The many roles that Nataša Ninković has breathed life into with her personality, talent, and energy complement the experience that she has gained creating them in a career that spans over two and a half decades. Having reached a place of fulfilment, above all in her private life, this successful actress is still in search of new challenges in her work, giving much of herself to the audience with a passion that is as strong as when she was starting out. That was a time when she was one of the few people in Serbia for whom Hollywood was within reach. She came close then with a masterfully played role in Saviour, and today she is awaiting the premiere of a new film, set for 22 October, and made by the same director.
What tipped the scales for you in favour of accepting a part in Dara from Jasenovac? Was it the script or a new collaboration with Predrag Gaga Antonijević?
- A lot of time has passed, and it’s time now to pay our respects to the victims of the inconceivable and horrific crimes committed in that camp. I generally place my trust in Predrag Antonijević, and when I saw how he approached the topic together with the scriptwriter Nataša Drakulić, I had no second thoughts. My first thought was that I didn’t have the strength to get myself into that sort of horror and darkness, but then I thought that it was precisely the suffering that these people had gone through that made the luxury of personal comfort impossible. The least that we can do is to try in this way to honour these victims and all the other victims that have perished solely because they were of a different faith or nation, or because their name was this rather than that. What I liked the most was that the story is told from the point of view of the girl Dara, played masterfully by Biljana Čekić. In other words, we weren’t concerned with numbers, which are often pulled out by the different sides and used for scoring points in their clashes. Instead, we were concerned with personal drama and the consequences of these mindless acts.
Do you use additional literature, documentary films, or perhaps folk tales and popular legends when you are preparing for your roles?
- The story that we want to tell is what’s most important. If it’s historical figures, then I read all that’s out there, I analyse the material, but then I go back to the script. There is always a personal touch, so one and the same character played by different people ends up looking very different.
After the film Saviour, Predrag Antonijević described you like this: ‘I picked her out of 86 candidates. She had an air of drama around her without any acting. In the casting, she awoke Dennis Quaid from sleep with her acting.’ Were you able to see that drama in you then?
- I wasn’t aware of that drama and depth at the time, I only followed my instincts. Today I’m a mature person, and I get into a process fully aware. On top of that is the experience which helps you present and use what you have in the best way possible. There’s also the awareness of what you cannot or do not know how to do.
Aleksandar Berček, who was the director of the National Theatre (which you are still a member of) at the time was afraid that that role would ‘take you to America’. Nonetheless, he let you go to the shoot. Back then you used to say that you did not dream of Hollywood. Have you ever regretted not having different ambitions?
- If I saw my life only in terms of work, which is impossible, I would say that I ought to have given myself a chance! But, since family is what comes first in my life, with work coming second, the answer is clear. I am happy with where I am.
And how are you different to the Nataša from when you were starting out, when you enjoyed joking about getting mixed up with your classmate Nela Mihailović?
- I’m grateful that I can still laugh and have a good time with my dear Nela. The only difference is that we have our children by our side now, who like each other a lot, so the picture is even fuller and more beautiful.
With the experience that you have gained, what advice would you give to the young actress who was preparing The Taming of the Shrew?
- I wouldn’t, because I didn’t take any advice. Also, personal experience is what’s most important. I wouldn’t go back on any of my mistakes or tears. Nothing was in vain.
Is it possible that you still dwell on whether you have done a new job well ahead of the premiere, and then think about ‘starting a business’?
- Such doubts about whether I have or haven’t are behind me! And even if I do consider starting a business, I see it as an additional source of security, not a replacement. When doubt appears, I put it on the table and start searching for a solution! Over time, you accept that you’re responsible for your bit, and that the whole team is responsible for the whole. That the projects that you’re completely satisfied with are very rare.
What did a break from work due to the pandemic mean for you? They say a woman is never bored in her home.
- I needed this break. I rested my mind and my soul. I was physically exhausted because I was the one running the household – cleaning, washing, cooking! But, I also enjoyed it. I felt fulfilled and happy to give and have someone to give my all to – something I had long since felt as I did in that silence. In the evenings, I read a couple of fantastic books over a glass of wine and good music. But, it’s time for some action and returning to business as usual.
ON SCREEN EROTICA ‘I showed my sensuality in Shadows’
Is a woman in her forties most sought after as an actress – still desirable enough for erotica, which keeps the viewers’ eyes on the screen, but also mature enough for a true role of mother? - The forties and fifties are very good for a woman. Maturity and self-awareness have their specific appeal and their own eros. Women rarely get a chance to show that on film or television, because in this country erotica and sensuality are mostly associated with youth. This is not the case in other cinema traditions. For example, thanks to Shadows and Bjela I had that opportunity and I truly enjoyed it.
TAŠMAJDAN IS NOT THE BEST SOLUTION
‘A show can be in the open air, but in a suitable space’ What is your take on the summer ahead and the open-air productions? - I’m in favour of productions suited for open air, those that would not be lost in it. I do not think Tašmajdan is the best solution. There are various good spaces used as summer stages for years , and they should be utilized.