Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Story of a Bojana Girl.

“No… no, my birthday’s in July.”

This is easily the last sentence I’m expecting to hear as I stand in front of actor, Bojana Novakovic, holding a bottle of champagne, a birthday card and a small gift.

Despite thorough research, it appears the internet can be misleading.  Who knew!?

Fortunately, like a fat man walking across a frozen lake – without trying, I’ve broken the ice.  Novakovic, who I’ve managed to catch for 20 minutes between rehearsals, seems thoroughly entertained by this comedy of errors and after a few laughs and reassuring comments she appears more surprised that even Wikipedia was an unreliable source.

“That’s so strange, because the woman who did my Wikipedia article actually knows me quite well,” laughs Novakovic.

It’s good to see that the actor, who’s currently rehearsing at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, has a good sense of humour.  Without it, it’s easy to be more than a little intimidated by Novakovic when speaking with her.  She’s confident, unabashed and at only age 30 she’s already received an AFI award, starred alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Mel Gibson and Will Smith, and co-founded a theatre company ‘Ride on Theatre’ with good friend Tanya Goldberg.

The feelings of inadequacy start creeping-up on the interviewer.

Novakovic certainly isn’t afraid to take chances either.  Most recently, she starred in ‘The Blind Date Project’, an improvised show about companionship and loneliness, based on a blind date between two people who met online.  Her ‘date’ was a different mystery performer every night, and not even Novakovic knew who was going to show up.  A big gamble for a performer who’d had a long time between drinks before this show.

“I hadn’t been on stage for two years prior to that,” says Novakovic rather nonchalantly.

“I hadn’t actually met Toby [Truslove] before he did ‘The Blind Date Project’.”

However, rather than being frightened by the unknown, Novakovic seems to relish it.

“[Blind Date Project] was completely different with each performer.

“There was humour, devastation, desperation, disturbing behavior and then with Xavier [Samuel] and Truslove for example, the characters really found love,” says Novakovic.

Even with a wealth of experience and self-confidence, Bojana Novakovic is very much in the early stages of a career that’s already seen her, among other things – play a gymnast, a fascist punk, a prostitute, a chef and a student.  She’s killed, been killed (by Satan and the US Government), some would argue one in the same, and watched others kill.  She’s even thrown in some rape, kissing, karaoke and cooking for good measure.

Yet for the girl who migrated from Serbia to Australia when she was 7, it’s still amusing when she goes back to Serbia that what she’s most often recognised for in this illustrious body of work, is in fact one of her less acclaimed roles.

“Back home… woops, see I still call [Serbia] ‘home’.

“That was really strange… being in a club and having all these people saying ‘oh my God – you were on Heartbreak High!’” she laughs.

With her new film ‘The Burning Man’ out now, and her performance being highlighted as a standout, it’s a far cry from Heartbreak High.  However the actor seems unafraid about resisting the call of Hollywood and content to make her own choices.

“I’m all about doing things that will make me a better actor.

“Things like this [The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself], and the ‘Blind Date Project’ are what really drive me,” stresses Novakovic.

She even makes time to star in a number of Serbian films, flying to Serbia for 10 days just to shoot her scenes for the film ‘Skinning’.  A decision she acknowledges occasionally has her agents sprouting grey hairs.

Of course one can understand how agents or fellow actors looking for that big break might be confused, even puzzled by Novakovic’s decisions to not only take the road less travelled, but actively put so much energy into forging her own path.

Her latest work, ‘The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself’, brings to life and the stage, the writings of real-life early 20th century writer, Mary MacLane.

Novakovic plays MacLane, who according to the show’s description is a “self-proclaimed genius and recluse whose immodesty knows no bounds.”  A character so far removed from Novakovic’s own personality, it’s a testament to the actor’s abilities that she would even attempt such a part.

“Mary’s world is an early 20th century world, but her writing and her ideas and her thoughts are incredibly contemporary, which is why they interest us,” says Novakovic.

“Her first book sold over 100,000 copies.

“That’s the equivalent of Harry Potter for her time,” says Novakovic.

It’s more than self-confidence that appears to be a formula for Novakovic’s success, much more.  In fact, she seems to thrive on challenging and combating any self-doubt, head on.

“If I think I’m not going to be able to do something, then I have to do it,” says Novakovic.

Fortunately for her, it seems there’s not much she can’t do or hasn’t done.  So it’s easy to forgive Novakovic for letting some of the most interesting moments in her life slip her mind briefly.  This includes her exciting real-life role as a ‘3-day fiancĂ©e’, the result of copious amounts of Serbian alcohol and an overseas adventure.

“Engaged!?  Wait, when!?” She hurriedly looks over at my pages of research.

“Oh yes, to a Serbian farm boy,” she smiles nostalgically.

No other such drastic life choices seem to be on the cards just yet but regardless, Novakovic seems very upbeat about her future and says she’s looking forward to her debut as Mary MacLane.

“It’s actually been really enjoyable to have the opportunity to talk about and promote a show you genuinely believe in.  It’s really great.” says Novakovic.

Despite the inherent film or stage-worthiness of her life story so far, when I ask her who would play her if such a film were to be made, Novakovic seems doubtful, but she’s quite confident in the casting.

“I’m not sure about [a movie being made], but my sister would play me.”

As for the girl who got a D in grade 3 English, Novakovic smiles confidently and suggests she’d give herself a much better result now.

“Oh an ‘A’, definitely.”

The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself is at the Malthouse Theatre from November 25th to December 11th.