Rodica Lazar: “Acting is infinite, and that is probably the reason why it’s still alive.”
Before we go into hibernation and say Merry Christmat to you all and a happy holidays, I’m inviting you to read my last interview of 2020, with Rodica Lazar – one of the most popular film actresses of her generation and a very strong woman who manages to take all the roles a woman could in a life. We talked about her career and collaborations with some of the greatest director of worldwide cinema (such as Corneliu Porumboiu, Francis Ford Coppola or Costa Gavras, to name a few), but also about fears, feminism and what is like for her being a mother.
To the public you’re one of the most well-known film actresses of your generation.
Thank you. At least, I hope so. (laughs)
You’ve mostly performed female characters that are courageous and straightforward, that have strong personalities. How do you get to know your characters, how do you reach out to them and make them yours?
By speaking with the director and approximately understanding what they want. Then, depending on the character, I do some research. Some directors tell you exactly what they want and guide you towards it. I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters, the situations that they are in, of the ways in which they are described or narrated by the directors, and so I start to be aware of certain things, and I have to admit that sometimes I’m surprised about the things that I discover.
You’ve won your popularity mostly by starring in action movies. Aren’t you afraid of type-casting?
I choose not to be.
But what are you afraid of, in life?
I’m afraid of not being able to act, to practice my craft – on a professional level. Otherwise, in life, I fear injustice, I fear arriving at a situation in which I realize that I cannot act the way I would like to, or in accordance with my beliefs. When you stand in front of a brick wall and there is nothing left to do – that is a truly scary place and I hope to never get there, to always be able to make do with what I have and to understand that the world is the way it is, to accept it – even though, I must say, I’m also afraid of this process of acceptance.
Has being an actor had any contribution to your life as a woman, as a mother, lover, or friend?
I’m probably much more relaxed when I feel that I’m being looked at, analyzed, or even judged. And maybe I’m more willing to enter my child’s little games. Otherwise, I don’t act in my daily life, simply because I am too lazy to pretend to be someone else – I think it’s something that has to do with convenience. I’m the way I am, and just as any other person, I am waging this fight with myself to better know myself, to accept and understand myself, and I think the more years pass on by, the more things I understand.
What does feminism mean to you, Rodica?
First of all, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but I wouldn’t call myself an anti-feminist either. I do think that women have some abilities they don’t always explore in themselves, I think that women are very strong beings that can truly change the world. For me, an “enlightened” kind of feminism means mutual respect amongst women – that is when we cherish each other and are capable of appreciating one another.
And to support one another.
Especially that, because that is a delicate issue. In Romania, “feminism” isn’t really discussed, it sounds like something “extreme”. I think we need a larger movement, not like the one happening in the United States, but still, this is a society where many women think that it’s perfectly fine that a man (and only a man) should be the head of the family because that’s the way “it should be”, that this is the divine order of things. Maybe a bigger wave of awareness could help women understand that it’s important to support each other.
You’ve had the chance to work – both in smaller and bigger roles – with film directors such as Costa Gavras, Francis Ford Coppola, Cristi Puiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, just to name a few of the internationally famous ones, and with theatre directors like Andrei Serban or Yuri Kordonsky. What have these encounters given you, besides the experience itself?
I think that each encounter has enriched me, I think that you must let yourself get carried away and not to be stressed out, trying to steal away everything that you can from such a great personality, but rather, to watch it closely. I don’t know if I can tell you precisely what I have learned from each of them, but I learn from every single meeting, even the least important ones – they all brought me to where I am now. And I’d think that this is also available for every person that pays attention to what is happening to them.
I’ve noticed that you’ve had several collaborations with directors such as Marian Crisan and Andrei Cretulescu. Do reunions like this bring you joy? Are they a sort of confirmation for you, as an actress?
On the one hand, yes, but it’s also a confirmation of the fact that we worked well together. And yes, of course, it makes me happy to know that a director wants to keep on working with me, it means there are still some things left to discover.
As an actor, this is what you must do – you have to work. Every experience trains you. It has happened for me to turn down some roles, mostly because of time constraints, or sometimes if I didn’t like the script.
Tell me more about your role in La Gomera and about your collaboration with Corneliu Porumboiu, which was your very first time working with him.
It was my first collaboration with Corneliu and the third attempt at doing so. We’ve known each other for a long time, all the way back to college. The first attempt was when I was due to be one of the voices in 12:08 East of Bucharest, then I was supposed to act in Police, Adjective, but our schedules didn’t match up – the shooting schedule had changed and I was all caught up with my work at the theater, so it didn’t happen anymore. But it did now, with La Gomera – it’s a role that I really like, but I don’t think that there are any roles of mine that I didn’t like. I love making films, be it a smaller role or a more important one, I always try to make the best out of it and I really enjoy being on a film set.
I like the way the film came out – it’s really well-acted. I am indeed performing a strong female character – just as you said earlier, but it was also a very exciting role for me. I felt that it had nuances, humor, mystery and that this is not a character that would be easily classified as good or evil, I liked this ambiguity quite a lot.
