Earlier this year I watched The Whistleblower, a dramatic film—inspired by true events—that is based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the U.N. for covering up a sex scandal.
The movie starred household names like Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci and Vanessa Redgrave. Alongside them though was a new, up-and-coming Romanian actress named Roxana Condurache for whom this was her first major movie role.
The film was incredibly eye opening and moving. Roxana plays the role of Raya, a young trafficked girl who ends up in a brothel, forced to work off her “debt” sexually before being allowed to return home. It’s a truly heartbreaking story.
Having connected with Roxana via Twitter, I thought it would be interesting to interview her. I was interested in finding more about Roxana’s journey to becoming a Hollywood actress, as well as exploring more about sex trafficking - an issue that I feel very strongly about.
For those readers who don’t yet know anything about you, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what it was like growing up in Romania?
I was born in Iasi, a city in Romania. I lived there for 19 years. I worked as a model for about 3 years, for a model agency in Lasi, since the age of 16, when I moved to Bucuresti, the capital of Romania, to study acting.
Romania is a beautiful country, with great spiritual people. My mother raised me in a strict way, teaching me what to value in life and how to make the best of it. Most of the people in Romania live modest lives and manage to sustain their family with little money. That’s a big quality, I think.
Is there any history of acting in your family, or are you the first to take that path? And how does your family feel about your acting career?
Well, I’m proud to say I’m the first member of the family who dreamed of following an artist career and succeeded in that. My mother told me that when she was young, she wanted to become a singer, but she didn’t pursue her dream. So now that she understands what I’m going through, she is very supportive. I’m so lucky that my whole family believes in me and stands by me no matter what.
My family are all very excited to hear about my career and encourage me to be strong and ambitious. My mother is watching every show I appear in and always gives me good career advice.
Other than pursuing your acting career, what other interests do you have?
I love music and I would like to become a singer one day. I’m already taking some singing classes. Since I enjoy art in every form, I started to design jewellery and I find it really fulfilling. I love to write and spend a lot of time reading. I write articles for an online magazine for women. And last, but not the least, I enjoy dancing. I took some dance classes and want to improve my skills in the near future.
“It seems like acting found me and not the other way around.”
When did you first realise that you were talented at acting and how did that discovery happen? Was it something that you were passionate about and then realised you were good at or the other way around?
I discovered acting in high-school, during the English class, when our teacher gave us a quite unusual homework: to make a short sketch, using one of the texts we were studying in class. I played two characters and it was the first time I realised how happy it made me to act.
After this, our Romanian teacher gave me a role in a play she was doing in school. Again, I was really appreciated for my work, some of my colleagues saying that I should star in a Hollywood movie.
So, it seems like acting found me and not the other way around.
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had (or indeed continue to have) to overcome in trying to ensure you maximise your potential and fulfil your dreams?
As an artist, life is always with ups and downs. One day, you’re the star, the next day you need to start everything from scratch. This can be a bit disappointing. Luckily for me, I have one of the most important qualities one needs in order to succeed in this business: ambition. So, whenever things go wrong, I look for the power in me and try again and again. I think the key is to never stop trying and believe in yourself - because If you don’t, who else would?
Who have been the key people supporting, encouraging, and challenging you in terms of helping you both identify and develop your talent and pursue your dreams?
First of all I want to mention my family. They are always there for me and help me in everything. Then of course, are my acting teachers, who guided me during all these years and the directors that cast me in their projects. I have to thank all these people for believing in me and teaching me what they know.
Who have been the people from fields other than acting who have inspired you to push yourself to the limit and make the most of your life?
I was inspired by a lot of wonderful people such as: Meryl Streep, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Edith Piaf.
Who are the people and what are the things that keep you grounded and help you maintain a healthy perspective, balance, and focus in life?
My mother, my boyfriend and arts are the pylons in my life. And maybe God, too.
Playing a starring role in The Whistleblower alongside such a strong cast was clearly a big break for you. How did that come about?
I was in the second year in acting school, when I was first invited to attend a casting for a role in the Whistleblower. I didn’t think I would get the part, since it was my first casting for a movie. The script impressed me so much and I felt so close to Raya’s story, that even from the first reading, I started crying. I believe that is why at the following auditions, I managed to do a good job, impress the director and the producers and also, convince them that I would play an authentic Raya.
I felt honoured that The Canadian Academy nominated me for a Genie for the role of Raya. It means that people got our message, and moreover, they emphasised with the story.
How did it feel to know that you would be acting alongside household names like Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave?
I felt that I received a great responsibility and that I had to do my best, in order for them to believe in me and consider me a pro. I was nervous at first, but after we started working, I became more and more confident that we will do a great job together. I was very excited to go to work every day and spend time with such great artists. I learned a lot from the whole experience and I’m so happy that I was given this opportunity.
When you heard about the film and its subject matter, what did you think?
When I read the script, I felt that I really wanted the role and that it would change my life if I got it. And now, after two years, I can see that it did.
“I wanted to do something to stop trafficking or help these girls in a way, but on the other hand, felt so useless.”
Was sex trafficking something that you were very aware of prior to making the movie? And How did if feel playing the role of Raya, a sex trafficked girl, knowing that it’s such a real existence for so many young women today?
I had seen some documentaries on this matter, prior to making the movie, so I knew some things about what was going on. I had heard stories on the news, but I found a lot more while preparing for the role of Raya. I had a long period of time in which I was only thinking about this matter and I got a bit depressed. I felt that I wanted to do something to stop trafficking or help these girls in a way, but on the other hand, felt so useless.
I hope that the movie will raise the awareness on this matter and that people will be more careful with their life choices. I felt depressed while preparing for the movie, during the shootings and a long period after that. I hope that in the near future, I will be able to do something for these girls.
What are your hopes for the future?
Since I already was nominated for a Genie Award (The Canadian Oscars), I hope that one day I will be nominated for an Oscar. Actually, I hope to have the chance to work in great projects and do wonderful movies.
Can you tell us any more about your next film project?
I’m working on a fantasy-romance, called: “The night of the Spirits”, where I play two characters - very different from each other. The director is Olimpia Stavarache. I can’t say more, but I assure you it will be a great movie.
Having interviewed Roxana I am struck by her very clear, unashamed ambition. She’s an fiercely determined young woman. It may seem obvious, but if any of us want to leave a significant mark on this world, it starts with having an ambition. We need a goal that drives and motivates us to put in the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to make those ambitions materialise.
We live in a culture where, thanks to shows like the X Factor and American Idol, people think there are easy pathways to real success. This simply isn’t the case. As I constantly emphasise, real success follows this powerful trilogy: talent, hard work, and character.
Sure, we’ll need a bit of luck along the way, and we’ll need others to help and to support and even to open some doors. But even with those things, we’ll still need to put in the hard work maximising our talents and living a life of integrity to ensure character issues don’t end up undermining or even destroy our success.
I wish Roxana all the best for the future, and feel quietly confident that her dreams will open up for her as she has these key ingredients in place. We just need to make sure we have these ingredients in the mix for our own pursuit of success.