Actors Pia Zemljič and Marko Mandić

In the Play: Love's End. Photo: Nikola Predović

Pia and Marko. She has a warm personality and is a little restrained, but is very determined when on stage. He is energetic and effervescent. To count the many awards they have received so far would be too time-consuming and tiresome. All one needs do is watch them perform. While they are both professionally successful as individuals in Slovenia and abroad, their paths are intertwined on the intimate level as well. Their family and relationship are a priority, and represent a solid foundation giving them energy to express themselves artistically. 

Pia, as of 1 November this year, you have been a permanent member of the Slovenian National Theatre SNG Drama ensemble. Your first appearance on that stage (the play is in a study phase) will be in the epic War and Peace. A new beginning, new faces, and new performance interactions. How do you experience becoming a part of the ensemble? You and Marko will not only co-perform in a play but also work together in the same theatre.

Pia: I am really looking forward to it. I am excited. Of course, I have known actors who will now be my colleagues for many years, from the SNG Drama Ljubljana theatre and the Ljubljana City Theatre (MGL), and with some of them I am good friends. The play War and Peace will be a co-production of the two mentioned theatres and the Cankarjev dom cultural and congress centre. While it is true that, so far, I have not had the opportunity to work with these actors as a co-performer, I worked with some of them at film. For me, this will surely be a breath of fresh air. I am also keen to discover how I can orientate myself among all these geniuses (laughter). There is nothing better than a good duel between actors and a collective performance to which they are entirely committed. 

The War and Peace will certainly be interesting. What exactly do the study preparations for the play look like?

Marko: For now, the actors have to read the entire War and Peace novel and thoroughly prepare for the meeting with the Romanian producer, Silviu Purcǎrete, in order to bring to the masterpiece the most optimal theatrical form. The first rehearsal will take place on 21 November and the première is scheduled for 21 January next year at the Cankarjev dom cultural and congress centre. Like Pia, I am looking forward to be a part of this challenge, to work with new colleagues and with the director who, judging from his plays, has an astonishing imagination, and to attend rehearsals on the stage of the Gallusova dvorana hall, which I find intriguing in terms of its size and unusual laws of physics.

Marko, unlike Pia, you have never performed in comedy plays, right?

Marko: Actually, no. Except once. At the beginning of my acting career, in 1998, I had a part in the comedy entitled The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). At that time, I and my academy mate Maša Derganc were new at SNG Drama. We played in the comedy, which was directed by Boris Cavazza, with two other experienced actors, legends of the Slovenian comedy – Gregor Baković and Bojan Emeršič. You observe, work and learn. This was a great experience for me. I do not recall having a part in any other comedy besides that one. Although it might be possible I turned them into tragedies. Comedy is obviously not my genre. 

Pia: Actually, comedy is a genre that is just right for him. For the time being, just behind four walls, but when he starts, it is difficult to stop him (laughter). 

Pia, you have more experience performing in comedies, right? And not only behind four walls (laughter)?

Yes. However, I think it is awfully hard to achieve good quality in comedy. I performed in many comedies and was not always satisfied. Even as a member of the audience I have high standards towards performances labelled as comedies. To create an intelligent and subversive comedy which has an appropriate turn of events and hurtful truth behind the laughter etc. and is genuinely funny without having to pretend and lie about its quality, it is necessary to work hard and with mathematical precision. Besides, it is essential to consider other factors such as focus, to what extent are actors in harmony with the system of the play, as well as the pace and rhythm of the entire performance. What is crucial in comedies is to remain serous during the entire performance (laugh). This is how I approach roles in comedies. A good comedy can be a top quality performance.

Does it happen that you find a play boring before you even start it?

Marko: There are moments when I want to throw in a towel. Sometimes I get a thought about changing my profession. But these moments are rare. You get bored only if the work processes are boring. But so far I have been lucky to almost always be engaged in intriguing projects, where I was able to find different strategies to address the recurring traditional themes found in the majority of works, such as revolutionary changes, freedom, vindictiveness, state, love, jealousy, elitism, dissidence, marginalisation, happiness, misfortune, injustice etc., either on my own or through encouragement by co-creators. These topics are a constituent part of our daily discussions, but when we try to determine the very essence, we discover it is not an easy task. What is even more challenging is to show and trigger something new. And poignant. 

