Iulian Postelnicu: “Negative characters are more convincing”
Until we draw our conclusions about the 2019 Romanian cinema, one thing is certain: by playing the frightening character of Vali in Arest, Iulian Postelnicu offers the strongest interpretation of the year. From acting studies at UNATC, in the class of Dem Radulescu, about who he says had “a colossal culture and phenomenal pedagogical talent”, and poorly paid stand-up shows, to making a mockery of Victor Ponta in sketches on Pro TV and the first consistent roles in cinema, in One floor below (2015), by Radu Muntean, and now in Arest (2019), by Andrei Cohn, Iulian Postelnicu followed an atypical route.
Born on June 25th, 1978, in Targu Bujor, Galati, Iulian Postelnicu grew up and went to school in Focsani. In high school, he was in a Mathematics-Informatics class, but Informatics didn’t attract him at all: “I was flunking out. I wasn’t any good. ”
He liked theater instead, he liked to play. “During high school, through the tenth grade, there was a theater club. The teachers were much more tolerant of us, the ones who were there. Our absences were tolerated. We could miss classes, because apparently we had to rehearse. And we did, actually. I was quite into it,” he remembers.
Encouraged by his colleagues and teachers in this club, he thought he would like to pursue Theater: “I felt good, because I was looked at in a different way. “
He came to Bucharest, but didn’t go to Theater school right away, since his parents discouraged him: “I didn’t try from the first time because of my folks, who told me it won’t work, I have no talent, I don’t know anything about it, that it’s hard. Maybe I was lazy enough to believe them. Or I didn’t have enough courage. I don’t remember exactly why I didn’t try to get in in the first year. ”
He went to Sociology, but didn’t attend classes and dropped out. He stayed in Bucharest that year. “I think I decided in the winter of ’97 to apply to Theater school the following year. And I started to work on a repertoire. I then asked a guy who finished in Repan’s class, if I’m not wrong, to help me. He is from Focsani, too: Adrian Damian. He helped me, meaning that he told me what would be better for me and what wouldn’t. And that’s it. Then I collected those things and thought them through, ” remembers the actor.
Now he says it was good luck that he didn’t get in in 1997, but in the following year, because that way he got in the class of Dem Radulescu, which he wouldn’t have otherwise: “There were two classes. One of Dem Radulescu and another of Gonta, if I’m not mistaken. At some point, I think in the second year, the classes merged. But initially we were 9 or 11 at Dem Radulescu, I think. I don’t know anymore. It’s been a long time ago. ”
He was in class with Alexander Papadopol, with whom he now plays in Arest, in a memorable duo. Asked if he still remembers his other colleagues, he quickly and happily names them: “Maria Popistasu was one of my classmates. I was also with Viorel Cojanu, who works at the Replika Center, I think. Rodica Ionescu and Mihai Cuciumeanu are at the National Theatre. Then Ionut Chivu, who is at Odeon. Ana Pasti, who went to America, but I think she’s back now. Aurelian Barbieru, who is somewhere in Germany, but I have no idea what he’s up to. Adina Stan. Monica Ciuta, who is a teacher. ”
He thinks the four years of college were “very cool”. “Unlike high school – which I didn’t like at all, it was hell, still gives me nightmares – college, although at one point it was very exhausting, is something I remember with nostalgia. I miss those moments and I look fondly back on them. It was a small class, even when the two joined. Dem had time to work with each of us, he was spending a lot of time with us, from morning to evening, and I liked what I was doing, so everything was very cool. It was very fortunate to have this teacher. “
He remembers about Dem Radulescu with great joy: “We were laughing so hard, from morning till evening. You couldn’t resist”. “I didn’t know who Dem Radulescu is and who is Bibanu” before entering the Faculty. I always heard about Bibanu’, but I didn’t know who he was. And Dem Radulescu, for me, was a guy who made New Year’s Eve shows. He wasn’t an actor. I didn’t know about him. I knew Amza Pelea, the great actors. The shock was immense, because in my head I portrayed him as a cheap clown, and instead I discovered he was a walking library. Of a colossal culture and with a phenomenal pedagogical talent. He was amazing. He knew how to make you build confidence and be calm. It was a huge opportunity for me, ” he says with passion.
