Romani actresses from "The Way Out" nominated for Czech Lion prize
Petr Václav's film "The Way Out" (Cesta ven) has been nominated in six categories for the Czech Lion film prize, which will be awarded today, Saturday 21 February, at 20:00 in the Rudolfinum in Prague and broadcast live by Czech Television. Klaudia Dudová has been nominated for best performance by an actress in a leading role, while Mária Ferencová-Zajacová has been nominated for best performance by an actress in a supporting role.
The film was also nominated for best editor (Florent Mangeot), best cinematographer (Štěpán Kučera), best screenplay (Petr Václav) and best director (Petr Václav). The Czech Film and Television Academy reviewed 55 feature-length films and documentaries for this year's awards.
Kateřina Čopjaková interviewed Mária Ferencová-Zajacová for news server kauza3.cz, discussing the nominations and more. The performance is Mária Ferencová-Zajacová's first larger film role and took her to the Cannes film festival.
The 37-year-old can most often be seen taking her restless dog Lucky for a walk in any of the parks in Prague-Žižkov. She has lived there for the past 19 years and appreciates most the fact that the neighborhood is centrally located.
Q: You have been nominated for a Czech Lion for your supporting role in the film "The Way Out". Had you ever acted before?
A: I was in a Bollywood film, "Rockstar", three years ago, but the role was mainly about dancing and singing, it wasn't exactly acting. Part of the film was shot in Prague and the Indians were completely seduced by the city. That was my very first experience with film and it was super!
Q: That's rather recent. What did you do before then?
A: I am a trained waitress, so for 15 years I was in a bit of a different environment. I mostly worked mainly in hotels - I don't set foot in a pub unless I have to. I prefer to take my dog to the park. In cafés I always sit with my back to the wait staff, otherwise my professional instincts will take over. All I do is watch how my former colleagues are doing their jobs.
Q: The film "The Way Out" has won many awards. The most recent was the Czech Critics Prize for direction, actress in a leading role, and other categories. How did you become involved in the production?
A: I noticed on Facebook that Petr Václav was looking for people for a new film - I vaguely recalled that he had made Marian. I understood from the description that I was not the type they wanted - I look more exotic than Romani, but I applied anyway. I did not get the role at first, but I was hired as a casting assistant. I was happy, I enjoy working with people and meeting new people. We had already cast the main female character, Žaneta, but we just could not find anyone to play Andrea. Time was running out, there were just two days before shooting began, and the second most important female role was not cast. Petr ordered me to play it.
Q: He ordered you? You weren't glad about it?
A: I was and I wasn't. I was glad to act in the film, but I couldn't identify with Andrea in the beginning at all - she's a brute, a dark character, a prostitute who is vulgar. I'm someone who likes to laugh, the most important thing in the world to me is my son...
Q: Do you perceive that character as only negative?
A: Not so much negative as hopeless. She's a girl who, in my opinion, has given up on the main thing in life.
Q: What, in your view, is the main thing?
A: For me, the main thing is my son David, and then being satisfied in life, somehow.
Q: Is this the first time you have been cast in a dark role?
A: So far I have only ever been cast in small roles that are dark or sad. In an English film a played a widow and I played a Jewish woman in another. I really would like to play a comedy role sometime.
Q: How did you eventually figure out how to play Andrea?
A: Thanks to the other actors and the director, who really held my hand even when it wasn't completely working and advised me what to do next. That was terribly important, we immediately became friends and supported each other. The film captures the journey of a young mother who is doing her best to find the way out of her social exclusion.
Q: You probably don't have any personal experience with that?
A: I have never lived "in a ghetto", when I was a child I had a lot of hobbies and my parents made sure I was apprenticed. Even after we moved from a housing estate in Prague-Bohnice to Žižkov, we always lived on the top floor. I was in contact with Romani people and the world was open to me, I was not excluded. However, I have undergone the experience of a young mother who is single and has to take care of a young child while working at the same time. I got married at the age of 19, my son was born when I was 22, and I was divorced at 24. I ended up in a shelter with my two-year-old son. When the character of Žaneta, in the film, finally finds work as a seamstress and is sitting in the cloakroom after her shift smoking a well-earned cigarette and laughing, I completely understand that scene. Her child is taken care of, she has childcare, and she also knows she just made her own money. She's tired, but satisfied. She already knows she can handle it on her own.
Q: When you were scouting locations and (non)actors you had to go to "ghettos" many times.
A: Sometimes it was so awful I would burst into tears. We photographed about a thousand Romani people for the needs of the film, most of them were from socially excluded localities in the Karviná and Ostrava areas, fewer were from northern Bohemia. When we found the residential hotel where the character of Žaneta and her daughter would live for a little while, I could not believe my eyes. It was somewhere on the outskirts of Karviná, bus service ran there only once in a while. There were not only Romani people there, but "whites" too. Small rooms, common showers and toilets in the corridor. The poverty was tangible. The fact that you've cleaned your own space up nicely can't hide that.
Q: Do you speak Romani?
A: Unfortunately not, my Dad didn't want me to have problems with Czech. My mother-in-law later taught me something, but I don't speak it. When necessary my colleague Štefan would interpret for me. Sometimes it was necessary, the Romani people sometimes were unable to imagine what it was we wanted from them. Once, somewhere in Ostrava, I was sitting in someone's apartment explaining that we were looking for Romani people for a film. The first reaction was: "Porno!? No way!" After that experience I always started by explaining that we were looking for actors and actresses, but not for a porno film. My surname, Ferencová, also helped me in Karviná and Ostrava.
Q: Sure, that's a wealthy, well-known Romani clan in Karviná.
A: Exactly. Once I introduced myself, people would start offering me refreshments and showing me every consideration. I'm not related to that family, but the coincidence of the surnames was all it took. Then in Ostrava I actually did find a relative of mine. I was sitting in the kitchen of a Romani family and I couldn't hold it in anymore, I said to our hostess: "Forgive me, but you have the exact same blue eyes, curly hair and ears as my aunt. What was your maiden name?" We finally figured out that we are related.
Q: What about your family? Are they pleased with your success?
A: Mom had a bit of a problem with the role I play in "The Way Out", she's religious. She did eventually watch the film, but I had to skip the erotic scene for her. My Dad gave me advice about how to play such a brute, and of course he saw the film. He's very proud of me. My biggest fan is my son David, he even helped me learn my lines.
Q: Over the course of several months you experienced an unbelievable rise in circumstances - from scouting residential hotels for the most impoverished you were on the red carpet at Cannes.
A: That was big! I couldn't understand it, people came up to us after the screening, congratulated us, greeted us, treated us like stars. There were fabulous actors and actresses there whom I had only known from the screen before. At one point I turned around and Aishwar Rai Bachchan, my favorite actress, was standing just a few feet away from me. A journalist from Le Monde interviewed us at the Hotel Carlton. That was something else!
Q: You were just at the Czech Critics Award. What is the main difference (besides the size) between the atmosphere at Cannes and at that gala evening in Prague?
A: When Klaudia won the Czech Critics Award for best actress in a leading role, no one came up afterward to congratulate her. That was strange. I don't think anyone talked to us right away. I understand the difference - they are actors, and I'm a girl from Žižkov - but it would have been nice... Even so, it was fine to see, for example, [Czech actress] Aňa Geislerová up close, I really like her.
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