World traveler

  • 2002-04-25
  • Julie Vinten
Ingeborga Dapkunaite is the only film star in the Baltic states whose name is likely to be familiar to people worldwide. Julie Vinten talked to the versatile actress who has juggled films and plays from east to west for over a decade.

Born in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1963, Dapkunaite always wanted to be an actress. She first appeared on stage at the age of 4. She graduated from the State Conservatory in Lithuania in 1985.

An international career began in 1992, with a successful casting for the play "Slip of the Tongue" in London. It was directed by Simon Stokes, whom she later married.

After a few minor parts in American films in 1996 she finally featured in a supporting role in "Mission:Impossible," and the following year she starred with Brad Pitt in "Seven Years in Tibet."

In her Russian movies she's probably best known for her roles in "Katya Izmailova" and the Oscar-winning "Burnt by the Sun," and though she now lives in London, she still frequently acts in Russian movies, the most recent ones being Alexander Zeldovich's "Moscow" and "War" by Alexei Balabanov, which is being released to Baltic audiences this week.

Ingeborga Dapkunaite will next appear in a BBC production of Stephen Poliakow's new drama "The Lost Prince."

In "Burnt by the Sun" you played Marusia, the wife of a Red Army colonel betrayed by one of Stalin's agents. Did it suddenly throw you into the limelight, when the film got an Oscar for best foreign film in 1994?

No, it didn't happen overnight. Of course it helped me a lot that the film was watched by so many people in the business. Perhaps more people in Russia started paying attention to me, but in the West they didn't know me since "Burnt by the Sun" was a foreign-language film, and not that many people went to see it.

But there was a lot of exposure of me that year because "Katia Ismailova" was also released. But it never happened that I one day woke up and could not go out on the street.

Why did you decide to move to London?

I never had the objective of working abroad. I thought it wasn't very likely to happen because of the language barrier, which makes it difficult for an actor to get jobs in other countries. Of course, I married an Englishman, but I never made the conscious decision of moving. It just happened with time that London became my base. Now I consider it my home.

Was it difficult to move to the West?

It was difficult and easy at the same time. It took a while to make acquaintances and get a new circle of friends. Everything is different whenever you move to a new place. But then again it was easy, because I never gave it much thought. Everything just came gradually.

Was it a matter of chance or a strategic move to make the jump from Russian movies to American movies?

I work where there is work for me. I never say, "I wish I could go and do a movie in this or that country." I just feel fortunate that I get paid for doing my job.

"War" has just opened in the Baltics. Some Lithuanian and Western critics have called it Russian propaganda against the Chechens. How do you feel?

I haven't yet seen the film. But it certainly wasn't like that in the script. But of course films change when they are edited. During that process the director has every right to change anything he wants since it is his film.

What do you look for in a script to make you take the part?

The script is the base of the film, but when you take a part it's not only because of the script. It's always a combination of things, such as who is directing and who the other actors are. Nothing can be judged by one thing alone. Sometimes you for some reason want to be a part of a certain production. I did, for example, want to do "Burnt by the Sun" because Nikita (Mikhalkov) was the director. It didn't matter so much to me what the movie was about.

Which film and theater parts have you most enjoyed?

I simply can't choose. I just loved doing "The Vagina Monologues" (at the New Ambassadors Theater in London) - but I just did that play and it is still clear in my mind. When it comes to "War," it was a challenge because the part was very physically demanding, and there were many obstacles during the shoot.

Was there ever a time when it was difficult for you to live from being an actress?

Maybe, but life goes on. You live for the moment in this profession. Right now things are good, tomorrow they might not be, who knows.

Have you had any problems with fame?

Not really. I'm not exactly a Spice Girl, you know.

Can you imagine what you would have become if you had not become an actress?

I don't know. Right now I'm doing this.

But what else could have made you happy?

Happy? What is that? Happiness is not in my vocabulary. I don't understand it. At the moment I'm acting and that's fine.

What's your opinion of the Lithuanian film industry?

I don't know anything about it. I live in London. But of course if a Lithuanian film comes out, I will go and see it.

What do you miss in Lithuania when you are away?

I miss my family and wish I could see them much more than I do. I have lots of good friends in Lithuania. But I usually don't ask myself that question. I live where I live, and that's how it is.

Would you ever move back to Lithuania with your husband Simon Stokes?

How would I know? Do you know where you are going to be the rest of your life? I live the moment.

What do you like to do when you aren't working?

Just because I have this funny job it doesn't mean I'm not an ordinary person. I still like to walk in the park, travel, read books. But I think my job is great, the best job in the world. I mean, you come to the set and everybody takes care of you, makes sure you have all you need. You basically just have to learn your lines (laughs).

There are few things I enjoy more than performing and being on stage, and I love the process of making a movie or a play. And I can tell you one thing: when a movie is finished it might be good, but it is never as thrilling as it was making it!