Thea Gajic got everyone talking at Screen Nights after having her first directing debut with 'Run'. Notwithstanding, she's an actress first and foremost. However, the success of 'Run' shows her witty flair approach to writing.
Indeed, she's killing two birds with one stone. She acted alongside Kayode Ewumi for Jacob Banks music video 'Unknown' and worked with Mathieu Ajan in 'Layers'. Other credits include 'Wolves', 'Sisters' and 'Chinese Takeaway'. She's currently working on her second project 'Guilt' with Olan Collardy, and is officially going to Sundance Film Festival.
The actress and writer chats to us about being on the come up. We talk about everything; from her Renaissance face that screams all-natural-beauty-and-yeah-I'm-worth-it, to the balance of genders in the film industry. We find out more details in regards to the inspiration behind the play 'Run'and her thoughts of the British film industry.
1. Has someone told you that your face is beautiful as a Renaissance painting?
That’s a very kind thing to say! Thank you – I’m flattered. My friend and photographer/filmmaker Mathieu Ajan took a photo of me once and a lot of people compared that to a painting. That probably says much more about his photography skills than my face though!
2. Even though your main goal is acting, you went on to direct and write 'Run':
a) What was the inspiration behind the film?
I created 'RUN' off the back of a piece of prose I wrote a few months prior. I was going through a frustrating time in my personal life and just felt compelled to release the frustration myself and other women were feeling, through my writing. The want to turn it into a film came later.
b) Do you feel that it showcased your intellect of poetry and directory film style, as well as showing the notion about humanity in relationships?
I sometimes wonder if it would have done as well as it had if I hadn’t included the voice over. I like to think that it showcased how my ‘penning skills’ can be transferred across different mediums. I’m pleased with the balance that I created between natural dialogue and then more theatrical prose.
3. Just to confirm that right now, you're back to 100% acting. Although, we do think that you got a good eye for directing (just to put it out there).
I still hesitate to label myself as a director. I kind of stumbled upon directing by accident – simply because I wanted to create my own work to give others and myself more acting opportunities. I don’t like saying I’m something unless I feel totally committed to that title and I know there’s a lot of amazing directors out there who are far more experienced and passionate about directing than I am. I’m currently in pre-production for my next short film and this time I’m making a more conscious effort to get my directors cap on. That might all change on set when acting takes over but I’m trying harder to juggle them this time!
4. Did you ever go to acting school? Or are you a learner of literature?
I’ve always acted since I was very small. I went to stage school as a child and then a part time drama school called Kingdom School of Arts for about 3 years. I applied for full time Drama School this year and got to the final stage at RADA, which was amazing, and a brilliant learning and growth experience. I didn’t end up getting in but I’m planning on applying again this year.
5. Describe your personality as a movie title.
A made up one or a real one?
6. 'Run' displays the ever beautiful make-up of femininity. At times, there were moments in the film that were full of wit and bravery. Other times there was a sense of vulnerability. How important is it for actresses to display the balance of strength and weakness in whatever character they play?
The importance comes with being as honest as possible and staying true to the text. No human is one-dimensional although some try their very hardest to come across that way. The most interesting actors to watch are the ones who find the loopholes in their characters brave faces.
7. How important is it for male screenwriters to understand the balance of female strength and weakness in their female characters. After all, it's very easy to place women as sexual appetites in a movie.
It’s easy for both men and women to write uninteresting characters in film. I think as long as you’re observant and open to empathy then you should be able to create a multi-faceted character. Strength and weakness come hand in hand and one can’t really exist without the other. If the writer has any knowledge about human behaviour then they’ll know that both men and women can’t be entirely strong or entirely weak.
8. Your film was the Short Film of the Week for the BFI Post Room! That must be a huge achievement for you, as a writer and actor.
'RUN' did really well in August/September- it kind of came out of nowhere as I released it at the end of April. It’s been wonderful seeing it being reborn again and again.
9. Reflect on the experience of working with Olan Collardy: who helped you film 'Sisters' and 'Actress'. You can also talk about working with the cast: Lauren Marshall, Daniel Deacon, Jess Espin-Thurgur & Reuben Riley.
Olan is an absolute epic man. He is a dream to work with and I’m so happy we’ve been able to build such a good working relationship over the past year or so. We actually met a few years back but didn’t work on anything until he asked me to act in ‘Sisters’. He was literally my right hand man for RUN and I always say this but I truly trust him completely with my work. It’s important to have a DP that you can rely on so heavily – especially when you have to step out of the director’s shoes to act instead.
The entire cast from RUN are all close friends of mine who I’ve met somewhere along the way. They all pretty much knew each other too, which made the whole shoot more enjoyable. They’re all so talented in their own individual ways and I chose them carefully because I was really looking for actors who I knew could effortlessly pull off the effortless look lol. Most of us met through a digital agency we’re close with called LATIMER GROUP who are all about creating social change for young people through creative outlets. They’re super good people to know so make sure you go to one of their free events!
10. If you weren't pursuing acting, what a career path would you have taken?
Like most actors, I’m very interested in human behaviour and psychology/neurology. In my next life I’ll probably be a criminal psychologist or something. Or a vet – my kid dream was to be a vet.
11. Great performance in Jacob Banks' music video 'Unknown'. What was it like working with Kayode Ewumi? Seeing that he's become successful with his own show 'Hood Documentary'.
Thanks! Kay and I actually met a while before Hood Doc blew up so it’s been wonderful seeing it grow and manifest into something untouchable. We met in a Research & Development Workshop at Southwark Playhouse last summer and got paired together. We had no idea who each other were back then. We had to come up with a movement piece to show back which we both enjoyed doing so we stayed in touch and since became good friends. We released a physical theatre piece before we did UNKNOWN - which is why some of the more heated moments in the music video are expressed through physical theatre – we spent ages rehearsing in the National Theatre and even got in trouble for leaving our bags unattended lol – I need to phone him!
b) How does his success inspire you as a creative?
Every time we link up to workshop new ideas or work on something new he inspires me. He is very good at facilitating and creating environments that trigger good work. He’s a brilliant guy and it’s always a pleasure being in his presence. He’s also a first hand example of how powerful self-perseverance and self-belief is. We often have in depth conversations about our futures and I think our belief in one another equally inspires us both.
12. Do have a sense of preference when it comes to acting? What type of films do you aspire to pursue?
I just want to tell good stories; stories that teach and raise awareness, stories that provoke thought and emotion.
13. a) What other exclusive would you like to share with us?
I’m shooting my next film GUILT on Nov 5th (another Olan/Thea collab) and hopefully screening it before the year is up! So stay tuned for that.
b) Are there prospects of leaving the UK to go to the States in order to gain recognition?
All my plans are UK based at the moment. America is definitely in the plans but there’s a right time for everything.
c) Do you think this is an issue in the British cinema, due to the fact that we don't support our own until when they develop an audience in America?
I think British Film is bettering itself every year and our talent is definitely taking over a lot of screens. We’re a smaller pond so there’s all the more to fight over in order to stay fed. I find the Film Industry a very supportive place at the moment and I think it’s the public that are slow to catch on. America will always be nth times as glittery as us but I don’t think there’s anything quite like true British grit.