Tuesday, June 24, 2014
By Abbey Khan
For her role as an Albanian gypsy in the Paul Haggis directed film Third Person, Moran Atias went to great lengths to capture the essence of her character, and you’ll never believe what she did! The actress talked to us about helping develop the script, her definition of the third person, and about her own heartbreaks.
FUSHION: Moran, you were involved in developing the script for Third Person with Paul Haggis, what was it like to both help develop the story and act in the film?
MORAN: Well, it’s my first experience in developing a script and so that was a whole incredible, creative journey for me as a writer and filmmaker. And Paul had been the best teacher I could possibly have for this experience because he’s genuinely curious and interested in people’s opinion. So it really allowed me to feel free to express my thoughts even though I wasn’t certain about them, but sometimes from that uncertainty and doubt comes truly the most layered and interesting story. We were working on The Next Three Days where I had a small part as an actor on the film.
FUSHION: Right. I did see that film and I enjoyed it.
MORAN: Thank you. And I came to the set between my shooting schedule just to try to observe, and learn how filmmaking is done behind the camera. And I just saw how creative he was in every step of the process. And I wanted to be part of that. So I went back to my hotel room and tried to look for a good story. I Googled ‘best stories never been told,’ just to try to find something that was original that would inspire me and be good enough to pitch to him. But I didn’t find anything that was available concept-wise or something that I would be passionate about for the next 4 or 5 years because that’s how long it takes to develop something. And the one thing that came back to my mind was relationships. The interest and dynamic between men and women and how we and myself obviously, can repeat the same mistakes over and over again even though the last relationship ended because of you, but you know you want it to improve. Yet you find yourself in a new relationship doing the same thing. So what is that, that is stronger than the want? Is there a habitual pattern that I can’t detach myself from? That’s kind of like how the third person element came to mind. The path, your childhood, your ego, your fears and why are we so afraid to surrender to love? What is it that is so terrifying in it? So that, along a million other thoughts about relationships. I mean we can write an encyclopedia about it. And truly never figure it out. But this kind of world of relationships was something I came back to Paul and pitched, not in a very attractive way because I was sweating, I was speaking at the speed of light, but I think he found things curious to him on a personal level as well because it’s true to every age. And I thought maybe he had more relationships, he would know how this thing works. And he felt as ignorant about this subject as I am. And I think that’s what started this interest in developing some outlet of, some form of storytelling. And then it took 2, 2 and a half years to develop and that was that kind of process.
FUSHION: Now, did you develop the character, Monika, which you played, for yourself or did you and Paul have other actresses in mind?
MORAN: No. To be honest, none of these roles were supposed to be designated for me. I secretly wanted that, honestly, because my first and only role was as an actress ’til then. Some of the stories I tried to pitch were Holocaust movies because I’m Jewish and I can create a role for myself. So when we started developing the script, I knew we would need movie stars, and I wasn’t in that position. And slowly wonderful actresses were interested and being cast. So when the film became more of a reality, I started to secretly prepare for Monika. And Paul would see me with different types of clothing, but it wasn’t too obvious and I would close myself in libraries in New York and L.A. just to detach myself from the actual story and find her– find Monika, who’s an Albanian gypsy that lives in Italy and is trying to survive given the circumstances she’s in. So that’s all I had. And for that I wanted to read every article, documentary, piece of music that could explain to me this culture that is so mysterious and not very documented. I mean it’s a nation without a nation, people with no passports, it’s a very interesting, mysterious culture. And then I knew that wasn’t enough I mean that was a few months that I was doing this intellectual kind of research. I had to go to Italy and experience that lifestyle. I needed to be on the streets, I had to interact with real people, real gypsies and not characters I’ve seen in books so far.
FUSHION: How long did you do that for?
MORAN:: I was there for about 5 months. In the beginning they didn’t know, which is I knew it would be something I would have approval for and people would be half concerned, but Monika would have never told that either. And I just wanted to experience the level of disgust that these women can experience. You know, as a woman you go to Italy and you are adored and you are being treated as an object of attraction. And I wanted to get to that level of rejection, and that needed some time and to grow that sweat, which is not the sweat of a workout, but a sweat of a woman being on the street. Not washing her body or face or hair. There’s different grease in your hair after 3 days– this lasted for a month and a half. Nothing was growing in my head, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t have like little animals grow there. I was trying to keep hydrated to replace it. I didn’t go that far, but I did want the stench on the skin which is something that I personally was repulsed by because when I first went to Italy and gypsies were passing through and some of them had that stench, I just moved to the side and I was like ‘ooo’ don’t touch me. And you have that same reaction when you see a homeless person.
