Olimpia Melinte: ”For me, imagination is the most precious tool for an actor”
Olimpia Melinte is a popular name among a broad audience due to her role in PRO TV hit series Vlad, but besides playing Eliza and becoming a TV star, she is a talented film actress, who discovered success during her university years, when she was nominated for two GOPO Awards (Young hope & Best Actress in a leading role) for Mircea Danieluc’s film – Floating Things. She has studied Acting at the University of Arts George Enescu, in Iasi and soon after, she settled in Bucharest, where she has worked with various directors – from acclaimed ones, such as Cristina Iacob, Dan Chisu or Anca Damian, to young directors, mostly debutants. She’s one of the few Romanian actresses internationally acclaimed, having received a GOYA Nomination and an Award from The Spanish Actors’ Union for her role in Canibal (D: Manuel Martin Cuenca).
She is the mother of a 6 yeard old boy and she’s soon to become a mother again, in a few days. We took this opportunity to speak about what it means being a mother and an actress in Romania, how she was as a child and what is her process of discovering and embodying a character. Our interview is accompanied by a blooming photoshoot, by Sabina Costinel & Ruxandra Marin.
Olimpia, how would you describe yourself in a few words?
Fearless – at least in this moment of my life, sensitive, empathetic and ambitious.
I have noticed people never mention any of their flaws when they’re asked that.
Of course, we want to put ourselves in a good light, but without doubt I have flaws. I’m a control freak, I don’t let things get out of my hand. Happily, it’s not the case when I’m on the set, those are the only moments I completely let go. However, in my daily life, I like to always know what will happen next. And then it’s my sensitivity, I don’t think it’s always a quality.
How much of yourself comes from your parents and what’s totally you?
I’m different from my parents, I would say the only things I got from them is their love of life and optimism. They had a good life together because they believed in it and, of course, because they worked for it. But otherwise, there’s not much we have in common, starting with our professions – my mom has worked her whole life as a custom lawyer and my dad was an economist. My desire to become an actress came as a big surprise, but they always supported me. I owe them my journey, but my personality is based solely on my experiences. I always dreamt of being different, not stepping into their shoes. I guess I was scared, I felt they weren’t happy with their jobs, it was a must-do, but no passion involved.
So what are those moments that define you as a human being and a woman?
The first time I fell in love, when I was 18-19. It was a crucial moment, I was such a rebel, never believed in love until that moment, for me it was all fiction, very childish. When it hit me, something changed in me. I used to be a tomboy, and then I was turning into a woman.
Then it was the university – the whole three years of my BA. I got in first in the Acting Class of the University of Arts in Iasi, but I was depressed. I didn’t get in at UNATC in Bucharest, where everyone thought I would – I was a nerd, so the stakes were high. Initially I thought I should let it go, wait another year and apply to Medicine, but because I got in first at Iasi and with a scholarship, I went there, thinking I will never work as an actress. My professors noticed right in my lack of confidence and they took really good care of me for the next three years. When I graduated, I was someone else.
And the third important moment was when I became a mother for the first time. It’s when I became a grown-up.
I know you’ve been with your husband since high-school, I guess he’s the guy you fell in love with?
You got married at 22. What contribution had Constantin to your personal and professional development?
Since the beginning, we’ve enjoyed a good balance in our relationship. He always supported me, being there at every success and failure. He urged me to keep going, gave me faith and strength, and that meant a lot.
Did acting help you in your development as a person?
A lot. I started learning about myself with acting, that is, ever since the 9th grade, when you usually are very confused and feel no one understands you. Acting pushed me to discover who I am, what I want and need. All the exercises I did in acting – from being a plant, which seemed ridiculous at the beginning, helped me discover the essence. And what’s fascinating is the searching never stops.
I would say you’re one of the lucky actresses. You made your debut when you were in college and that role (from Mircea Daneliuc’s film – Floating Things) brought you two GOPO nominations. Do you remember your first experience on screen and how you built your character, Magda?
