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LUCIJA ŠERBEDŽIJA: The spirit of the old city still lingers

 

“I can say that the ‘hood is alive during any season. It’s alive in the fall, when the traffic in one of the streets in the neighborhood closes down for a day, and we, the neighbors, organize an open-air party. It lives in the winter and during the holidays, with all the tiny shacks and concerts taking place here. And in spring, there is a book-fair in front of Booksa… All of this makes up the atmosphere of the neighborhood and shows that the people love it and care for it.”

The renowned Croatian theater, movie, and television actress Lucija Šerbedžija is a longtime resident of the neighborhood, in Tomašićeva Street, where she lives with her two children. She starred in numerous successful plays and movies, like Mondo Bobo (1997) by Goran Rušinović, the Hollywood hit The Saint (1997) by Phillip Noyce, Nafaka (2006) by Jasmin Duraković, Šuti / Hush (2013) by Lukas Nola, and The Liberation of Skopje (2016), co-directed by her brother Danilo and father Rade. She is a resident actress of The Zagreb Youth Theater (ZKM), and also works for the Ulysses Theatre on the Brijuni Islands. We talked to Lucija about her current work and the life in the neighborhood during a nice summer afternoon in the little park in front of Booksa, while her daughter scurried around and climbed the statue of Grga Martić.

Bojan Krištofić: What are the current events of your life in the theatre?

Lucija Šerbedžija: I’ve been the member of ZKM for eight years now, and we are currently working on a play directed by Olja Lozica. The name of the play is Starving Working Women (Radnice u gladovanju), and the author of the play is Goran Ferčec. The play first premiered in Croatia as a radio-drama (with the theatre premiere in 2014 in Bonn, Germany, directed by Frank Heuel), and tells of the fates of the women working for Kamensko Factory getting fired that year, not getting paid for their work, and almost ending up homeless. The play was conceptualized as a musical of sorts, almost like the biblical passion. We, the actors, will be performing songs that are blended in with the rest of the text, and parts of it will be transformed into lyrics.

BK: Is it a show with an ensemble-cast?

LŠ: Yes, there’s fourteen of us dividing the work among ourselves, if that’s what you meant.

BK: Theatrical reviews often mention ZKM as having the best acting ensemble in Croatia… As a longtime member, how do you see it?

LŠ: That’s interesting, but whoever might be the manager of ZKM at any given time (even though, of course, each manager brings his own vision into it), new actors and actresses also bring in new energy and sensibilities. No matter all the many ups and downs during the years, the ensemble is always really very coherent. Before I joined ZKM, I really wanted to go exactly there, exactly because the audience itself feels the actors’ and other staff members’ spirit of community. The unwritten rule is that there is no unhealthy ambition among us, nor any ‘stars’ in the superficial sense. We are like a football team, or the musketeers. All for one, and one for all! If one of us plays the main role today, we have no problem with playing a text-less role tomorrow. I think that’s really nice.

BK: Could you single out some plays you did recently that were really important to you?

LŠ: I wouldn’t say that singling some out is a thankless job, but every play does bring something new, like any new movie, any new process in general… brings fresh experience. Even the harder, more complicated projects, where you can’t find people who think like you, where you don’t communicate well with the director, etc… They still teach you a lot, maybe even more than the easier ones. It’s all experience, and any experience is welcome. But, if I really had to single something out… Before the Night Life (Noćni život) play, which premiered several months ago, I didn’t do a lot of things with Paolo Magelli. The play itself is by Ivan Vidić, and I really love it, it’s another play with an ensemble-cast, and Paolo is a grown-up, playful child that will never grow old. Working with him is always wonderful and inspirational.