Corneliu is a very calm and warm person, who takes time for his actors – and that is a luxury in Romanian cinema, we all know how difficult it is to make films. Corneliu doesn’t let you go until things come out the way he wants them, and that is very reassuring for me because I’m the kind of actor that prefers to do things over and over again, for as many times I am asked to and I am capable to do it, so I can arrive at what the director wishes. He’s the storyteller and, oftentimes, even though you might have the feeling that you’d like to do things differently, I think it’s important for an actor to let themselves be led – maybe sometimes you tend to only take your character to places that are easily within your grasp. I’ve worked very well with Corneliu, it was a wonderful experience and also a great team.
You said that what matters to you is to do what the director asks of you. I’m curious whether it ever happened to you that what he wants would be in total disagreement with what you feel or want?
Not at all, no. But yes, it has happened to me to feel like I’m being led into an area which I wouldn’t have wanted to go to, and when I see the results I’d be like “okay then, if this is what he wanted”. However, it never happened to me that I would judge it so harshly as to think that it was something completely wrong. It happens more often in theater, to me, because you have a lot more control than in film, you perform your character every other day and you keep on running into things that you could have done differently, but it wouldn’t be what the director asked of you. But even in the case of theater, this usually only happens in the beginning, and then I take full accountability for my characters and perform them just the way they are.
Did you ever have a role that didn’t reflect any single part of you?
It’s impossible for a role not to have any part of you because, after all, you’re the person performing it – maybe you speak differently or you wear a certain type of make-up, but it’s still you, and you’re bringing a part of you into it. My acting professor, Ion Cojar, said that everything lies in us – every character that you will ever meet, every human archetype lives in you. Other than that, what matters is luck and courage, especially when you encounter something which you wouldn’t want to think exists within you, and you must have the courage to show that it exists. It’s a theory that I have taken on from the professor, and it helped me discover both my craft and myself as a human being. A good and lucky actor can perform some very different characters.
I think that this is an actor’s greatest asset – the fact that all your roles are a tool for self-discovery.
Clearly. I think acting is a way of knowing oneself. And I think that this is why they say that you need the courage to work as an actor – not because you have to undress or kiss a lot of people, that is just a superficial level of understanding. But on closer inspection, courage lies in discovering that you can be ugly, and disgusting, and evil – with various nuances. As people, we are different and we act in different ways, depending on the situation – I don’t think that if one is set in some of the situations that you might see in cinema, you’d instantly know how to react. It’s the same thing when it comes to the characters – if you play “X” as directed by “Y”, it will certainly be different to playing “Z” as directed by “W”.
Acting is infinite, and that is probably the reason why it’s still alive.
I’ve read (almost) all of your interviews. What stuck with me is a thing that you said to Alina Avram for OK! Magazine – that the role of being a mother is the hardest of them all. Why so?
First of all, because it carries the biggest responsibility. In this role, there is no director to tell me what is right or wrong, or what I’m supposed to do, and I’m responsible for the life of another human, and it’s not just any human – it’s the most important one in my entire life. Situations, scripts – they aren’t provided to you beforehand, and you’re working with the most unruly actor of them all. (laughs)
What would you like Dora to learn from you?
Unfortunately, I think it’s a little bit late for that (laughs). I think that at the moment in which she is at (n. the age of adolescence), it’s okay not to be like everyone else, that she’s exactly the way she should be and that she doesn’t need any confirmations. I think it’s hard to teach a teenager about these things, and I don’t think that there is any guarantee that all of the things that you think you might have taught your child actually stick. And maybe they’re not always what’s best for them – and this is one of my dilemmas: do I teach her something because it’s good for her, or because I think that it’s good for her? So I think that I can only teach her very basic things, which I also learned for myself.
What did you learn from your mother?
I feel that it’s been such a long time, my mother left us 13 years ago. She was a woman that tried so much to give me self-confidence, and she did it out of love and maternal instinct – she taught me that family is important, that trusting yourself is important, that you mustn’t listen to everything that you hear. Mother wasn’t the kind to wrap herself up with gossip, she didn’t go for coffees, we even had neighbors who didn’t like her. She never wasted time, and that is what I think I should have learned more from her. I’m still worrying about what one person or another says about me, it’s stupid. Mother was a special one, and I think that she was ahead of her times.
Did being a mother change how you regard your artistic career?
Sometimes you think that you’re far away from your child, but I think it has two sides – I’ve never been away from my child from 9am to 7pm, as other parents are. Sometimes we have entire months in which I spend my time with Dora, but then I might be away for a month and a half, if I’m off shooting things far away from home. I never imposed any kind of restriction onto myself, and I don’t think that a mother who is frustrated that she can’t do her job because of her child sends them a good message – maybe it’s a kind of egoism, possibly, but I don’t think that if I had ever turned down projects to stay behind with my child, it would have been in any way better for them. I think no child ever wants to hear the “I made sacrifices for you” line, and I don’t think that it is a sacrifice. But rather, the sacrifice, the battle is to try to do both at the same time.
I heard that you also write sometimes and that you have some scripts lying around?
I have a couple of ideas, but I’m a bit lazy. I’m still starting.
In the end, tell me what you’re working on right now – are you preparing some new projects?
Maybe something in theatre, they’re planning many things after all these months in which we were forced to close down, but there’s nothing concrete as of yet. There’s also a film that we might shoot next year – during wintertime. But nothing’s certain.
A special thank you goes to Parlor and En Prive Atelier for helping us with some of the outfits.