Katia Pascariu: “I have been a constant victim of society solely because I’m a woman”

24 January, 2023

I didn’t know much about Katia Pascariu before taking this interview – except what all of us who watch closely at what’s happening in the Romanian cinema know, namely that she played the main role in the multi-award-winning Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn and that she was named by The New York Times one of the best actresses of 2021, alongside Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, Kristen Stewart and many others. So a few days before our meeting, I asked Katia to write me some things about her, that would help me better understand her, so that we could have a flourishing conversation. Her email surprised me very much. She didn’t write only about her good side or the events and things in her life that put her in a favorable light, but also those things that we tend to hide away. I realized that she is an extremely brave person and so unapologetically herself, something that impressed me before meeting her in person. During our physical meeting, which took place in a sports hall in Tineretului Park, where we had our photo shoot for the interview, Katia was very enthusiastic and open towards our styling options or the shooting angles we had set out to try. But what I appreciated the most was our two-hours-long conversation, which transformed into the interview below. I am enthusiastically discovering more and more actresses that are self-owning, that take their destinies’ in their own hands and don’t shy away from talking openly about the malfunctioning industry they’re a part of – an industry that needs these kinds of beings the most, the ones that will make a difference. So, without any further ado, I invite you to get to know Katia through the interview that you’re about to read.

Do you remember your first casting for a Radu Jude film?

It was for Scarred Hearts. I remember it because I don’t go to casting calls much, so I don’t have a sort of routine or experience – back then I didn’t know Radu and I think it took place right after Aferim! The casting agency called me and I found it odd. I don’t recall being in any database, I don’t know if he knew me, if he had already started coming to see our plays at Replika – after the casting call I know he started coming.

What kind of a director is Radu Jude with regard to the actors?

Very head-on. And relaxed. The way he is as a person is exactly how he behaves when working with actors. He is the kind that pushes the boundaries of the relationship as much as possible, in the sense that he makes jokes, he provokes you, he flatters you, sometimes gets you all emotional, but in the same manner he can tell it to your face when something is not OK. I think that for some it works, for others, not that much, he can really fall hard. I’ve met him in various social contexts, at one-on-one talks, or public ones, which I moderated, or where I was part of the audience. I began to feel him – to be able to joke around with him, to discover common topics to discuss and it worked alright.  His direct manner of talking didn’t come as a surprise later on. I never froze. I think that, in a different context, it would have been different. Collaborating and understanding one another beyond words does not come easy.

Katia Pascariu, photographed by Sabina Costinel | Styling by Ruxandra Marin | Makeup by Dana Argeșan

You worked together on Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn – in which you play the titular character, teacher Emilia Cilibiu. If we were to play a game and you imagined yourself among the parents present in the school garden, at that parents’ meeting where they’re discussing the future of the ‘porn teacher’, what would your position be on the topic?

I feel that such a situation must be addressed, but not as it is in the film. The way in which the conversation unfolds shows how many gaps there are both in the educational system and in society, as a whole. These kinds of discussions can have a beneficial effect in a well-functioning society, in which you have sex education in schools, or where religion does not dictate how we relate to the world. If I were a parent, I’d say, fine, if these kids have had access, it must be addressed, but we should make use of this moment to discuss what family sex life means. All in all, this episode does not diminish her value as a teacher. It must not influence the way in which you see her intellectual or professional condition. And I think that, if it had been a male teacher, we wouldn’t have had this scene. In the film the discussion goes off the rails, the subject for which everyone gathered there is lost along the way and there is no more dialogue – people can’t hear one another, don’t listen to one another anymore. Not to mention that all the online content that’s surrounding us is highly pornographic and aggressive, and I think it is important to also talk about children’s general access to something like this. The entire context is built in such a way that it can easily turn out to be something extremely toxic. The way in which adults manage this kind of a situation is a sign of responsibility for children, who will then, later in life, follow your example.

Romanian cinema has only a few women main characters, and out of the existing ones, we can count on one hand the characters who are in a position of power – perseverant, brave, who always stand up for their point of view and their position in society. I feel that Emilia Cilibiu is one of the few characters like this that I have seen in Romanian films.

I have noticed that, too. Quite frequently, in both theater and cinema the woman is either suffering or hysterical, which I can’t stand anymore. And, indeed, we are always led by someone else. What I made of this script is that Emilia provokes through her answers, even though she is not the one serving the topics. Having these three endings it’s easier to perceive her as being a strong woman. In each of the endings she takes a decision that she owns. The way in which she reacts is hard to stomach for most of her interlocutors. Each time she is handed something, she reacts, she fights back many times – she could have put the blame on someone else, or apologize. I wanted for the viewer to not be stuck with the feeling that she wouldn’t realize that it is not an OK situation, but rather to see that she also understands what is not OK and what is OK and, therefore, why she finds it natural to defend herself – things must be discerned. Regardless of the situation, a woman’s sex life and the presence of a woman’s body in the public space is not something debatable – at least, not in the way in which it is debated during the meeting – and she defends this principle of hers.