Recently, I also did Midnight (Ponoć) based on an old text by Josip Kulundžić from 1920-something, performed only once in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb and never again, well, until recently. The play was difficult to put on stage, having an atypical, expressionist story. This challenge was taken on by the young director Ivan Planinić, who also graduated as a theatrical director on this co-production by ZKM and the Academy of Dramatic Art. I shared the stage with Krešo Mikić, Edvin Liverić, Frano Mašković, Hrvojka Begović and Anđela Ramljak which was a very interesting experience. It was the first time I attempted the ‘form before content’ approach, something I’m not used to as an actress, and this is what Ivan found interesting. The form itself and playing with this stage-form were in the foreground, instead of emotional states.

BK: Is the play still on the repertoire?

LŠ: I’m not sure whether it’s going to stay on the repertoire, but the audience loved it on Scena Polanec, as well as the reviewers. It will still be playing next month, for sure. Also, congratulations to the young director on his courage. That’s what I love to see most – the courage of young people reaching for something unknown. When we saw the text, we said something like: ‘Man, what’s wrong with you, what is this, why would we be doing this?’ It’s a challenge! This kind of courage might be the greatest virtue these days.

BK: Have you been living in this neighborhood for a long time?

LŠ: Yes, for a long time indeed, since 1989. That’s when I, as a high school girl, first walked into my apartment in Tomašićeva Street. With my father, because my parents were divorced… I lived for some time with my mother, and then with my father, so we came from our old apartment in Hebrangova Street to see the new one in Tomašićeva. I was walking down Martićeva Street from Draškovićeva to Tomašićeva, and, thanks to puberty and hormones, crying my eyes out because there were no cafés here, only car-part stores. Only car-part stores! Oh, and one nail shop. There really wasn’t a single café here. The first thing that happened was the bakery shop renaissance, spreading through Zagreb and coming to our neighborhood, and cafés followed bit by bit, until some 10 years ago since Booksa was opened… It was the first of such, let’s call them creative, places.

Today, the neighborhood is simply full of life. The wooden skyscraper was renovated beautifully… It couldn’t be any better. No one took the ‘look at me, I’m an architect full of myself and I’m going to put all kinds of things here, something to stand out over Zagreb…’ route – the renovation properly fits in with the ambient. I can say that the city is alive during any season. It’s alive in the fall, when the traffic in one of the streets in the neighborhood closes down for a day, and we, the neighbors, organize an open-air party. It lives in the winter and during the holidays, with all the tiny shacks and concerts taking place here. And in spring, there is a book-fair in front of Booksa… All of this makes up the atmosphere of the neighborhood and shows that the people love it and care for it.

That’s really wonderful. But then again, it’s not intrusive. I was a bit alarmed, I have to confess, when all of this started. It was about a gallery opening on a Sunday morning. As I use to, I went out to walk the dog in my pajamas… I just put on a coat and black shades, when suddenly – people around me all dressed up, sipping coffee… At 11 in the morning on a Sunday! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to move in such a relaxed way around the neighborhood anymore, that I would have to start dressing up… But it never got to that.

BK: What else do you think should be changed or improved in the neighborhood?

LŠ: I would like it if no one went overboard with anything. I adore all the little galleries, but the tiny tailor shops next to them as well. I love small privately-owned shops and I hope they will outnumber the malls. Here is where the spirit of the old city still lingers, and I wouldn’t want it to go away.

BK: Would you say that the profile of an average resident of the neighborhood changed since when you were in high school?

LŠ: Well, of course it changed, but I can’t say why, I never thought about it. I guess that there used to be people here who had had to leave their apartments out of financial reasons, and they were offered good prices. Before the war and during the 90s, this neighborhood was not as popular as today. People have grown old, their kids matured, and can no longer afford living in these kinds of apartments, 80m2 and larger. Those who make a lot of money can afford it, while others will buy something smaller and live there until they die. Of course, all of this is just my assumption, but I’m certainly at least 10% right.

BK: What do you think, does the neighborhood function as a theatre stage of sorts?

LŠ: Absolutely! Because it lives, breathes, and is packed with events. All of this in a subtle, non-aggressive way.

 
 

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