In conversation: Dasha Nekrasova, Le Servan, Paris 75011
|Oct 22, 2019|
OK, so I think we’re starting, that’s good. Well, hello, Dasha, thank you very much for joining me here today. If it’s OK with you, I’ll just have one sentence about the place and time we’re in.
So, we’re sitting in Paris, the 11th arrondissement, in a place called Le Servan. People left, they’re after lunch, right? It’s like, afternoon, chill, it’s cold but not too cold.
It’s not raining.
It’s not raining. Dasha is having a brioche with salmon. And I want to say I feel very lucky, seriously, to sit here with you and have this chance, so thank you.
The pleasure is all mine.
So, you’ve basically come to Paris from Geneva, right? Can you… what did you do there, how was it for you… Geneva?
I was in Geneva to do a play, for Centre d’Art Contemporain: it was sort of a performance piece, very much structured and produced like a play. It is for the artist Aria Dean, who’s a friend of mine in New York, and it’s sort of what you’d call a dinner party play, with two couples who gradually start dissociating from themselves and from one another, and making less and less sense… The play is relinquished in the inane conversations that contemporary people have.
It sounds really good.
Yeah. It was a lot of fun to do. Aria Dean is a great writer, and I hope I’ll get to work with her more, actually. I hope we stage this in New York because we rehearsed so much.
How was it?
The play itself?
Yes, and theatre slash cinema. How would you say, very vaguely…
It depends. I think theatre acting is the purest form of practicing my craft. It’s more what acting is.
Did you feel like Geneva functioned as a set, a film set, in ways that cinema lets you experience “hashtag set life”?
No, it’s very different. It was only the director and the four of us, and we all stayed at the embassy for foreign artists.
It sounds better than reality. Any room can be an embassy, it turns out.
As Juilan Assange would testify.
Yeah, so it was just a terrible little house where we all were living.
But we made the best of it. My friend Annie… The actors in the play are my friends from New York, so we really made the best of it.
And then you came from Geneva to Paris, like two days ago.
Right. On the train.
And how was it?
Well, Geneva also?
Geneva is atrocious.
I mean, it’s one of the worst places I’ve ever been to.
Right. How would you describe it?
Well, I came to Geneva from Bangkok.
Yeah, because I was there to shoot a television show, so I was in Bangkok a few weeks prior, and then I went back to New York, and then I went back to Bangkok, and then… very Cosmopolitan. So coming to Geneva, especially after Bangkok, where you are confronted with global poverty, to go from that to Geneva, just the most bourgeois, with all the banks – it’s hideous. It’s charmless. I’ve never felt more alienated. I thought I felt alienated in Thailand but in Geneva I really felt that.
Yeah, let’s see her do a “Lost in Geneva”, huh? No, I wouldn’t want to see that movie.
You know, Geneva has the highest the highest density of wealthy people per capita in the world.
I didn’t know that.
Everyone there is extremely wealthy.
And you can feel it in the air, in a way, I mean, the wealth.
Yeah. Sort of pervasive…
[Here we started getting looks from our neighbours, a young couple who stopped, listened to us carefully, and smiled knowingly. Dasha noticed it before I did.]
I’m sorry, are they from Geneva? Did I say something wrong?
No, no, no. Plus we’re in Paris, so it’s encouraged to have strong opinions about places, whether it’s… I mean, I don’t see here a positive or a negative, really. You can trash Paris also.
I would never trash Paris.
But Geneva… Yeah, it was a challenge for me. In a post-Epstein world, I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the activities of the ruling class. Especially being in a contemporary art setting, which is very connected to finance. It made me question that connection.
So you describe this travel experience. Another experience that’s like, abroad, appears in your movie ‘Softness of Bodies’.
Right. Which is sort of a good word, but it’s actually not a good word, really.
Yeah, I don’t know why, but first of all, there’s the ex-… It’s like, why? Anyway, what I wanted to ask you about is this frame of going to another place, to live in – did you have that experience?
Have I lived abroad?
Yeah, I guess maybe that’s what I’m asking.
No. I was in Berlin for 5 weeks making that film, but I wasn’t really living there. The director who made the film lived in Berlin for a few years, and I think he would identify as an expat.