During college, the Casandra Studio still existed, an episode that, he says with conviction, is missed out by those studying nowadays: “Unlike these improvised halls now, Casandra was an actual theater, with backstage, cabins, red carpet. In the center. Pretty intimate. You didn’t have the feeling that the space in front of you, beyond the stage, overwhelms you, when you’re just a beginner. It was small to medium. And it gave you space just enough to still feel protected. It was very nice. I had three shows there, if I’m not mistaken: Kill your neighbor!, The turkey and The audition.“
At that time, he wasn’t thinking much about film, so while being a student he starred in only one short film, of which he doesn’t remember much. “Other than that, there were some directing hours and we were collaborating with the students in the Directing section. Catalina Buzoianu was studying theater directing in the same year as me and I worked with her. ”
After he finished college, he didn’t have much to do. With several classmates, he applied for Targoviste, where the theater manager, Mihai Constantin Ranin, ” he called himself MC Ranin”, wanted to make a theater group.
He got in, but chose not to go anymore after seeing how things work there: “It wasn’t for me. I wanted to be in Bucharest and I didn’t want to be held by a manager and raised as a sort of farm chicken. I wanted to have more freedom. ”
Since there wasn’t anything to do for him, he thought about going to another school. He applied to SNSPA, the Communication and Public Relations section, where he entered but had to pay an annual fee, because it was his second faculty.
But he dropped out of that too. “I was one semester over there. Then I didn’t go anymore. But that semester I met Peca Stefan and Laurentiu Banescu; we were in the same class, the two of them were very good friends. And they had a couple of texts they were staging at Green. This is how I got to Green, through them”, in 2002-2003.
“I was playing in a piece written and directed by Peca Stefan, Showdown. Nice. Fun. Then there were some other things there. But I was kind of going down, I wasn’t working anything else but these small, independent things, ” he recalls.
He even tried stand-up comedy, at a time when the phenomenon hasn’t started yet in Romania, but it only worked for a while because it was poorly paid. “When I went to Brasov and the people there gave me 100 bucks, I said that’s it, I can stop, this is the peak of my career. It was colossal. When I left, I kept the money in my pocket as if they were to fly out of it. I was very proud of myself because out of the blue, due to some words, I filled my pocket with $100. “
But that didn’t last long either: “That $100 thing was only one time. Usually, for a show, I got about 100 lei in today’s money. It was OK for a kid, but you can’t pay your rent with that. ”
He wasn’t employed at any theater. He wasn’t, in fact, employed anywhere. He had his collaborations with Green Hours and stand-up shows here and there, and other “small profits” as he calls them. “I used to do events from time to time, through event companies that had contracts with various other companies for team buildings. And sometimes I would get one of those. Again, it was as if I reached God. I also played Santa, dwarfs, did events for children and kindergartens. I promoted different stuff in stores – the magic bag from Knorr. I’ve done many things. I also made ads, but you do one commercial a year. And again, when you’re a nobody, you don’t get paid much. ”
At one point, in 2009-2010, he got in the Romanian Comedy Service, the entertainment show made by Toni Grecu on Pro TV after the separation of the Divertis group. Here, among others, he did an impression of Victor Ponta, although he doesn’t agree with the term. “Impression is inaccurate. I cut my hair like him. Otherwise, I was doing nothing. I’m not good at impressions at all. I tried the first sketches, then I realized that it doesn’t come out well, and I left it that way. Toni told me it’s okay, it works out. The world will know is Ponta. ”
“But I liked other characters more, rather than Ponta. They were some morons, people with issues. I had more fun playing them. I didn’t feel compelled to look like someone else. Here I was frustrated that I didn’t resemble Ponta, that I couldn’t do an impression of him. There was Dragon Stoica, and he played his characters perfectly. Can you compete with Dragos Stoica? It’s like competing with the number-one in the world. F**k that. I don’t get in this match, which is not even mine, “ says Iulian Postelnicu.
He admits that he loves comedy roles and that this area has attracted him since he was in high school or even before: “I was jealous of everyone else who made others laugh and enjoy themselves. Even now I’m envious. I prefer the sad ones (laughs – n.r.). It find really intimidating and it bothers me. It kills me that it wasn’t me thinking about those things. “
At one point, he started to take on some small roles, which he considers to be more like a “passing before the camera”, in short or feature films, including by director Adrian Sitaru, who knew him from college.
But he confesses that he didn’t care then and not even now about going to casting calls: “As long as you don’t work with a good director and on a good script, it’s pretty useless. Okay, it’s experimental, you give it a try, test your limits. But if it goes public, it defines you and you’re stuck with it ”. He doesn’t want to make just any kind of movie.