When I went to the casting call, Daneliuc asked me two things: if I ever lived in the countryside and if I’m afraid of dogs. I told him I used to visit my grandparents in the countryside, and that no, I’m not afraid of dogs. I was lying, of course. I never spent more than two days in the countryside, I was born and raised in a big city; I don’t have grandparents outside the city and I’m terribly afraid of dogs. So I went home and told my mother she has to take me to Mrs. Zina for a few days – a friend of hers who lived in the countryside; we rarely visited her and I was always acting like a “princess” – never liked to get my hands dirty, or watch the cows. The country life seemed nice just in theory.
So my mom took me to Mrs. Zina, where I spent a few days. I was older so it didn’t seem so hard this time. I was trying to steal some of their gestures, understand their rhythm. I never got rid of my fear of dogs, I just played it really well (laughs). During shootings, I asked the trainer to hide somewhere in the grass and keep an eye on me. I felt like fainting at each take, there were dogs all around me.
The process hasn’t changed, I’m as rigorous now as I was back then – on the technical part, Daneliuc taught me a lot, but the process remains the same: I use my imagination and I always keep a diary of the character, where I write everything about it – feelings, actions from a scene, from before, or after. For me, imagination is the most precious tool for an actor and I would be lost without it.
Do you think that getting the role in a film made by a great Romanian director is what gave you the drive?
I don’t think so. Yes, I saw Daneliuc as a “father” of Romanian cinema, but I think the process would have been the same, no matter the director. On the contrary, I was stressed that I would not be able to meet his demands, since I hadn’t been to a film shooting before.
Since then, you’ve constantly worked on projects. From Romanian film productions to countless collaborations with Spanish directors, to the more recent hit TV series, VLAD. Besides talent, what do you think has helped you maintain a constant in your professional life?
Determination. I’m the kind of person who’s not ashamed to ask for things. If I have an idea, I pass it forward; if I hear about a project, I’m not ashamed to write an email, let them know I would like to audition for the part. I think it’s part of the job description, I’m not waiting around for my phone to ring. When I was in school, the teacher used to tell my mother I am the kind of child who, if kicked out the door will find another way in. I strongly believe we are the ones in charge of our own life.
Do you think that your physical features were of help, or on the contrary, they proved to be more of a nuisance?
I don’t think my physical appearance helped me; for all the roles that put me on the map I had to dye my hair dark or brunette. And since Vlad, the directors label me as a femme fatale, the hot type. I can play this type, sure, but I don’t want to stick to this one only. I am glad that last year I had the chance to play a country girl again, in The Windseeker, Mihai Sofronea’s feature film debut. I’m grateful he saw me differently.
In general, beauty doesn’t help actresses very much. For the New Wave, the more ordinary you look, the better, but I don’t think it has to do with our appearance. Beauty is misunderstood, there are so many beautiful women who don’t see themselves like that; maybe if directors looked beyond the cover, things would be different.
Andra Tarara, the young documentary filmmaker, said in an article that “every time this industry validates you, at the same time it casts doubts on you”. It stayed with me. Have you ever felt left out, insignificant, or disrespected as an actress?
Dozens of times, not just once. I mean, until the nomination for the Goya Awards and the award given by the Spanish Actors’ Union, I didn’t even exist. I used to go to film festivals as a leading actress where when introduced, they would misspell my name – I was once introduced as Olimpia Panciu. It upset me so much that I left the cinema. C’mon, at least know the name of the actor you present on stage, it shouldn’t be so difficult. And that was one incident. Just being a woman is often problematic. I rarely sensed honesty coming from (male – ie) directors. I just want to act, that’s all. I don’t want to prove my talent, femininity, or anything else. I just want to be respected for my work.
And I think the first problem was that as a graduate of an acting school other than the one in Bucharest, it was extremely difficult to make my way into the “UNATC bubble” – especially when it comes to theater. They didn’t see me as a real actress. There were many moments that could have turned into frustrations, but I preferred to put them aside and create my own path.
Would you see yourself working in another field? Do you have other passions or talents?