And when you made that film, how did you approach the part of someone who is misplaced?
Well, the character I play, she is also defined by the fact that she refuses to learn German.
Yes, and there is the officer who is really mad at her for that, which is a great scene.
The scene where she is making her case in court, and she has to translate it to German, is one of my favorite scenes.
Mine too. I have screenshots of that scene.
Oh, cool. I wrote that.
Okay. Nice. You also wrote the poems.
Right. And a lot of the things that Charlotte says. Charlotte’s voice is very mine.
How is it like? I mean, because Wobble Palace is also a co-creation. How do you approach that kind of work?
Well, it depends. Eugene and I wrote Wobble Palace together, but it’s an improvisational film. So we outlined the story together – we had bits that we wanted to hit and things that we wanted to say, and the voiceover we did after. But it was very collaborative, improvisational. With Jordan, who directed Softness of Bodies, he wrote the script based on conversations we had. We wrote it in L.A, I would go to his studio a lot, just hang out with him, talk.
Did he know he was gonna do a film about someone’s who’s not… an American who’s not in the US?
Yes. Because he was living in Berlin for a while.
I mean, in Thailand – I’m the only American actor on that tv show. Everyone else are either from the UK or Australia or France or New Zealand. It’s a BBC production. I’m the only American actor, and I have become very aware of my American identity.
In what ways?
Just things you stupidly take for granted. An arrogant American. An Australian friend of mine, when we were in Bangkok, he said to me – you always say literally, like all the time.
You just see yourself, see the way other people look at you, and, wow, really, I’m just like, blond, vocal fry, adderall, pill-head, American girl. You know? You feel like such a cliché, but not in a bad way, I guess.
Yes. Not in a bad way.
No. It feels good to be an American.
I wonder about… I mean, you said you were going to L.A., for the movie, and also Wobble Palace is a very L.A film.
It’s a very L.A film.
It just felt like, a place. What I mean to say is, do find that you can be an expat in your country? I mean, can you feel in a way, on your way from New York to L.A – this a word I prefer – an immigrant?
Well, the etymology of expat is ex-patriot. And patriot is an American to begin with, right? Are you only an expat when you’re an American, is that the idea?
That’s what I think. That’s why I prefer to talk about it in terms of immigrating.
Well, I was born in Belarus, so I am an immigrant.
When I was three years old, my parents came to the US.
And you grew up in…
Las Vegas. I went to school in California, I’ve lived in California most of my “adult life”, and I moved to New York about a year and half ago.
Just a year and a half ago?
Yeah. And when I lived in L.A, I mean, I didn’t feel like I was an Angelina, but in New York… I really feel like a New Yorker, and I think I’m gonna keep living in New York.
That’s very good. You found your, like, territory.
So I don’t feel like an immigrant there, I feel like — I know this is corny.
It’s not. It’s not.
I mean, I know how to live in New York.
And what would you say configures that thing of knowing how to live in a place?
Hmm. Well, I don’t know how to drive. And in New York a lot of people don’t know how to drive. I’m a pedestrian. I love walking around. I feel very overwhelmed by the physicality… It suddenly got very quiet.
[Voices in the background are saying “merci”, and people are getting out of the restaurant] It’s good for us.
I feel often times overwhelmed by the physicality of space, materiality is hard – in New York it feels very manageable. I know how to accomplish things. It’s the only place on earth I was able to make money. I was very poor in L.A. In New York I feel like resources circulate more freely. In L.A. I always had this feeling of like, marginal. I was afraid I’d be forgotten, that I’d slip away somehow and not be able to make it.
And in New York you feel…
Safe. Very safe.
I love New York.
There is this sense of – I would use the word basics, getting get back to basics. What you said about American identity, when you say “I feel safe in NY” – I feel like there are things that were taken for granted, that became clichés, but now we have to verify them, again. For nowadays. Your films, and your roles, are doing kind of the same thing. Like, it’s a general thing to say, but I mean – cinema. Can you tell, for example, what do you think about cinema vs. tv? We talked about cinema vs. theatre, so do you have a certain regard over the landscape?
Yes, the art of cinema – as a landscape to work in versus other fields?