You both work together in the play called Closing love (Slovenian: Zapiranje ljubezni). This was the first play in which you played as the only actors and you also happened to be romantically involved in real life. The play itself was very personal. Was it hard to perform in it?

Pia: I would like him to answer first since I get exhausted only by thinking about Closing love (laughter).

Marko: This play is truly specific. It is composed of two soliloquies. In the first hour of the play, the one who speaks is the one who is leaving – the man. Marko. Then, he is stripped of any possibility to have a reply as only the woman speaks after that. Pia. I would like to emphasise our names since the author of the play, Pascal Rambert, demanded that actors address each other with their real names during the performance. It is what makes this play special. The use of real names makes everything real. The fact that we are also a couple privately brought an additional dimension to the setting of the play directed by Ivica Buljan and performed at the Mini teater Ljubljana. The circulation of thoughts and emotions between us develops on a parallel, strictly private level. Everything that comes out of our mouths resonates on this level. The intensity therefore depends on our current private life. The audience mostly knows we are a couple and that is why mixing the documentary elements and fiction is even more explicit. 

Pia: These are two amazingly written roles that demand our complete dedication.

Can you name the roles that have defined you the most?

Marko: It is difficult to specify such roles. The first roles you take part in are definitely those that lay foundations for future performances, and, yes, they define you. We can be happy if different roles are assigned to us and if we work with different directors who have different poetics in directing a play. In a solo performance by the Via Negativa theatrical group led by director Bojan Jablanovec, which was entitled MandićStroj, I had the opportunity to revise the roles I had in 2010 to determine my mannerism, recurring patterns and elements of spoken language, movement and sound, and somehow categorise them into groups. MandićStroj is an hour-and-a-half collage of thirty-eight performances, which includes the most extreme and characteristics segments. It is like archives that have been revived, with co-performers being taken from the audience. The most recent performance I had the honour to participate in last December at the La Mama theatre in New York is Pylade by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Under director Ivica Buljan, we presented a passage from mythical times full of blood revenges into a period dominated by modern democracy in a strong, physically intensive way, as a mixture of different theatrical genres and by incorporating performing arts. In other words, a total theatre.

Pia: I prefer film as a genre because it is more intimate. Your acting can be brought to perfection. However, it is true that you receive more response when performing in theatre. The flow of energy between the performers and the audience is vital. When we shine and when we fail – everything can be felt and every performance is unique. I love both. I also cannot decide about the role that determined me. All roles are special in their own way. Some of the roles  get more attention and are awarded, while others pass by unnoticed even though they provoke a tectonic move in you. These roles make you go deeper and the new discoveries you make cannot be forgotten. 

Marko: Films are a compelling challenge. However, it is true that film editing is decisive in determining how actors present themselves. If the actor's "mistakes" are not edited out, they remain visible. The process of montage in a theatre happens on the go. Everything depends on a given moment, on performance. 

You have worked with domestic and foreign producers. Do you often compete for roles abroad? What is it like to work with domestic and with foreign producers?

Marko: Entering a new circle and trying to acquire recognition from those who do not know you and establishing yourself in an environment where the only criterion is your work is always positive. A foreign environment forces you to put more intensity in your expression and work. I am happy that Ivica Buljan invited me to work in France, Croatia and the USA. Every time I returned home I worked with more enthusiasm. It is also essential and positive that foreign ensembles come to Slovenia as exchanging and introducing new energies is enriching. I always keep my fingers crossed to be invited to perform in a play directed by a foreign director. Speaking different languages in such projects makes me feel like I am at the centre of the world, in a metropolis.

Do you have an agent abroad?

Marko: In 2007, the Slovenski filmski center agency proposed me for the Shooting Star, for which I am very grateful since I was able to attend the Berlinale film festival, where I met casting directors and agents. From then on, I have been represented by the Das Imperium agency from Berlin and a few times I had the opportunity to shoot in Germany. The first such appearance was in a television series called In the Face of the Crime (German: Im Angesicht des Verbrechens) by Dominik Graf, and in 2012 I played in Lose Your Head by Stefan Westerwelle and in Gold, an art western by Thomas Arslan. The latter was an incredible experience since the entire film was shot amidst the pristine nature of Canada.

