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GORICA POPOVIĆ BARES HER SOUL: 'Sometimes I regret not being a mother, but my heart isn't heavy over that.'
Foto: Stefan Jokić

MEMOIRS OF A FAMOUS ACTRESS

GORICA POPOVIĆ BARES HER SOUL: 'Sometimes I regret not being a mother, but my heart isn't heavy over that.'

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She has great film, theatre, and television roles under her belt, from an urban girl in National Class Category Up to 785 ccm to an enamoured piano teacher in the TV series Muddy Tires (Kaljave Gume). Between them is a broad array of characters full of life, lighting up every frame and stage, and none more than the stage of Atelje 212, her home away from home. She has many talents, from acting, through music and painting, to cooking and so many other things.

I was born on 13 August 1952 in the city of Kragujevac. I get the impression that these days everyone feels that their past was better than their present. I had a happy childhood at 32 Tanaska Rajića Street. We lived in a spacious shared courtyard with a couple of houses. My family was renting there.

My grandmother Zagorka, widowed during World War II, was the pillar of our family. My grandfather died in a P.O.W. camp but my grandma managed to raise two teenage daughters – my mother and my aunt. She stayed on as a mother-in-law to my mom and a nana to my brother and me. She was always by our side and spoiled us no end. Every morning she would bring a glass of milk to our beds.

Gorica Popović
foto: Privatna Arhiva

The big courtyard

We had an old Singer sewing machine in our house, which I still keep. My mom and grandma used it, and I followed suit, first sewing for my dolls and later for myself. I learned how to knit and embroider when I was little.

That big old courtyard of ours is also etched on my mind. In summer, my nana would take a wooden bathtub out to make sure the water got warm enough in the sun for us children to take baths in. My father made a tree house in a mulberry tree for us, and it became our hideaway. There was also a swing in the walnut tree. The courtyard was always full of flowers. We always had many pets, mostly dogs and cats, which I still like very much. Later we moved across town, so I changed schools too.

The first taste of theatre

My father used to work at the Joakim Vujić Theatre in Kragujevac. He was a painter, performer, and set designer. As a result, our home was always littered with paper, paints, and brushes. I remember my dad and mom making New Year cards. This is now gone, never to return.

My dad would often take me to his work. I remember the scent of the stage, the makeup room, the costumes. Although I saw many productions ahead of time, I found them interesting and magical. It was in this way that I entered the world of art as a child. I would go on to change what I wanted to do in life, but all the different variants remained within the sphere of the arts.

The day my father got angry

My school noticed I had a gift for reciting. I would take centre stage in all the school recitals. As time went on, I started going to a drama studio attached to the Youth Culture Centre, led by Mirko Đoković, where he would bring the young people of Kragujevac. The rock band Smak had their start there as well – they had rehearsals in the basement. Knowing that artists often struggle to make ends meet, my father was against it. He was afraid that I might put school on the backburner. Back in the day, actors weren't as educated as they are now, and outside of the capital they were mostly amateurs.

My brother Goran, five years older than me, also had a knack for reciting. He failed to push past our father's strict attitude, so he trained basketball, went on to study engineering and technology, and became an engineer. Eventually he returned to the arts, working as a graphic designer.

My first theatre role shook up my family and made my father very angry – so much so that he didn't speak to me for a couple of months, even though I was his favourite. What happened was that I played the grandma in Branko Ćopić's play Vuk Bubalo, directed by my colleague, actor Mirko Babić, who has sadly passed away since.

Mirko Babić
foto: Privatna arhiva

I could have been in sixth or seventh grade of elementary school, so you can picture for yourselves what I looked like as an old woman with a head wrap, speaking in a Bosnian dialect. What I wouldn’t give to be able to see now what that sounded like. After that role my father cooled down.

My next role was in the production of The Tiger and the Horrific Lion. I received an award at the Festival of Drama Amateurs of Serbia in Kula as a newcomer. Interestingly, a few years later I got the best costume award at the same venue, since I was in charge of costumes at the Aleksinac Theatre.

Meeting Tito

I was in the sixth grade when they picked me to attend the birthday celebrations of Josip Broz Tito. There were only twelve of us from all of Kragujevac in the delegation. I remember it like it was yesterday – we had prepared a recitation of Friendship Is The Best Friend for Tito. We spent a couple of days in Belgrade as guests, staying at houses in the Dedinje neighbourhood. The reception took place at the Yugoslavian Government building in Novi Beograd – quite an experience for children. My peers from all over Yugoslavia were there, but we were informed that Tito had a cold, so he didn't hug or shake hands. I did see Tito but there was no physical contact – pretty much like today. He was wearing a light blue uniform. A friend of ours passed out from waiting for so long, so we had to go through with the recital without him. Afterwards we went into a big hall to have a bite to eat. It was 25 May, and they served cherries and strawberries. Different times – you knew which fruit was in season before.