Yeah, I think cinema is a way of – you can really say something with cinema which that you can’t with tv. I started calling it “the entertainment arts”. It’s not that it’s illegitimate. I said it on my podcast recently, about that show Euphoria, I just think that television is very, you know – and people make fun of me for this – it allows people to sort of reset, that’s why people binge watch. It’s escapism, and cinema, ideally, isn’t about escapism. It’s about feeling more fully. Movies should make you want to change your life. Give you perspective, a sense of empathy, of understanding. Films have, like, a virtue. I read an essay – The Spiritual Frontiers of Film – and it was very meaningful to me. I’ll send you a link.
This is a really good point, because the spiritual, the complete sense of experience versus other, more exploitable things: “the entertainment arts” is good for that. I think it’s toward the end of Wobble Palace when you talk about “being basic” – and this question of basics, sometimes I think about this word, which can be very negative –
Yes. But in “basics” maybe there’s also this intention of – let’s talk about what’s real. Of what’s Important. What you said – what makes you feel. What makes you experience the world. And, this is also another word which isn’t being mentioned at all – ethics. Like, you can say “spiritual” very easily these days, but what about…
What responsibility do we have.
Responsibility is a very good word when you talk about tv versus cinema, because, you know – an artist has to say when something ends. A point. An end to a sentence. Like, Succession can now go on for 5 seasons more, and people will consume it – it’s entertaining. But where’s the question mark, the exclamation point?
Where’s the spine of it.
Spine is a term which Elia Kazan uses.
Which is also a moral word.
Right. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like someone with spine —
It could be about the story.
He talks about the spine of characters – but it can also relate to a story, like there is something grounded inside of it.
That’s something I found in both of your films – Wobble Palace and Softness of Bodies. You watch an indie film, but basically the experience of the story is very classical. When you watch whatever Netflix shit it’s very broken, very mathematical, directed towards the moments that are supposed to give you pleasure.
Algorithmically generated, almost. Manipulative. I think television is manipulative.
It is just manipulative as a perspective. And movies, well – talking about this essay that I read – the responsibility to bear witness to one’s time.
This is the thing. My boyfriend has very much influenced my thinking about the responsibility, the spine which you talked about, and it’s also about watching the time – and having a sense of “I’m supposed to reflect this”.
I think a lot of people are not… Well, not to get much on a high horse –
Not at all. It’s very important to say these things. This is why I wanted to talk to you.
Yeah. I think a lot of people don’t make films out of a sense of responsibility. It’s narcissistic, and also an ego. I think acting should be about ego death, in a way. You have to be comfortable being a vessel for something. I think a lot about that.
You recently wrote on twitter something that seems to be generated by, I wouldn’t say agony, but by trying to deal with that. It was about the profession you chose – is it taking something from you.
Does acting take away something from you that you can never get back.
Right. So in my last trip to Bangkok, I was already feeling very nihilistic because I was flying to play a corpse.
I’m only in one episode, but I had to spend there all this time – because of the way tv is produced, it’s like a factory, it takes a tremendous amount of – well, also in films – but in tv, just the scale of production is so much bigger. There are so many people that their job is to figure out teeny tiny things. And so somehow I had to go to Thailand to play my character’s dead body – so I’m already like…
Yes, this is already a setting that is…
Yeah. And when I get there, basically what happened was that someone made a mistake and I wasn’t supposed to be there, at all.
As a corpse, which even more…
Right. I mean, they used a body double, which they should have done anyway – it doesn’t make sense to fly an American across the world to lie under a sheet.
So it was just a little mistake someone made, but there was no reason for me to be there. So they were like “we’re so sorry, but that’s it. You’re just here, you’re in Bangkok”. And I didn’t want to go Geneva earlier than the other actors, because I knew that Geneva was going to be excruciating. So I just stayed, and because I was in such a nihilistic place, I just went on like, a bender. But I met these two really wonderful actors, who were actually working in Thailand and have been there for a month, and spent a lot of time with them – and I had a conversation with one of them about, yeah, does acting take away something from you that you can never get back. And I think that it does – but I don’t think it’s finite. I do think you can regenerate it. But I think I’m being a vessel – and a lot of actors are uncomfortable with that language – even outside acting, I feel like a vessel. I think if you’re a director then you’re a vessel, in a spiritual way I feel I’m a vessel for God’s will, or whatever you want to call it. So I said, even if it’s not finite, being a vessel means being empty in a way. That emptiness can be something that is difficult to live with, and it is a kind of void. That’s why a lot of actors are chaotic, because they have to reckon with this void more than normal people do. Simone Weil said that to love is to endure this void. And acting, as a labour of love, is enduring the void. I sound so pretentious. I’m sorry.