You have both recently performed in a film called Nightlife (Slovenian: Nočno življenje). Pia, you had the leading role in it, have you not?

Pia: The Slovenian première of Nightlife by Damjan Kozole, which has been screened at international film festivals for some time now, will take place at the Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFe). It was a great experience to work on this very special authorial film as the performance was extremely minimalistic, which, for me, was a challenge in its own.

Marko: This is a film about a society driven by fear.

The numerous awards and acknowledgements you both received so far are hard to be ignored. We could say "there have been many and there are a lot more to come". Is there an award you are particularly happy about?

Pia: As an actor, you are happy about all of them. You get a pat on your shoulder, sometimes even a little hug, but in reality you do not work to get prizes. Art is not a competition for me. Awards are unpredictable; they depend on luck and coincidence. I felt honoured with each acknowledgement I received, but nothing lasts forever. I do not rest on my laurels. 

Marko: You are always pleased to be awarded. A paradox is that you only discover how much an award means to you when you do not receive it. If the pain becomes unbearable, it means you need to receive an award at some point. I like to joke around, especially as comedy is not my genre that my biggest goal is to be awarded the title of Žlahtni komedijant (awarded to actors in Slovenian comedy). 

Which Pia already has since she was given the female equivalent of this title, which is "Žlahtna komedijantka".

Marko: That is true. She has already reached the finish line (laughter). But truth be told, I am most moved if someone comes up to me after a show and gives me a handshake saying thank you. 

Pia: So am I.

You two are very likeable persons. You appear to be somewhat playful and I have a feeling that you have a nice family. You have two sons, France and Voranc. According to current statistics, both these names are considered slightly archaic, more suitable for older adults. Where did you get the idea to choose these names? Was it because you work in culture?

Pia: Have you told her?

This sounds as an interesting introduction. What is the story behind it?

Marko: Pia comes from Slovenj Gradec and I am from Velenje. In both towns, the spoken language is influenced by the Koroška dialect. And Voranc is a name typical of the Koroška region. We decided to name our other son France because we thought it somehow goes nicely with Voranc (laughter). It was only after deciding on these two names that we discovered a handy explanation why we actually selected them (laughter). We realised that Pia used to live at the Vorančev trg square, and Prežihov Voranc was a Slovenian writer and politician, while my family lived at the Prešernova cesta street since I was one year old, and France Prešeren is the most prominent Slovenian poet with his poem Zdravljica used in the Slovenian national anthem. 

Pia: We took quite a long time to choose names for our children, right? During his stay at the maternity ward, Voranc did not have a name for four days. In terms of numerology, their names both yield the same number; that is to avoid any complaints in the future (laughter).

What about the merry December? How will you spend the advent time?

Pia: As every year, we will ignore the forced ravishment and avoid the feverish last minute buying of gifts. Then, we will notice that we have forgotten to buy half of presents and we try to somehow find a last minute solution to the problem. Marko will make collages (laughter). We will spend our time in the mountains with families who like camping, just like we do, so the children will be able to play and relax. Last year we were at the Trilobit mountain hut above the town of Jesenice. Of course, we will also spend some time with the Mandić and Zemljič families, have merry dinners with too much food on the table and debates with our loved ones, as we usually do.

Marko: I would really like to write a season's greeting card or two. But there is never enough time. Sometimes our cards do not get sent until March. Our living room typically gets adorned with some rather old decorations from my childhood. They hang from the ceiling and we usually forget to take them down after the holidays. We do that sometime in June. Or July. Something like that. Last year, the boys made a Christmas tree out of Legos. It was a miniature one. And it had a secret place for candy stash. 

Pia: Sometimes we bake. 

Marko: Unfortunately, most performances take place right before New Year, but I and Pia try very hard for our kids to live the Christmas spirit. To walk through a snowy night, full of Christmas lights. I am a fan of Ded Moroz, the guy with a grey fur cap, white beard and a whitish cape. The western version named Santa Clause does not convince me. Sometimes St. Nicholas visits us and brings oranges and dried fruit. Just like in the old times. I remember how my sister and I prepared red plates for St. Nicholas to put gifts on. After waking up in the morning, I would find fruits and a tube of glue. And I was happy. I forgot why. Probably I liked the scent of the glue.

Text: Tanja Glogovčan