Why do you think there aren’t more scripts written with strong female protagonists?

The easiest way to answer would be that people don’t think this way. You write whatever goes through your mind and most often you have the image of women who, even when they are strong it’s from a victim’s position, from a place of inferiority; or that there are women who go mad because they have been fighting society for far too long. I believe that such scripts aren’t written more often because they don’t seem real and don’t come at hand for those who write. These ideas are not part of yesterday’s or today’s world. And I think there’s another thing happening – when you want to be critical and portray this world that is full of characters that you want to represent as being part of a world that’s in the past in which you don’t want to live anymore, but you don’t know how to do it, you risk ending in a position where it doesn’t work out for you and you fall in the very net you’ve cast. And this is how you go on perpetuating the same old stereotypes. 

Do you think that now that there are more women directors they have the duty to cast actresses in more powerful, or balanced roles?

I find it unfair to keep putting pressure on women. I think that things must be changed on a global scale, I would even go on to say that more pressure must be put on men, not women – for there are more of them in the industry, having more power. But of course, my personal expectations have at their center women, because it is all the more unpleasant to do harm to yourself. But you can very easily turn from being the victim to being the aggressor and you have to be extremely aware of this in order to avoid it. I expect us to be more empathic and sensitive and not forget some of the unfair situations we have been through. I truly believe in solidarity and support, in movements that bring people from both camps together and start a dialogue.

At this year’s GOPO awards you won the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award. It was a historic GOPO edition – where you weren’t applauded just for your professional success, but also for the encouraging discourse you gave on stage through which you expressed support for Viorica Vodă’s vulnerability and bravery. Why do you think that no other woman from the film or theater industry has come up to openly talk about the harassment and abuse they were or are subjected to?

At the time I felt that no one had thanked her for the gesture she did. These things are not encouraged in our extremely conservative society. You feel exposed if you defend someone or if you point fingers when something is not OK. You risk a lot. I have many times been told that I am a lesbian, in a pejorative meaning. I stand up for my ideas and principles, I have nothing to lose. In both my personal and professional life I have safe spaces where I feel comfortable and where such topics are discussed. I never felt that I am losing something. For the more sensitive people who constantly have to work in such environments – especially women –, this fight is already lost. This is why I say that it is difficult to have expectations from women who are constantly fragilized. There have been #metoo moments before, at least in theaters, involving various directors. As well as in UNATC. But as quickly as they appeared, they also died. They did not have the chance to gain momentum and become a movement. Now, maybe because it was a public and highly mediatized event, it might lead to something. Yet, I have noticed that news outlets have passed on the news in different ways.

Katia Pascariu, photographed by Sabina Costinel | Styling by Ruxandra Marin | Makeup by Dana Argeșan

There have been countless reactions in the social and online media, who blamed Viorica Vodă – if not for her declaration on the Gopo Awards stage, then for all the post-event reactions, which don’t put her under a favorable light. It looks as if people cannot distinguish an honorable and brave gesture from the person who did it.

I find it problematic that anyone is capable of putting pressure on a person that’s been traumatized, who has found herself in the position of a victim numerous times and who finds the courage to talk about it – spontaneous or not, it’s her decision. And you come and stick a knife in her when you should be protecting that person. All the more if you see that she is not able to manage the situation properly afterwards. I have read all sorts of idiotic opinions – why did she do it after 20 years? Well, it can also be after 50 years, or never. These are traumatizing situations who do not just go away after some time. If she talks about them it doesn’t mean that she healed and moved on. Or why did she dress up like that? It’s her business, nothing justifies abuse. As I was saying before, the person must be separated  from the general topic of discussion. And let’s be honest, we needed this conversation. And to be held as a debate this time. Speaking of the film, I think it was so popular also due to its themes – patriarchy, sexism, nationalism, conservatism – they are all generally applicable. 

How do you survive as a woman in theater and film? 

I live in a few happy social bubbles which I found quite quickly. And we all put in the effort to build these work spaces, which are not ideal – we too have talks, problems, we try to mediate the dynamic between us and we constantly learn how to manage them, but there are some artistic principles and odds that unite us. Each time I took a step outside the bubble I realized how bad it is on the other side. There are quite some years now since I have been working alongside my groups, at least in theater. As for film, I haven’t worked that much yet. I think I will keep working with Radu but it has to do a lot with him as a person. I believe in him and I like how he works and thinks and I feel that I can tell him what’s on my mind knowing that he is genuinely interested in my opinions and the opinions of those around him. I’d like to star in films more, for various reasons – it’s different as a professional experience and it travels much farther, it’s another means of communication. However, I don’t  have yet a big set of options – nothing from the industry is headed my way, but that might also be because I’m not open enough. At the same time, I am not frustrated, I have plenty of work to do. 