Oh my god, you do not sound pretentious at all. This is totally the conversation. I mean, I said ethics first, so you have the right to —
And then we sort of started talking about celebrity, and the way that famous people, really famous people, like Brad Pitt, creep me out. Because it feels like there’s nothing inside of them.
You know, the first time I went to Paris as an adult person, was to go to a David Bowie concert, and it was scary as hell, because of what you’re talking about. I really tried to grasp why it was so scary to see him live, and it was that – like, how can you be alive? What is “David Bowie Live”?
What is supposed to be inside of David Bowie. What does Brad Pitt feel like when he wakes up inside of himself.
It’s creepy. And as an actor, you work to become famous, and to proliferate your image, and then what happens to it? I think this actor, the one I was talking to, is going to be extremely successful, I think he is going to have a huge career — and I felt afraid for him. I was like, I really don’t want you to lose too much. There’s something inside of you that is really precious, which is why you’re an incredible actor, and this charisma which is a gift that you’ve been given – and celebrity seems like such toxic thing to have as a person, really.
It’s like you need to bear the charisma – that’s not even owning it. Like a baggage, something to deal with.
And then we were trying to think of actors that are famous and didn’t seem to have this, I don’t know, abyss.
Yeah, abysmal quality. So there’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was able to retain it, but then horribly tragically died. I don’t know who else. I watched in my hotel By the Sea, the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt film.
I just watched the trailer a few times.
It’s,,, interesting. It’s beautifully shot, it’s very luscious, the story is very straight forward, Melanie Laurent is there, who still has a quality of — I don’t think she’s lost too much of whatever you want to call it.
Yeah, I want to say that, it’s a big generalisation to say that, but, French actors and French cinema in general, I don’t know why but it has less, I feel like it drives people less towards the abyss than the classic Hollywood machine.
Yeah. UK actors as well.
Are there UK actors?
[Laughs] Well, they have a tradition. Becoming an actor in the UK is – you go to drama school.
Well, or you can just have a Mike Leigh film.
Well, and all the BBC business, which is a good business.
Right, which is entertaining and good. I do think that the show I’m on is gonna be good.
BBC programs – this is content that I think you can binge on and not feel horrible, so this is very good to have. But in the sense of cinema, really, it’s funny that they have the drama school, but the real artist, the real auteur which is Mike Leigh, has this crazy improvising system.
So it’s like, don’t ever do something you’ve learned. But I also think that French creators deal with it. Like, they deal with everything, in a way? French deal. Like, Lacan deals.
People deal here, in whatever ways, and also you see it in films. People, girls, lose their shit all the time, they have a good time losing it with each other.
What do you mean by losing it?
I’m saying like, I’m really far from having a broad education in cinema, but I love what I’ve seen so far, and I’ve also tried to make my journey in French cinema to be, also very generated by, “ok, where’s the romantic comedy?”, where’s the mainstream stuff? Because I’m not from here. So, for me it’s also a lesson – how do people act?
How do people live.
How do people live. How do people do that thing, which is owning a place. And I don’t think there are many American movies that can teach you that in the same way. Maybe the American is more pure cinema – it’s not like I’m saying one is better than the other, but there is a sense of practicality, like here are these things you will see in French movies which are over and over being played out, but not because they’re the “I love you” scene, just because it’s: here is how people live. And girls, like —
Are you talking about the show Girls?
No, like French girls in movies, they’re having fits. You have this way of dealing. So if I’m coming back to this idea of fame, of how do you carry this baggage, I wanted to ask you about something you said in an interview you did with Civilization magazine — which is a very very good magazine. It’s a chance to say: buy Civilization magazine. Buy Softness of Bodies, which is on Vimeo, and you can buy it. it’s important to buy these things which are good.
Thank you. And thank you for watching them.
