A Star in the Making
Yelena Lyadova was born under a lucky star, in Morshansk, Tambov region. A graduate of the Shepkin Theatre Higher College in Moscow, she began her career performing with the Young Spectators Moscow Theatre. She made her debut as a film actress playing the role of Rima in Dreaming of Space (directed by Alexei Uchitel) which had its premiere at the recent Moscow Film Festival. Our Editor Jeremy Noble spoke with her during the festival.
Q How did you get the part of Rima?
Alexei Yefimovich (Uchitel) and his assistants came to my graduation performance; then there were auditions, and that’s how I got into the film.
Q This is your first film; what is the difference between acting in a film and acting on stage.
Theatre is a different kind of existence. There are certain things permitted in the theatre that no director will ever allow on his film set. There is more freedom on stage.
Q It must have been like a dream come true – the director calls you and says you got the part. Did you immediately call your mother to ask about how it was during that time? How a Soviet girl would look?
I called my mum, yes! But for me the relations between people are more important; the processes that are happening between them. Working in a film is about creating an image of a person, not of a period.
Q How did you prepare for the part? Did you try to give Rima any particularly female Soviet characteristics?
Yes, I had to gain 12 kilos! I had to eat as much as I could, which is not so easy. But I think that people stay the same no matter what time they are living in. Their actions are the same, only the way they express themselves is different. Yes, there is such a thing as typicality, what is most recognizable about an epoch; and yet sometimes you look at photos or films, looking for what is typical, and some faces look as if they don’t belong to that time, as if they are from a different time in history.
Q Do you think that the Russian people were different during the Soviet period?
Yes, they were often enslaved, not free in their behaviour.
Q At the beginning of the film Rima is in the shadow of her sister Lara; it takes time to reveal herself, to come into focus; is this what attracted you to the part of Rima?
Rima is one of those people who remain in the shadows for a long time. They can patiently remain in the shadows with their own thoughts, and then they fire off – here I am! Surprise! In a lot of ways her ambitions define her character. Certainly, I have my ambitions too. A person should never be passive. This doesn’t mean achieving one’s goals at the expense of other people, but with the quality of your own work.
Q Lara and Rima are waitresses in the film. They belong to a certain class. Does this class system still exist?
This class has always existed. There’s always someone dancing and someone serving.
Q The film is about many things; but it is certainly about people’s senses. Rima seems to have a sixth sense. When she replaces her sister Lara as Horsie’s girlfriend, she says that she always knew that it would happen. Is this sixth sense what defines the women?
Yes, women have intuition. As for men, they live in a different space. Humans are intuitive beings. The only difference is that some rely on their intuition more, some less.
Q Do you think that Rima and Lara understand better than the men in the film what life is about?
Yes, the two girls understand what their place on this earth is. They are realistic about what they are capable of.
Q The title of the film suggests perhaps that all of the characters are dreaming of space. But it looks to me as if the women have their feet on the ground – they know what they want – and the men are dreaming; dreaming about running away, about flying in space. Do you agree?
Women do have ambitions, but they are of an earthly character. When Horsie is talking about his dreams, my heroine agrees that the whole world can be his, but only if he is with her. Men need us.
Q When we first see Rima she is working as a waitress with her sister in a cafeteria in a city somewhere on the Russian-Norwegian border. When we last see her she is sitting on a train bound for Moscow, smartly dressed, accompanying Horsie who has been accepted as a student at an elite academy. Rima has come a long way socially. Do you think that this ambition is an important idea in the film?
All the characters in this film want to change themselves, their surroundings; to switch to something different. And each one of them is using different ways to achieve it.
Q Each one of the four main characters – Horsie, Gherman, Lara and Rima – wants to escape from the life that they have. Do you think that they want to escape from the political restrictions of the old USSR, or do they just want to get away from a small town and go to the big city?
For me it’s a film about dreaming – dreams connected with earth and space. It’s looking for your own identity, waiting for some changes. Not for political changes in the country but in yourself. It’s the thrill of anticipation – just in a little while something is going to happen. The main characters know it is going to happen, but they don’t know when and how. For Rima it’s not just a big city she’s looking forward to; all women want to be loved and desired. Everyone wants love.
Q So does a woman always have to be with a man? What’s more important for Rima, being with Horsie or her own future?
(Laughing) Do you think that if there were no Horsie there wouldn’t have been some other man? It’s boring to live without love.
Q Do you think that the film is as much about the negative side of the USSR as about the positive side?
There’s both. There were a lot of wonderful things during that time, but there was also the Iron Curtain, different boundaries restricting people from seeing the world. Freedom should never be restricted. No one can decide for a person what he should do and what he shouldn’t, what radio to listen to and what not. But you know some people are happy with the little worlds of their own. Today there are people who have money, can go where they want; but they are happy with the Internet in their room. And some people have their kitchen-garden where they grow potatoes and they don’t even need the Internet. It doesn’t mean that they are any less important as people, they just don’t need anything else.
Q You are too young to have lived in the Soviet Union that is shown in the film, but is there something that you remember?
My father was in the military. When he went to work, some time later I went to have lunch in the officers’ canteen. And there I could have lunch for 1 rouble! And also there were wonderful cafes where for a very little price one could buy the most delicious cakes. I also remember having to use coupons to get food. Also there was a school uniform, that was a kind of restriction – everyone had to look the same. It was unacceptable to be original, to be an individual. Nowadays anyone can be original, be different, be himself – which is most important. Oh, and there was the most delicious bubble gum called Donald Duck!
Q Do you think that it is a political film?
It’s not only about politics. Every viewer sees something different in a film. Someone sees the political part of it, and someone notices more than that.
Q Do you think that there is a difference between the way in which a Russian audience looks at the film, and how a Western audience sees it?
Russians lived and live in this country, and so a lot of things in the film are familiar and understandable. For a foreign viewer it’s an alien background picture. I think it’s a good film, because every time you see it you notice something new.