FUSHION: Unfortunately, that is how most people react.
MORAN: Again it is very different and it has this layer, you see that the city is sitting on his skin. The pollution, the cars. So that’s just time and certain activities like begging for money or washing people’s windshields really took me to the level I wanted to experience as far as humiliation. Because they would just honk and yell and spit, just by me getting closer to their dirty car. And it was impossible to make money that way. Impossible. Really, you’d make less than nearly a Euro a day.
MORAN: Every day. And you stop smiling for the money because you can’t. It’s really hard. And you don’t know even how to approach and ask. Cigarettes were easy. People would give you cigarettes because they think probably whatever, you might as well die from cancer. It’s like this unworthiness I started feeling. And I think that deep down this character feels unworthy. Because everybody treats her like dirt, does she become dirt? Do you become what people, the society think of you? That’s one of the themes of this storyline. And then she meets this man who treats her differently. Will you become the best part of yourself because somebody actually believes in you, makes you feel that you’re worthy of being loved. Which is such a profound feeling that I personally also experience in my life. And I thought this is such an important story to tell because everyone that I know has lived that unworthiness feeling throughout this life. And it always takes this one person that believes in you to get your confidence back and be unapologetic for who you are. You grow and realize that maybe you should be kind with yourself even if you have committed acts of unkindness. This self-forgiveness that is making this story so, and is needed in all these stories and all these dynamics, and I just know so many people who experience that. It’s really touching and very important for us to share with others.
FUSHION: I think one of the unique things about you is that because you have an ambiguous look, you’ve been able to play completely different ethnicities– from an Orthodox Jewish stripper to an Albanian gypsy in this film, and now a Muslim woman in your new show Tyrant. Still, have there been any roles that you auditioned for or wanted but the casting directors or producers said you didn’t have the look they wanted?
MORAN: Of course. So many. Of course and I feel extremely blessed. As you said there are 3 different religions, and by the way, 3 different countries. For me I’m still this girl that wants to go to school every day and learn something. So for me I’m in this new world with a new set of rules and every day I’m learning something. So I feel very blessed on that end. The other part, also the business part, you’re not a name, you’re not as white, you’re not as light, you’re not as plain, you’re not as this and blah, blah, blah, and everybody hears that. But I always try. I mean I do have moments where I go back to my room and tuck myself under a blanket and sob for a few hours, put like depressing love songs and cry with my music. And even in this experience I was told I’m not a writer, I’m not a producer and it’s true I’ve never done this before. But there’s a moment of that little grief and that little child of you that is hurt by these words, and then there’s another part of understanding that they just don’t know that part of you. And I have to put in the extra work. I have to work harder to convince people that I’m capable to play that role, that I’m capable of transforming myself into a new character with a different accent. And that is the character I fight to have. I mean even though I’m a known actress in my country, it was a battle. All they saw was a glamorous girl that was succeeding in Italy, in Hollywood, and they didn’t think I could play this beat up destroyed soul. So it took 4 auditions before they were all convinced, but I don’t like to walk away from that challenge. I enjoy growing into it and with it. It only makes me grow as an artist.
FUSHION: Well you had me convinced because I was trying to guess, what’s her deal? Is she a con artist or not? So you did a great job.
MORAN: Thank you.
FUSHION: Okay, then let me ask you. Now, I think everyone who sees this film will have their own definition of the title Third Person, but I want to know what that title means to you?
MORAN: Third Person to me represents this third element in a relationship. We are never just pure in the intimacy that we have with our partner, there is always an influence and projection from our past, the child in us, the ego, the artist, the lover, the mother, and that’s what third person is to me. There’s always a third person in the relationship. And of course Paul’s take on it as well is the fact that a writer is writing in third person. And Liam’s character is so distant from his own feelings that he writes in third person form in his own diary. So it’s these two, and that by the way never changed. We had, I don’t know how many drafts on the script and things always transformed into a better shape, but the title always stayed the same.
FUSHION: Oh it did. So that was the title from the beginning?
FUSHION: That’s good to know. Thank you.
Third Person is directed by Oscar winner Paul Haggis and stars Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Adrien Brody, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Maria Bello, Moran Atias and Loan Chabanol..
The film is currently playing in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York.
You can also watch Moran Atias in the new FX drama Tyrant, which premieres tonight.
You can also read our interview with model turned actress Loan Chabanol, who also stars in this film HERE.