Have you ever been a victim of harassment or abuse – be it verbal, sexual, power abuse?

Luckily, no. I was lucky to be raised in a healthy manner with regard to my surroundings, or the relationship I have with myself as a girl and, later on, as a woman. I have always been treated with respect and I have never set off with a sort of handicap – as most girls from most families do – so from the very beginning I was able to avoid such situations. On the other hand, I feel that I have constantly been a victim of society for the very reason that I am a woman. And I also believe that especially we, who haven’t been abused and don’t have traumas that makes us anxious or scared, should take a stand, take a step forward. 

I am in the same situation as you are – I come from a family that taught me to respect myself and always gave me the confidence I needed and I have never been a victim of any sort of notable abuse, but this doesn’t mean that I got spared from the usual catcalling. It actually happened to me once, in my teens, that a man groped at my breasts on the street. 

These types of behavior are problematic because we don’t take them into account anymore. We normalize these behaviors and don’t perceive them as harassment. Female students at acting – where you work with emotions, with the body, with feelings, when they reach university they have already been through some years of being constantly abused, such as what you described, only because they’re women. And from the start they are at a disadvantage. And we can go even further – jokes about blondes, the way in which women, as opposed to men with similar positions, are judged, and so on. In the past, I wouldn’t even pick up on these, but now I’ve begun noticing them and taking a stand against them.

There are so many actresses that talk in closed circles about the psychological abuse they went through during university, or the favors they had been asked in order to pass an exam, an academic year, or to be included in a play. Do you remember your years of studying and the relationship you had with your professors?

I didn’t feel very well during university and I didn’t have a relationship of any kind with my professors. I was just lucky I had been admitted from the first try, I was scared to my wits and I don’t think I would’ve tried again otherwise. I didn’t know if I could practice this job, I was shy and full of uncertainties, even though I felt that this is what I truly want to do. I didn’t know where to go and felt suspended in university, until very late, no one had taken notice of me. The only kind of relationship that you can have with the professors is either to have a lot of faith in yourself so to be perceived by them as an actress, or be the kind of woman that stirs the interest of men beyond the limits of profession, so a sexual one, which in turn will attract professional interest. Meaning, if you were to the taste of a professor who wanted to see you in action, he’d work with you. It was good that you were working, but horrible to constantly be objectified, so I can say that I was lucky that they didn’t take notice of me, never gave me any chances. Acting is a too little defined domain, something which teachers can profit a lot from – you must reveal your feelings, you must expose yourself, become vulnerable, how else will you manage to face up to what comes next in your career? Your body is a raw material for someone else to work with. There are things I constantly heard at school, and when you stumble upon a male or woman teacher who is eager to teach you, it’s like a breath of fresh air – my luck was Lorette Enache, with whom I studied theater and dance and she helped me enormously. Luckily, now students are a bit more aware of these things and the limits that must be imposed. 

Katia Pascariu, photographed by Sabina Costinel | Styling by Ruxandra Marin | Makeup by Dana Argeșan

What made you follow your dream of becoming an actress?

I’ve always dreamed of it. Certainly, the fact that my parents supported me and gave me time was a major factor. And later on, when I began to feel trusted and respected, as a person and an actress, by colleagues from the theater – actors, actresses and directors. Working with them (Zalan Zakarias, Alexandru Berceanu, Vladimir Anton, Radu Apostol, Ana Mărgineanu) helped me a lot. This is how I began working with independent theaters and moved to Green Hours, and then to Replika.

Some years later, The New York Times included you on their best actors and actresses list of 2021. What did it mean to you and what has changed since?

Not much has changed, not for now, at least. I went to Paris for my photo shoot, it was a very cool experience. It was, firstly, a huge surprise, beyond the glamourous dose that I felt from start to finish. I got an email in which I was informed of the nominalization and of the photo shoot. Once I got there, my interaction with the whole team was so simple and direct, they were very excited that we could meet and that they could ask me stuff about Romania and what’s happening here, how I work and function. The stylist told me that he loves theater and that he’s taking acting classes and he’d like to visit Romania. They all seemed very relaxed but at the same time they all did their job with so much respect for what they do. And I think this is what made things simple and relaxed. They understood their roles very well and they expected everyone to do their job right – I found a discipline and work ethic that I wish for the teams I work with to have. This dosage between passion and work is essential.


This article was published first in the 2022 printed issue of the magazine, still available in our online shop.

Film producer and founder of ADFR, she dreamed since she was little of having a magazine one day. Alongside her job as editor-in-chief, she writes the interview of the month. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.