I would love to be an acting teacher at some point. I have enrolled in a PhD program. I would be happy to pass on my learnings, to fresh young adults who want to do pursue a career. I have had this desire for some time now, especially since we don’t have a school specifically for film acting or TV series. At the same time, I’m also interested in production, I would like to get involved in projects, to come up with ideas that I can develop with other people – it’s a big commitment.
I think the most important role in your life so far – and the most constant, is that of being a mother. You have a 6-year-old boy, Sasha, and you’re going to give birth to a baby girl in a few days. Tell me how you were raised, how you got along with your older brother as children, and what were the rules at home?
Funny thing is that my brother is 6 years older than me, the same age difference that will be between my children. We grew up free, we only had a few unwritten rules: to respect others (friends, neighbors, relatives – ie), and then there were the religious influences coming from our grandparents. My brother is actually a priest now; as for me, they made me more empathetic. I often went to church with my grandma and she would always share food, donate things. I thought it was nice, it was an important lesson. Also, my father made us read – he got me into this habit, my brother not so much; he would tell me what books to read, why they were important. He was very passionate about reading.
I didn’t really get along with my brother as a child. He was older and we argued very often. My parents made comparisons between us, I was the nerd and my brother was constantly comparing himself to me. He was kind of jealous and he picked on me because of that. In time, things got better, and now he is a pillar in my life.
What is it like being a mother and an actress at the same time,? How do you balance the two? Especially now that the pandemic has hit the cultural sector so hard.
I don’t think there could have been a better time to get pregnant again, the universe has its own way of arranging things! Precisely because there were no projects during this period, I had time for myself and for the miracle that grew inside me and that I will meet very soon. The pandemic did not scare me, I do everything that is required to protect myself, I’m waiting to get vaccinated, but I don’t let this situation restrict my life too much. Although, I admit, I miss being on the set a lot.
As for being a mother and an actress, there is a lot I could say on this matter. Four years ago, shortly after Sasha was born, I started rehearsing for a project. It was Sasha’s first days at kindergarten and sometimes I would be late for work because he would start crying when leaving him there, so I would stay with him until he would calm down. At one point, someone from the cast tells me: “See, that’s why great actresses don’t have children, so as not to complicate their lives. You made the wrong choice!”
Those words hurt me a lot, and they scared me to some extent, but I chose to fight this preconception that many people in the field have. I had projects both locally and abroad, and the way people approach this is so different; they are okay with bringing the child on the set and they even offer their help with him, here I was given mean comments. We don’t know how to support mothers, the actresses avoid taking this step, precisely because they know too well how people think. But as always, I chose to go my own way and live my life according to my own principles.
Do you have any expectations from your children?
I don’t, nor do I want to. Sometimes I think about what I would like them to be when they grow up, but I bring myself to a stop. I want them to do everything at their own pace, without pressure. I admit that I was under pressure growing up, my room always had to be spotless, my notebooks had to look impeccable – if my handwriting was bad, they would tear the pages out, so it wasn’t that easy.
And I guess that pressure didn’t necessarily make you a better person.
No, just more stressed (laughs). I worked a lot with myself, to stop worrying about every little thing, to understand that nothing has to be perfect, not even me. The most beautiful lesson you can give your children is happiness – if you can offer them that as children, they will surely grow into fulfilled adults.
Last but not least, let’s do an exercise of imagination: how do you picture yourself growing old?
Without plastic surgeries. Far away from the hustle and bustle of a big city, together with my husband, with many animals and an orchard.
10 QUESTIONS with OLIMPIA MELINTE
Favorite painter: Salvador Dali
A museum you recommend: MNAR (in Bucharest) & MoMa (worldwide)
A Spanish city you love: Granada
A book you recommend: A New Earth, by Eckhart Tole
A director you would like to work with: Wes Anderson
A character you would like to play: Vera Atkins
A necessary trait in a long-distance relationship: Freedom
A magazine you often read: The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter
Favourite sport: Skiing
A feel-good song: Those were the days, by Mary Hopkins