova. He admits, again, that he is lucky.
“From all this history of being a driver, the most important thing I have learned is that people, in situations that are out of the ordinary, act as their true selves. It often happened to notice that madams or gentlemen in their fifties were very friendly and kind in Chișinău, but as we arrived at the border and some questions were asked or something unusual happened, they changed immediately, they became themselves. That made me understand human nature. You can be perfectly fine when you’re in your comfort zone. But if you keep your integrity even when you go out of your comfort zone, that means you have verticality. If not, it means it’s just a mask. I liked a lot noticing this kind of stuff,” says Igor Babiac.
He confesses that he was told by his friends and that he also thought about the fact that he seems to lend a lot from his personality to the characters he plays, but also that the characters seem to influence him: “I thought about it, if it’s my method of being in the characters – to live, to change my reality to be in the reality of the characters. And that’s kind of crazy. Maybe I have to play other characters. If I move forward with these kind of things, I risk getting to a pretty grim area, and that’s not what I want. It’s best not to let my job on the set or on stage have any influence on my life.”
He jokes about the idea that he came to have a certain image, as an actor, “the one who either always gets beat up or is always sad”, and that now he would like to play heroes: “Heroes who solve situations, who get to that white light at the tunnel, and don’t just see it from afar and die in the middle of the tunnel.”
Regarding the political situation, but also the general situation in the Republic of Moldova, he is pessimistic, resigned: “You watch TV, read newspapers, follow several other sources and create an image of what is happening at a certain time in the country. But it doesn’t take long and this image of yours is completely distorted by the same sources. And this has been happening for a long time. Sometimes I watch, other times I don’t, because I don’t see the point anymore. Not that it wouldn’t be a point, but I realized that my life is too short to get involved in politics. My belief is that you have to manifest yourself in everything that happens around you through your actions. Now, I can say that some are bad and others are good. And that can be unreliable information anyway. I don’t have the information from direct sources, I have it from the media, which I don’t trust. I don’t even know it very well. My most honest manifestation for my surroundings, for the country, would be my actions. I mean, I choose to play in some movies because I think they talk accurately about a certain problem, as I see it, and I think that will be good for everyone. Or the trivial stuff: when I’m behind the wheel, I’m polite, I talk nice, I try to be patient. Somehow, that’s all I got to, my head can think only that much. Of course, if I were more capable in managing my civic spirit, maybe I would have better results.”
The general feeling in the Republic of Moldova seems that most people want to leave the country: “I have an acquaintance who was doing fine in Chișinău, he had a family, two apartments, a good financial status, everything was fine. He had his business here in Moldova, now he is in Canada and he cuts forests, among various other jobs. He did it for the children. He said he wants them to grow in a healthy environment.”
“In Moldova, it’s still the same deal where you are a “clever guy”, meaning you know how life works, you know how to cheat, how to find some easy way out. A lot of people who work for the state have some meager wages. We have this saying: “How are you?” “I am waiting for the Romanian passport”. With the Romanian passport you have the opportunity to work in Europe. On the other hand, I’ve been in Europe – I went to the industrial economics faculty in Turin, and I still returned to Chișinău to study acting. Here I feel OK. Sometimes I get bored. And tell myself I’m 30 and it would be a shame not to see how other people live. I would like to see another country, whichever. Not necessarily for acting, but simply to taste other cultures and to meet other people,” concludes Igor Babiac.
Photo: Maria Căldare