First published on 5 Mar 2012. Updated on 13 Apr 2012.
Bojana, you have a tattoo of a lyric from a traditional Serbian song on your upper left arm. What is it?
It says “Far from the sea” which are the original words to an old Serbian folk song. Whenever I’m shredding with the boys down at Bondi, it reminds me where I’m really from. ‘Cause, you know, sometimes I forget.
What’s your earliest memory of performing?
My parents used to take me to the children’s theatre in Belgrade. One time the woman on stage asked for a volunteer from the audience. I ran up to her without waiting to be picked and got to be part of the show for a few minutes.
You made your debut with the Sydney Theatre Company at the age of 12. What do you remember about it?
I played a spider in a children’s show called The Carnival of the Animals. They built me a web on top of a ladder against one of the columns inside the wharf (which is now Bangarra). I was scared of ladders and didn’t want to tell anyone so I would sit there every night, hold on in sheer terror and wait for my turn to get down and grace the stage.
Can you point to a stage role since then that is particularly memorable for you?
I loved doing Debris with Thomas Campbell, which Tanya [Golberg, Novakovic's co-artistic director of Ride On theatre company and director of Mary MacLane] directed. I don’t know how to explain why this is significant. The experience of working together was just wonderful. Also, when we took it to Melbourne, the show was co-presented with the Black Lung [theatre collective], who I had never heard of, and who I am now thrilled to be friends with.
We’ll be seeing lots of you on the silver screen this year. How important is it for you to keep treading the boards?
It’s not even an issue of importance. It’s just what I want to do.
Speaking of movies, though, an audition video of yours is floating around YouTube, did you know? Lots of talk about the blood of Poseidon and the ecstasy of steel and flesh?
That issue has been rectified and that thing was taken off line. How embarrassment.
You talked to sex workers for your role as a high-class escort in Satisfaction. Have you undertaken any similarly eye-opening research for any of your stage roles?
Of course. I love talking to the people who have experienced things with I am performing about. Refugees, murderers, bank clerks. Anyone and everyone with a life different to my own is thrilling to me.
Not too long ago you performed in a semi-improvised theatre show called The Blind Date Project, basically going on a series of blind dates with a different actor each night. What was your best date?
It was a fully improvised show. Every night was brilliant and significant in its own way. That was the joy of the show. Sometimes the ‘best’ show was not as interesting as the ‘worst’ show. Mistakes were welcome and inevitable. The worse things got, the more exciting they were.
You starred in the Benedict Andrews-directed Eldorado. Benno: genius or madman?
Benedict is not a madman.
Without getting all tabloid on you, Bojana, you’re currently seeing actor Chris Ryan [Thyestes]. What’s it like dating someone who was inhabiting the House of Atreus for the better part of two months? Is it... intense?
Chris is a troublesome partner. He has multiple personalities and serious detachment issues with his work. It is very difficult to be with him. But hopefully love will conquer all.
We should talk about the show a little bit. Can you tell us about your first encounter with Mary MacLane?
I came across Mary’s writing when I was 21 while doing research for a character. I was reading a book of collected writings by ‘mad people’ and a small segment from her first book popped out at me. I didn’t think it sounded mad at all. In fact, embarrassingly enough, I related to it. It was honest, immediate, direct and bizarre. It was shamelessly vain, ambitious and blunt. It was also vulnerable and utterly beautiful. She may have been writing over a hundred years ago, but her use of language was startlingly contemporary and very revealing. I wished that I had written it. Sharing it with other friends my age, I discovered that they too felt a kinship with Mary. Her incessant yearning for self-discovery, even though frowned upon and embarrassing, is universal and timeless.
I’m a few pages into Mary’s diaries. So far she has talked a lot about trudging alone through the sandy wasteland, deep in contemplation, or lying among the poplar trees, flat on her back like a lioness, letting her thoughts roll over her... Can you relate to Mary’s love of this pastime?
I find stillness utterly terrifying. I am stupefied by the thought of deep contemplation. I rarely ever have time to let my thoughts roll over me. That’s what sleep is for.
I think Mary’s aloofness was probably one of her more rebellious qualities, at a time when women weren’t really supposed to while away hours in deep thought. Are we supposed to do that now? I’m not sure much has changed. Today we are all ‘go go go’. I suppose I could be a true rebel and try finding a wasteland somewhere that I can lie down and let my thoughts roll over me.
There are undoubtedly many embarrassing similarities between me and Mary, but lazing around in deep contemplation is not one of them.
Is one of those similarities a deep and sensual passion for olives?
I love olives. No shame in it. I absolutely relate to Mary’s love of the olive.
It’s interesting you say ‘self-discovery’, because there’s an element of self-disguise in Mary’s writing, isn’t there? A lot of performance and fantasy in there with the self-reflection?
I agree that there is performance in Mary’s writing, but I don’t think that it is disguise. Having read everything available by her and about her, I’ve come to think that her sense of being looked at is natural, and her pretence, when she does use it, is utterly intentional, and therefore its not hiding, but revealing. When someone is so obviously serious about their own bravado, it doesn’t hide them from the world, I think it reveals more. She was more ironic than disguising.
Also Mary lived with a sense of being looked at, a sense of the reader, and a sense of reaching out. I think most young women and men today can relate to that. With social networks, we are constantly on show. We can pervade each others lives more than ever. And we have it at our disposal to create disguises, or online personas. If Mary had a Facebook page, I am not sure it would be about disguise so much as shocking earnestness, truth and irony.
Is Paris Hilton a disguise? Or is she just as f-ing ridiculous as she appears? I dare say there’s nothing more than what we see, or we would have seen it by now!
I do believe there are things which Mary wasn’t aware of about herself, but that is probably due to the fact that language of self discovery which we know today was not available to her back then. There are elements of her life I think she avoided writing about, but I don’t want to talk too much about them here because I touch upon them in the play.
So how did you bring Mary’s story to life for the stage?
This is not a biopic retelling of Mary’s life. While there are biographical elements to it, and we do reveal something about Mary (ha!), her biography is not our main focus. We have used her writing as a platform to explore the timeless human need for connection and understanding. There will be pathos, there will be music and humour and there will be shameless bouts of narcissism. Mine and Mary’s.
Sam Strong [artistic director of Griffin Theatre Company] has described you as an incredibly charismatic performer. What’s the secret to your charm? Let’s keep this just between us.
Oh, thank you Sam. What a lovely thing to say. As for the charm, come live with me for a day and you’ll think otherwise.
Tim Rogers is your music-playing co-star in Mary Mac – not to mention an ex-flame of yours. What’s your experience been of collaborating creatively after your, shall we say, romantic collaboration ceased to be?
Mary has been with me and Tim through thick and thin. I think the way we bond over The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself is the way we were meant to bond, creatively and as friends. It makes me happy that Mary has kept us in each other’s lives, even if it means he publicly declares my bossiness. I will not publicly declare any of his flaws. After all he is a rock star and rock stars are just perfect.
Best seat in the SBW Stables Theatre to watch the show?
The red velvet chair on stage.
Brain fart for two and a half hours.
Last time I did a show with an interval I was 17. I think I spent it trying to make myself cry for some emotional scene coming up.
When you were much younger you wanted to be an actress so that you could marry a prince and then change the world. How are you going with that?
I don’t really want to get married, I think most princes are boring and I think changing the world is a matter of self-knowledge and generosity more than anything else.
Darryn King is on Twitter: @darrynking