Josip Broz Tito
foto: Profimedia

Directing for the first time and vacationing in Hvar

When I started secondary school, we had already moved to a new neighbourhood. The time of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was upon us, with the perennial rivalries and claims as to who was better. We were going to public dances more and more often. When I was a high school senior, my teachers tasked me with producing a play. I gathered together ten or so friends and decided to stage a play based on the book The Alarm Clock, by the satirist Vlada Bulatović Vib. The result was a witty collage play, which garnered a lot of attention. We had a packed house a few times, and even won at several competitions, pushing through to the main competition of Yugoslavian drama amateurs on the island of Hvar. Our school paid for ten days of fun, and that's where I finally decided to go into acting.

Gorica Popović
foto: Privatna Arhiva

The uni days and the entrance exam

Just like my whole family, I spent a lot of time drawing, mostly models, thinking that I would go into costume design. At the urging of the people I trusted, I decided to go to Belgrade and try for the acting school. However, I was accepted into Spanish and English Studies at the Faculty of Philology. Luckily, Professor Predrag Bajčetić picked me for the acting programme that he led. Out of 500 applicants, the 13 of us were accepted! My fellow students were mostly people from small towns, with only two of them from Belgrade. There were Tanja Bošković, Ljiljana Dragutinović, Radmila Živković, Jelica Sretenović, Milan Štrljić, Zlata Numanagić ... The drama school was located next to the Kolarac Bar & Restaurant in Knez Mihailova Street. We were forced to hang out with each other because we didn’t know anyone else. The drama school insisted that we were to spend the whole day in lectures. In the evenings we would go to the theatre or the movies. FEST was only just starting at the time, and featured great actors coming as guests from all over the world.

Music and a university job

According to a rule at the time, students of the drama school weren't allowed to work professionally during the first two years of study as they were considered not mature enough. In year three we started to have hopes of getting engagements. I debuted on the small stage at the National Theatre, which was called Krug (Circle) 101 then. Director Dragoslav Lazić offered me a part in the production of The Position Of Life In Our City – a slightly odd title based on newspaper articles. I played a reporter who went around with a tape recorder documenting human-interest stories. Then I got another production at the National Theatre, followed by an engagement at the Terazije Theatre. Then I received an offer to return to the Belgrade Drama School and work as a voice and diction assistant. It was Professor Branivoje Đorđević that invited me. I was soon transferred to the acting department! At around the same time, Ljuba Ninković and Vojislav Koki Đurić of the rock band From Time To Time (S Vremena Na Vreme) fame heard Tanja Bošković, Ljilja Dragutinović, and myself singing Russian songs. They invited us to sing in their band as the other members were doing the mandatory military service at the time. I had always sung in a choir, and my whole family had a gift for music. My father's favourite song was A Young Partisan Girl (Mlada Partizanka).

Bora Đorđević
foto: Nemanja Pančić

My students

I didn't stay in From Time To Time long. I met Bora Đorđević, who studied Organization at our school. He had a band called The Sunflowers (Suncokreti) and needed female vocals. My maid of honour, Biljana Krstić, who was also a student at the drama school, joined us soon after. We started being more serious about music, entered music charts, and had concerts in big halls… I was a TA and a rock singer at the same time! I would go to classes wearing specific socks and sneakers, which would prompt Professor Minja Dedić, whose TA I was, to tell me: "And what is it that you're wearing today!?" I was on friendly terms with the students, being just a little older than Branislav Lečić, Dara Džokić, Branimir Brstina, Žarko Laušević, Sonja Savić, Svetislav Bule Gocić, Enver Petrovci, Zoran Cvijanović, Suzana Petričević, and Gordana Gadžić. They were my students – modern young people. Minja was a strict lecturer, but he soon became fond of his cohort, and softened up towards them. I saw then that they were going straight to the top, which turned out to be true. Sonja was special. I am sorry that we lost her so soon. She brought tears to my eyes at the entrance exam with her rendition of "Tatyana's Letter to Onegin".

Sonja Savić, Svetislav Bule Goncić
foto: Arhiva Jugoslovenske kinoteke

The Golden Arena at Pula

Sometime later I started to act in films, so music had to take a back seat. My first big film was The Fragrance of Wild Flowers (Miris Poljskog Cveća), directed by Srđan Karanović. Bora was already planning to form the band Riblja Čorba (The Fish Stew).

I was awarded a Golden Arena at Pula for the role of Šilja in Goran Marković's National Class Category Up to 785 ccm. That's how my life in film started. The jury's decision caught me by surprise as well – much bigger acting stars were at the festival promoting their films. I was getting more and more engagements in film and television and, sadly, had fewer and fewer roles in theatre. In 1982, Ljubomir Draškić and Mira Trailović invited me to Atelje 212, so I transferred from the drama school to the theatre whose actors I had always admired! Today I am the oldest member of that troupe.