Well, I had the pleasure of watching them, so it’s really me that should be thanking you. But you said in that interview, “it’s a lot easier when you’re cute girl”.
And it seems that in the same way that people don’t talk about fame, because it’s not polite – like, you’re famous, fuck you, you will not have the right to complain – so, and this is more relevant for actresses, where do you think comes in the beauty part? Why is it not talked about? Is it shameful?
I don’t know. Do you think it’s different in France?
Well, this is very cliché, but I think that beauty is really different here. There are different expectations of what is beautiful.
Right. Well, one of the actors in the play which we did in Geneva, is extremely beautiful.
Like, model beautiful?
Like, doll beautiful. He just has a very photogenic, striking face, and when any of us posts a picture of him we immediately get tons of dm’s – who is he, who’s that guy. He goes to places and girls constantly want to talk to him.
And we were at dinner the other night, and we all ganged up, and we were like, can we talk about the fact that you are extremely attractive?
And he got extremely uncomfortable, and was just, I don’t want to talk about it. And we were like, no, let’s really talk about what it’s actually like for you to live your life like this. And he was like, no, but you’re beautiful Dasha, and we were like, no no no. Like, whatever, I’m fine, but you — are notably beautiful. And he really didn’t want to talk about it.
Do you think it’s the same as money?
Yeah. People don’t want to talk about being rich as well. I feel rich – I made money for the first time in my life, and I am feeling like such an obnoxious retard. I lost my wallet in Qatar, on the way to Geneva, and then when I got to Paris I wired myself 4,000 euro, because I really wanted to spend money in France.
And you could do that.
Right, I could do that, and it’s ok, it’s not a big deal – and that’s never happened to me before. So I buy my friends stuff, I pay for the hotel, I’m really splashy. Having that much cash, putting it in a safe, then going and opening the safe, taking out money… I do feel, because I’m new money, I do feel this rush, and I will say “I’m rich, I’m rich, I’m rich – look at my boots”. And my friends like it, because it’s fun and chaotic to be crazy or whatever, but yeah. You’re not supposed to say that. You’re not supposed to say “I’m rich”. And I’m not even truly rich, I mean, I don’t have wealth. I have, like, thousands of dollars.
But that to me feels rich.
It feels more complicated than saying “I’m privileged”. There’s something else happening there.
It almost feels like rich people have to carry this burden.
It’s like a moral rot.
Do you think beauty is the same thing?
Ooh. I don’t know. Maybe because you want beautiful people to be — you know, you project something onto them. You want them to live up to how they look on the outside. Everyone has the capacity to be in an amount of pain, but beauty doesn’t alleviate, really. Yeah, your life is easier if you’re good looking, sure, but I think that maybe people don’t want to live with it, with the fact that they’re beautiful, because they don’t want it to diminish from who they are inside of themselves, which might obviously be more complicated and painful. Just a guess. I am not shallow, but I am very smitten by beauty. I will become erotically fixated, romantically fixated, on people purely based on the fact that they’re beautiful.
I found in your roles something that is very honest about it. There’s something honest about the way that you carry yourself, and in the films, that feels different. “I’m here to deal with this body, with this thing, with the look I got”.
With the corporeal form.
Yeah. And there are many people who are on film, on camera, who don’t — I mean, which I get, I’m not criticising. But I think there’s a lack in this kind of “let’s deal with that”. Let’s deal with the flesh.
Right. An awareness, self-awareness.
We mentioned being “aware of the times”, and regarding that, beside the films, there’s also the podcast you do. Cultural commentary.
Bearing witness. Conversation. You know, people get mad at us a lot, for various reasons, but something that people neglect to understand is that we’re not pontificating. We just really try to talk through things. We admit fully to be uninformed, or misinformed.
It’s just called “people talking”. I think you have these media entities, classic magazines, that would try that. You know, the very-very old Vice, Gawker, certain moments of Hopes & Fears, you had like, Buzzfeed in the beginning —
Can I have another champagne?
Sure. But drink mine first. Dasha is drinking my champagne, which I’m really happy about. I mean, what I want to say is that in this moment, something like a classic magazine is missing. When I see Civilization, which is so so good, it’s also super demanding. It’s like an art form, in a way. I would hesitate to call it a magazine.
