Roxana Condurache: A life of humble ambition

Roxana Condurache is a Romanian actress. She garnered a Genie Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 32nd Genie Awards, for her performance in the Canadian film The Whistleblower

Born in the quiet, romantic Romanian town of Iași in the late eighties, Roxana Condurache grew up in a rigid home environment. With her father spending many months of the year abroad on business, she and her elder brother were raised by her mother in a strict, meticulous manner. Reflecting on those years, Roxana says, “My mother didn’t let me go to a party until I was eighteen—even sleepovers were out of the question.” Though many might hold grudges against such an authoritarian mother, you don’t sense that with Roxana at all. Clearly appreciative of her upbringing, Roxana talks fondly of her mother teaching her what to value in life, and how to make the most of it.

That fondness extends to the town of Iași and the traditions of her Romanian culture she was raised within. “Romanians are a warm and beautiful people,” she tells me. “They keep old traditions and have a close relationship with nature.” The traditions she refers to are mostly religious: Easter and Christmas in particular are still celebrated by almost all Romanians. “Even the younger generation still keep these traditions,” she says.

Away from the cities, other traditions are held onto too. In smaller Romanian villages you continue to find people doing shepherding, wavering, carpentry, and painting icons on glass. “And it’s not just this,” Roxana explains, “throughout villages near Sibiu, in the Apuseni Mountains or Maramures and Bucovina, people still have extraordinary regional costumes that they wear on special occasions.” This varies from region to region, with each locality having unique music and dance styles.

Roxana clearly treasures her family and her country and its traditions. Despite her international success—and accompanying travels—with the movie The Whistleblower, she is proud of her heritage. “All these traditions keep people and nature, new and old, close together,” she says, affectionately.

It was soon after the release of The Whistleblowerthat I first spoke to Roxana. While co-starring alongside the likes of Rachel Weisz, Monica Bellucci, and Vanessa Redgrave didn’t make her a global household name, it certainly raised her profile, opening new doors of opportunity. Talking to her again, just over a year later, it was a timely opportunity to see how her life has moved forward since that breakthrough.

Significantly, Roxana has embarked on a Masters degree in script writing and directing, opening an avenue she’s keen to explore on top of her ongoing commitments to acting. This is already generating new opportunities, including the chance to work as an assistant director for the National Television network in Romania. Directing opportunities have also opened up with theatre too.

Further to this, Roxana has written a script for her first medium length film, and is already forming a team of creatives who are coming onboard to shoot the film at some point in the future. She may even star in it herself. The movie is called Otilia Leaves the Towel Fall and focuses on an intriguing love triangle. The wife of a young married couple feels trapped within that relationship and ends up falling in love with her closest girlfriend. It’s story about relationships and the ways people try to find their way to happiness and fulfilment.

When I ask Roxana what motivates her when it comes to telling stories, she says: “I love drama. I’m inspired by the stories that emerge from my own life and from the people around me — their struggles, thoughts, and the things that excite or scare them. I enjoy telling stories of the different relationships that exist between people and I like to explore those relationships — and their connection to life — in a philosophical way.”

The more I talk to her, the more I’m struck by how deeply Roxana thinks about life. She doesn’t just look at life and people; she sees and notices the connections and ponders the deeper significance. There’s a real thoughtfulness and integrity to everything she does. A humility too. When I asked her about where the idea for the movie came from, she was not ashamed to credit the influence of other books and movies — as well as Ioan Carmazan, a Romanian director — in helping give shape to the story.

On top of her own scriptwriting, Roxana has also been working on a science fiction thriller called Night of the Spirits, directed by Olimpia Stavarache. Rehearsals and shooting days are well under way, but there’s still a long way to go—though the hope is that it’ll be ready to premier in 2014. “I play two characters in this movie,” she tells me. “One is Elisabeta, a young girl from the countryside and Maria, an extremely talented artist who has supernatural powers.”

When I try to press Roxana for information about the movie she is reluctant to say much about it, wanting to protect the plot line ahead of its release. For now, she’s only prepared to say that the movie movie follows the story of Maria, a young woman who travels back in time to meet her father. “There’s a focus on the evolution of science and it’s repercussions,” she says. “It’s a movie about love, philosophy and returning to innocence.”

Doors continue to open for Roxana with filmmaking. She was chosen this year to participate in a six-day creative summit for up-and-coming filmmakers at the Berlinale Talent Campus, part of the Berlin Film Festival. “It was a great experience,” she tells me. “I learnt lots of new things and met so many great people. We had a two day workshop with Jean-Louis Rodrigue, the movement consultant for Life of Pi and the movement specialist for Leonardo DiCaprio, for the movie J. Edgar. We also were invited to an open meeting with Kar Wai Wong (director of The Grandmaster) and Mattew Libatiquere (cinematographer of Black Swan and Iron Man 2).”

You can’t help but sense Roxana’s excitement at these opportunities— and even a hint of disbelief that all of these experiences are actually happening for her. There is a recurring thread that seems to run through everything she does though, and that is relationships. When I asked her what it was she looked for in a project before deciding to get involved, she told me, “When I decide take a new project, I always have in mind the people that I would have to spend my time with. If I like them and if I feel I can trust them will do a good work, then I accept it.”

One of the main reasons she got involved with The Night of the Spirits was the “wonderful relationship” with Stavarache, the director. She felt empowered by her and they had a deep connection. Beyond that, Roxana appreciated the invitation from Stavarache to bring her own ideas for the project. “She listened when I had something to say about how I see my character—or anything about the entire movie,” she told me. Roxana also attributes her own journey into directing to Stavarache.

There is a real sense of quiet determination to everything that Roxana does. She doesn’t give up, and even describes herself as a warrior, telling me, “You need a lot of ambition, nerves and courage. When I come across barriers, I try to find ways to pass them. The most important thing is never give up.”

Though Roxana is in the early stages of her career and her ambitions are far from fulfilled, she’s already thinking about how she can inspire others to pursue their dreams. I asked her what advice she’d give to others who are looking to maximise their own potential and her passion comes bursting through. “People must always dream big,” she tells me. “No matter what people tell you, you have to dream big. You need to learn from those who have already succeeded and ignore those who have failed.”

Not that we shouldn’t expect failure along the way ourselves. “Trust yourself, even when you inevitibly make mistakes,” she says. “Make sure you learn from your mistakes though—and be careful about the people you keep around you.” The relational theme continues as she urges people to, “Cherish your friends, family and the people who believe in you.” She then concludes: “And always, no matter what, smile because you are so lucky to be here.”