Then came the role noticed by everyone in One Floor Below, the film directed by Radu Muntean, selected in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2015. He plays one of the neighbors of the protagonist played by Teo Corban. A slippery and weird character, with unclear intentions, infiltrating a family whose peace is disturbed.
He was at auditions, and Radu Muntean already knew him from school and some casting for commercials. “I think I fit in with his views on working and acting. He has this thing: expressiveness as discreet, as restrained possible, in the case of actors. I believe and I feel the same thing, too. He was probably OK with that. The audition went just as expected. ”
He says he was drawn to both the character and the story, which “conquered” him: “I was hooked by the script. It seemed to me that it portrays human nature, our behavior, our cowardice, in an extremely lucid way. It’s about the way we step aside and preserve our comfort. I liked that a lot. I’ve been wondering why I like this kind of story. And I think this is because it contradicts the myths that show the man in a different light, as a rational, superior, moral being. They idealize him. The reality is not so much at all. ”
He explains in detail how he prepared for this role and what his method of work is: “In preparing my role I seek to understand the story as separate from me. As if I had no subsequent task, as if I don’t have to play one character or another. And I try as much as I can to understand the motivations of the people who are there, in the story. For that, there’s a lot of work. It’s one thing to hear that someone killed someone and then ran away. It’s a story that happens far away, like a legend. And it’s another thing to think for real what you would do if, God forbid, you killed someone by accident, without intention. Suddenly, the simple assumption puts you in a different perspective. So you do this every day, looking for details. This pretty much the work you have to do. I try to fill in the sketch the script gives me, so it starts feeling real in my mind ”.
He doesn’t stop at the script and on what it has to offer: “I feel the need to take what the script gives me, which is limited anyway, and to start adding, asking: where from and why? And, as an actor, it gives you confidence if you know the background: How old is the individual? What is his mother’s name? It’s trivial stuff, but it gives you peace of mind, it helps you a lot. ”
Arest came after Andrei Cohn decided that the character of the bully shouldn’t necessarily be a big man, as he had initially thought, but may be a weaker character as well.
Andrei Cohn had noticed him in One Floor Below, so the choice came on its own. Iulian Postelnicu was reunited with Alexandru Papadopol this way, a friend and former classmate in Dem Radulescu’s class.
About the character Vali, put by the Securitate in the same arresting room with the architect Dinu (Papadopol) to terrorize him, he says is “a boy who manages”: “He is like a boy from today, let’s say, from Crangasi. I had put him there. I think that’s what I said to Andrei after all: He’s from Crangasi. Why? Because I knew the area more or less. I lived there for a while. It was simpler this way. I thought there’s no reason to choose another area. Went to night school, without great ambitions. But with some studies. And then, the need to survive. ”
He states that, in order to build such a strong character, personal acting resources and training are not enough if the script isn’t good: “The dialogue, the way he speaks, his so-called jokes, help you a lot because he’s a massive thug. He’s a ruffian, a verbally aggressive guy. Those aren’t really jokes. But all this is written down. It helps you a lot. Then, deciding with Andrei how Vali should look helped me a lot, from his clothes to his 80’s hairstyle, which suddenly amused me. “
Other than that, he follows the same path in outlining the character, as in any role: “You try to understand. Under what conditions would you do those things? Yes, you may end up acting like this. ”
He believes that negative characters are not necessarily more bidding for an actor, but they are certainly “more convincing”. “I don’t judge them in these terms, I don’t say one character is negative and the other character is good. Or that it’s a comic or tragic character. No way. All characters are the same, from my point of view. It’s just that some are more convincing to me, more similar to what I encounter in everyday life. And then, I feel more comfortable, maybe. ”
Asked if he thought about the ’80s when he built the character of Vali, Iulian Postelnicu explains that it was essential to do this: “It changed the whole story I had in my head. I had to repeat myself daily that we have a president of the Socialist Republic of Romania, Comrade Nicolae Ceausescu, that he’s the one giving us, that the rich have taken and want to take our things. It changes the problem data. Because otherwise you forget them, and an attentive viewer would feel the difference. You live in this soup all the time, in the lie you tell yourself daily. It’s like a tape on repeat. And in the end, somehow, you don’t know the difference anymore. You aren’t exactly aware anymore. Everything starts to work naturally. “
Finally, he confesses that this film and this character mean “a lot” for him, and especially the fact that Andrei Cohn has trusted him by giving him such a consistent role. “What will happen after this, if this is the peak and then the fall comes, we will see …”