It’s more complexed. More like an art object.
Definitely. I’m still trying to find my way to the second issue.
It’s very special. And very New York also.
And in that sense, it’s very attuned to bearing witness, and so, respect, right? Ooh, here’s a person who looks like the Oliver type, like Oliver in Softness of Bodies. I saw another one like this on my way here.
Like Morgan Krantz. Who I’m very smitten with.
Yeah. I was very obsessed with Morgan because of the way he looks. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I wanted him to play in the movie so that we could go to Europe together.
No, that’s good.
He was someone that I was just smitten with, like “Oh, Morgan”… I would look at pictures of him. And we’re friends, but I have love for him that is completely misplaced and weird. But I just thought that he was so beautiful. Wrote about him in my diary, wrote to him love letters. Just act stupid.
[Laughs] So, with Red Scare, do you — I mean, I do feel like pop culture writing, that there’s more ways to do it, and be more wild about it. You have mainstream like The Cut, Rachel Tashijan at GQ, Kaitlyn Tiffany at The Atlantic…
Kaitlin Phillips is great.
Exactly, Kaitlin Phillips. And they just, like, write, and they have a stage to do it. But where’s the magazine? Where is all that as a voice?
I mean, maybe magazines are just not a good medium. The reason why podcasts are so popular is because – people do so much menial labour, they do so much commuting. I’m not the first to say it, but podcasts have a social quality to them that comes out of a profound loneliness. And people listen to them because they want to have a simulation of a relationship.
Isn’t that sort of like binging?
Definitely. I don’t think it’s the healthiest way of being in the world. But people reach out to me and say that the podcast has alleviated a lot of pain for them, and that’s nice. Again, I’m not on a high horse or something, but when people say “it helped me deal with something, the way that you guys discussed something, re-evaluate” —
Right. Totally. I get how and why we’d listen to podcasts more than, whatever. So when will Žižek appear on the podcast?
He just went on Chapo.
Who cares? It’s you guys who should…
I know, we love him. We want him more than anything. We went and saw him in Toronto.
What was your favourite moment of that trip?
I really liked when he dared Peterson to tell a joke. I’m such a fan. I’m really not a fanatical person. I’m very rarely starstruck, I wouldn’t consider myself a fan, but Žižek does inspire fanatical feelings in me. Seeing him, I was like, screaming, like The Beatles. I really like, love him. Just see him do his thing was cool. But also Peterson, now that he’s in rehab, his Benzo addiction and whatnot, you could even see that he was him as profound because he was so human. Watching him, bumble around – I had so much contempt for him as a figure, and then actually seeing him was the inverse of what you’re talking about with David Bowie. Like, oh, he’s probably a nice guy, just… human.
Me too, I found myself also surprised by it. Also with Slavoj – there is such a compassion which he inspires, so I think it surrounded him also.
Totally. There was an aura of understanding something. So yeah, we’d love to have Slavoj, we’d love to have Camille Paglia. She doesn’t do podcasts, but I think eventually, we’ll get there. But for now, I’m travelling – we pre-recorded some episodes because we knew were both gonna be gone, and I honestly don’t know anything that’s happening in American politics right now. I haven’t been on my phone, Social commentary does require a massive investment in being online, and when I don’t do that…
But does it also feel good, not to have takes?
Oh yeah. Definitely. It feels great.
But Anna is terrific. She’s like a hot take machine.
Yeah. The input-output ratio is impressive.
I’m really lucky to work with her and I really love her a lot.
That’s cool. I’m also lucky that you got to Paris and said yes to me. Can I just ask you about future projects? The writing together with the acting, will there be more of that?
Oh, I want to start directing.
This is such good news.
I’m working right now on a script with my friend Madeline, for a short we’re gonna do tentatively in December, that is about Jeffery Epstein, and Eyes Wide Shut, about satanic elites, friendship, mania.
That sounds amazing.
It’s very much about bearing witness. I’m trying to make things that are very motivated by out of and respond to ethics. Of bearing witness, of spirituality. I think the subtext for these things is really “hope in the dark”. I want to make something that is like, I don’t know, true. That has virtue in it, basically.
I really like that. Thank you.