Sanja Gregorcic on honing the acting craft at home and abroad
Sanja Gregorcic, actress and theatre director, talks to us about her experience of the film & TV industry in London, LA and her home country of Slovenia, as well as her passion to help other actors hone their craft with a series of training workshops, and her own theatre outfit Outer Gaea Company.
Hello Sanja, thanks for speaking to us today. You were involved with short film The Pitch that screened at Exit 6 last year. Can you tell us about the film and your experience making it?
Thank you for having me. I follow your blog and it’s exciting to be a part of it today. The Pitch is a short film about this on fire director pitching his 10 minute film idea to a rational producer and while they are arguing the ideas about the film start to appear around them. It’s also a brilliant homage to some of the greatest film ever made.
The director of The Pitch is Maj Jukic, who’s also Slovenian, we’ve know each other since high school. Maj was in the middle of making it and one day he called me, very last minute asking if I would play Penny in his film. I asked about the character and he said, 'Well, she’s an immigrant and she’s also lesbian...' I said, 'Maj, let me stop you right there, I’ll do it.' I enjoyed it thoroughly, the atmosphere on set was fantastic, the people involved in the were very passionate, especially the DOP Benjamin Kent Margitich and those guys handling film in the dark room! We were shooting on 35mm film which is unique experience for any actor. You can’t watch yourself back and you only have few takes to get it right, so no pressure! Also, it’s not the only immigrant or lesbian I played in my career. I arrived with experience, alright. Next thing we know, The Pitch is screened at Exit 6 festival, the film did really well on several festivals, including at Cannes.
I want to also say that I’ve been to several festivals around the world, like Cannes and Independent Film Festival in Los Angeles, but Exit 6 has een by far my best experience. The selection of short films kept me going all day, the atmosphere was lovely, the cast and creators of The Pitch were all there meeting other filmmakers and actors, I’ve made some fantastic connections in the industry. and I’m definitely coming back this year.
You’re from Slovenia, live in here in the UK and have also spent some time in LA. How different have you found the industry, and how people approach it, in all 3 places?
I am, yes. I come from the small beautiful village Vrsno in Slovenia. My dream since I was a teenager, after discovering acting, was to be in London. I went to Shakespeare summer school at RADA and that was that, I wanted to be in London. I auditioned for London drama schools like mad for three years, and in-between those, I tried just for auditioning for The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, who held their auditions in London. I said after that one I’m done, never auditioning again. I was late, it was raining, trains were cancelled (as they are in London over few drops of rain)... I walked in soaking wet already fed up with everything and everybody, I was cursing a lot in Slovenian, they asked me if I needed to take a moment, but I said. 'No, I’m ready. I just want to be done with this.' That’s when I got in and few months later I moved to Los Angeles to study.
I'd never been to America before. Those four years in Hollywood were great. I loved the intense training at the academy and the wonder of being in Hollywood. I wanted to learn everything. I worked on my accent in my first year, as my teachers used to say I sounded like a Russian spy! Glad I made them laugh. After graduating we had a one-year training visa to stay and work, and to go out and see what the real world is all about. That was the most important experience, to be honest. What Hollywood and American people taught me was the business side of acting. You can’t learn that in Slovenia, it’s a completely different culture. How people in Hollywood approach business and of course the so called ‘American dream mentality’. Allowing yourself to dream a little and believe that anything happen. I needed that to push myself further. After that year there was a question of staying in LA or go back to Europe.
I went back to Slovenia to shoot a feature in Slovenia Tall Tales: Now You Are, Now You’re Gone and began thinking again about London. A lot of my friends from the academy were back and doing well, so I moved back in October 2015, contacted few agencies and eventually signed with my first agent here. After getting a part in Channel 5 TV show Borderline, as Ukrainian Dasha Panchenko, just few months after I moved here, I knew I was home.
London for me is somewhere in the middle between Slovenia and LA - between the crazy ‘go for it’ of Hollywood and ‘the place in the mountains that made you’ of Slovenia. People are more grounded here and yet business driven too, for sure. There’s something else about being an actor in London - your competition. The talent here is the best in the world, the craft comes from a tradition that’s hard to beat. Actors here can really show you how it’s done. I love that - and the fact that in less than two hours I can be in Slovenia, eating my mum’s food!
As well as being an actress, you also direct theatre and have your own theatre company Outer Gaea Company. What prompted you to start the company and what kind of projects do you develop?
Yes, I always felt the need to be independent, and loud about what I thought was wrong in the world. My classmate at the academy in Los Angeles, James Williams, came up with exactly that kind of idea, to start a theatre movement together – a theatre company founded by actors for actors. We felt the need to start Outer Gaea Company as a response to an atmosphere where actors seemed to no longer be living ‘in’ the craft, where acting seemed only credible based on commercial success and the old ways of theatre as a life-style, all but forgotten.
Whether classical, contemporary or new writing, we develop work geared towards bringing people together and ensuring that every culture is recognised on a human level. The more cultures know of each other, the easier it is to unify. We opened our first show Answers in London, then Ballerina in New York at Theaterlab. The projects we have in development all have an international cast or some other elements of connecting different cultures and places. It’s been such a journey!
You’re a big supporter of other actors looking to hone their craft and as such have organised training and workshops both here in the UK and abroad. Can you tell us about some of the workshops you have organised and ones that you have coming up?
Learning and developing your craft, or simply yourself, is so important. I've had so many amazing teachers and mentors in life, and every one of them gave me something special. In acting everyone sometimes needs that one person to say, 'No, you’re not going to give up, try one more time'. It’s such a small thing but it keeps you going. I’m very lucky I've been able to surround myself with the right people, and I want to share all the knowledge I have with my students.
Before I do a workshop or a class I think what I would need and want to learn. I produce and teach acting workshops in Slovenia and here in UK. I asked around in Ljubljana, Slovenia if there would be any interest or need for screen and camera technique workshops for actors. It turned out there was a desire amongst actors to develop their craft in front of the camera further, to learn about the ways business works in London and Hollywood. Starting this year in January I completed three monthly sold-out workshops in Ljubljana teaching audition technique on camera for film and TV.
Here in London we have an on-going weekly workshop led by a director Maj Jukic, it’s a class designed to really push actors to create unforgettable characters, gain on-screen confidence and master technical challenges in an audition, rehearsal or on set in front of the camera. I worked with Maj on several projects and if there was one person that I wanted to bring in to teach in class, it was Maj.
In May, I'm excited to host actor, voice-over artist, singer, mime and FX specialist Adam Meir from Hollywood, to do an intensive three-day workshop with actors. I know Adam since my days at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and if I hadn’t had the chance right after my graduation to have a mentor like him, it would probably take me a lot of time and many mistakes figuring out how to be successful in this business. Adam is like encyclopaedia of dos and don’ts; I can’t wait to have him in London!
What’s next for you and for the Outer Gaea Company?
Next for OGC is a production of Dutchman by Leroi Jones at the Tristan Bates Theatre, October 2019. We also plan to cement our international status with a production of Antigone which I am directing and debuting in Slovenia, and a US tour of The Ballerina which was well received in New York. For me it’s going to be another busy year between acting, workshops and directing.
You can follow Sanja on Twitter: @SanjaGregorcic