Ana Vučković, Dragan Nikolić, Nacionalna klasa
foto: Printscreen

Bolji život (A Better Life)

I had roles in more films and won two Empress Theodora's (Carica Teodora) at Niš, as well as other awards. I had many engagements in television – TV series and dramas, e.g. Vuk Karadžić, Sivi Dom (The Grey House), Gore-Dole (Up and Down), and so on and so forth. Sometimes I forget to mention them all.

At the start of my career I declined a role in a TV series because of the music score, so I had to wait a long time to get an engagement there. And then I was invited to join the cast of A Better Life by Slobodan Pavićević. He just asked me: "What are you doing in the next year?" I didn't know what that meant, but I soon figured it out. It was the first TV series in these parts to get such incredible viewing figures.

Gorica Popović
foto: Privatna Arhiva

The success of this project hinged on the fact that we were like a family. The character I played, Dara the secretary, brought me a good deal of popularity. Even now people sometimes call me 'Dara'. On the set of the TV series The Wrong Man (Pogrešan Čovek), the crew would call me Dara even though I played alongside Dara Džokić. When the shooting of A Better Life started, we didn't really believe that it was going to be such a good and successful series.

Brod Plovi Za Beograd (The Ship Sails to Belgrade)

I have most certainly had roles in over 40 productions at Atelje 212, but some audiences prefer comedies and plays in which the actors sing. At the suggestion of Nebojša Bradić, we took that preference and developed The Ship Sails to Belgrade in 1997. Many people have been in that show. We even had a guest appearance by Cune Gojković, but I especially remember two performances. Rade Šerbedžija was very fond of this show. One year, he left his daughter's wedding to get to The Ship. He wasn't alone – he brought Kemal Monteno and Haris Džinović along. They came out onto the stage and started to sing Emina, a stanza each. I thought the applause would bring down the theatre building!

Gorica Popović
foto: Privatna Arhiva

This year was the first time we didn't perform The Ship Sails to Belgrade. We didn’t want to do it online. The last time we performed it was just before corona hit, for the Novak Đoković Foundation. We always take someone from the audience onto the stage to sing. The question that I had was, will Nole sing? Of course he did. Jelena and him wanted to sing "The Princess". I said no, it was too difficult, they should sing "You Are My Chocolate". It was a beautiful and joyful experience.

Gorica Popovic
foto: Ana Paunković

The career

I don't like to mystify my work. It's a great privilege being in acting. Every weekend the RTS broadcasts my new TV series, Muddy Tires. This romantic comedy with an unusual title was written by Mia Ćertić and directed by her husband Miodrag Ćertić, who had left for the US a long time ago. Everyone is asking me, "Why 'Muddy Tires' ?" Because whoever hasn't gone off the straight and narrow and gotten their tires or shoes all muddy hasn't really lived.

Gorica Popović
foto: Printscreen/Instagram

Three decades of marriage

I'm married to jazz saxophone player Nenad Neša Petrović. He doesn't like it if I mention him in the media. Next year we'll be celebrating 30 years of marriage. Neša has been in No Smoking Orchestra since 1999. I have travelled around the world with him. Currently he has a cohort of students at the Stanković Music School. He is a great guy. He likes animals and that's why he is a vegan. I'm not a big fan of meat, but he hasn't yet won me over to his side.

There are moments when I regret not being a mother. Still, my heart isn't heavy over that. Our child would have been gifted, but your life goes on without that too.

Gorica Popović
foto: Privatna Arhiva

Looking ahead

I have also been the recipient of the Žanka Stokić and Pavle Vuisić awards. A documentary has been made about me, and a monograph is ready, but the coronavirus has stopped the promotions. When they got everything that I've done on paper, it turned out I didn't remember some of it. I cannot complain about not having worked or not having been busy.

I try not to think about death and old age. I have these two sentences that are my life motto. The first one goes: "You can't hold two watermelons in one hand," and the other goes: "The sun is always shining above the clouds." When crises hit me, I always say to myself: "Gorica, just keep looking ahead and know that there will be light there!"

On her brother: 'I miss him very much, he was a better cook than me'

"I miss my brother Goran very much, and often recall what he used to say. He was always a better culinarian than me. He knew how to roll and stretch filo dough into thin sheets – something I've never learnt. Together we made the TV series Peline Đakonije (Pela's Delicacies). Goran would always prepare the dishes at home so that we wouldn't have to wait for them to bake properly at the studio. The whole crew would finish them off with gusto, and we dedicated the series to our grandma Zagorka."

Emir Kusturica
foto: AP

On Kusturica: 'A great artist and builder'

"I like to think of Emir Kusturica as a builder. It's simply fascinating what he has made. He cannot sit still. When we were doing the opera Time of the Gypsies, I saw how much he knows about the theatre. I was surprised because he is a film director. He has that amazing power of creating a rounded product. He can be strict as a director, but that's what great artists are like."

Kurir, Ljubomir Radanov

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