Almost three years after our first encounter, now when production of Ederlezi Rising, a breathtaking Serbian sci-fi movie, is over and Belgrade audience is eager to see it for the first time at its finest film festival FEST, Stoya and I met once again in Motherland. One more time, her exciting, beautiful and truly inspiring persona took our conversation in so many directions, but having a camera around, we somehow managed to keep it tight!
So, ladies and gentlemen – STOYA on Ederlezi Rising, acting and her intimate emotional experience while making the movie, political and personal, society today and – “unfortunately, capitalism”.
Hey, Stoya! So, we meet in motherland again… How’s Belgrade treating you?
It’s wonderful. I don’t wanna go home. I’m a happy person here. I have a real life. It’s fantastic. I’m treated like a human being, which is rare for me.
So, it’s been three years and more since the film is in production and everyone is super excited to see it, the story about it is all over. So, let’s start with a simple question: What is Ederlezi Rising?
Ederlezi Rising is a Serbian science fiction film.
Yeah. It’s about an astronaut and an android in space, in a spaceship. And it’s, you know, really about human relationships and loneliness and…
Nimani is the android and she in a very Pinocchio like way becomes a “real girl”. So it addresses in the plot some questions that are very topical, with artificial intelligence being explored and looking like it may happen within our lifetime, what’s human, what’s really alive? The film explores that.
And Milutin? Who is he?
He’s an astronaut… From Nimani’s perspective, Milutin is a little bit of a lost man who causes some major trouble and then can’t deal with the ramifications of it.
Last three years or so, your creative process as a performer obviously changed, after Ederlezi Rising and that experience you also got casted in an Off-Off-Broadway show. What`s it like for you to work in this environment? Some would say professional environment, but I’d say just different.
I would definitely say just different. I’ve worked in professional pornography, I’ve worked in what I consider to be a professional film set when we were making Ederlezi and I would also consider the Off-Off-Broadway production to be professional as well. They’re all at a certain very real level. But for me it’s more – What did I learn along the way? So, while we were making Ederlezi I learned how to work with the rest of the range of human emotions. Pornography is very… we work with lust and desire, and that’s about it. So, performing all of these other emotions was something that I learned on the Ederlezi set and then doing live theatre… If you pull up the appropriate emotion and overshoot, they go past what’s needed for the character, you can’t go back and redo it. So, doing a show after show I learned a little bit more precision with how much emotion I’m bringing to, in that case, the stage.
And does this experience in any way change your work in adult films?
The process of making the Ederlezi Rising film did give me more confidence in my pornographic work, which has been as a director and performer for the past few years, it gave me more confidence in dealing with more than just the fucking. Going like: OK, we can talk about things that are a little real, also. But, currently I am having to reevaluate just how much real people want when they say they want me to be a real person. And in the US, with a job in entertainment it’s… it can be very confusing. So, it’s had an effect on my work that for capitalism may be terrible, but for creative expression it’s been great.
Nimani is a very challenging role. Being one’s intimate android companion on a space mission, gives this character a very diverse set of emotions to play with. What was your process in that? Where did your personal experience push this character to go?
Making the movie, unfortunately, brought up things from my personal life that I really wasn’t prepared to be dealing with. It would have been much easier to make the movie if I wasn’t dealing with those things at the time.
Fortunately, with the conceit of being an android with preprogrammed settings, the character was almost already dissected for me. But, given the rest of the circumstances, there was a lot of me showing up to set and being like: “Look, this is what I have today!” and Lazar really getting in there and directing and going: “OK, this is what you’re doing, we need to go a little more this way or we need to turn the volume down some or turn the volume up some. And it’s really a mark of how good he is as a director that he was able to wrangle me literally having a mental breakdown and get any kind of movie…
Also Seba, Sebastian Cavazza, the guy who played Milutin, he has done so much acting and even teaches acting sometimes, so from day one that we started rehearsals he was teaching me small techniques that really helped me to do a better job on set.
As the story develops, Nimani & Milutin are experiencing quite intense, sometimes very violent progress in their relationship. All the dysfunctionalities of a modern relationship are vivid and the way it’s presented, for the audience quite intimately provocative and easy to identify with. For me as viewer this was challenging and pushed different buttons of introspection – how did you handle it?
I mean, the short answer is I didn’t handle it. I had to have Seba and Lazar helping keep me together to get through making the movie and then I’ve spent about a year and a half having a long drawn out mental breakdown. It just is what it is. There’s a very unfortunate side effect of the way that masculinity happens in the West, where men for whatever reason, their instinct when they want some connection is to use force. That’s an integral plot point, but also it’s a thing that day-to-day causes a lot of harm to women and has caused a lot of harm to me and I don’t know what the fuck to do about it because that’s really for men to figure out.
When you were actually shooting the movie you had this personal “shout-out” about things that happened to you. How did you handle that?
Again, I just kind of didn’t… I wish I’d kept my mouth shut to this day, I wish I hadn’t said anything. When the movie was over and Lazar said: “Maybe you want to stay in Belgrade for another week or two to rest…”, I wish I’d stayed, but I felt I had responsibilities in the US that I had to go back to and that’s a regret, to the degree that when people ask, you know: “Is there anything you regret in your life that you would change?” I’m like: “Yeah, I would have kept my fucking mouth shut and stayed in Serbia and rested and been like – actually, fuck my career, actually, fuck my business, I’m gonna take care of myself.” And now, two, three years later… now, I’m taking whatever steps are possible to move myself to a place where I feel safe and am allowed day-to-day to be an actual human with bodily and emotional autonomy.
The story in the movie is, one would say “old as time” and could be very typical, but in this concept it’s cleansed from everyday noise, set in far future. How do you feel about the way this story and what it provokes is addressing us – humans of today, “good humans of today”, to refer to our last interview?
The basic bare bones of the story is very Adam and Eve in a way and I think humans use stories as a way of making sense of a world. When we’re dealing with real life, something that is tragic or something that is truly horrifying, we have all these reactions that get in the way because we don’t wanna deal with our feelings of guilt from knowing that we’re complicit in a problem. And in a clearly fictional world, where there’s a spaceship or there are magical talking horses or whatever it is, we’re able to address issues more cleanly. I think. I hope…
Is putting the power in the hands of a female android designed for the purpose of a companionship to a male astronaut and deconstructing his decisions and vulnerabilities our only current possibility to understand how society today works? Does extracting this idea from our current realities and putting it into fantasy help?
I have to hold out some hope that yes, people will see the movie and think and walk away with something interesting to chew on that maybe points them in a more nuanced direction.
Do you feel this movie as female empowering?
I don’t think any media is empowering unless it’s connected with actual action. In the US it’s been circulating since the seventies, that “the personal is political”. The political also has to be personal! So, it’s quite possible that plenty of women will watch the film, feel like it is feminist or whatever. If it doesn’t connect to them personally and cause change, then it’s entertainment. It’s wonderful entertainment, but it’s just entertainment. And I feel the same about much of the rhetoric around empowerment and bravery in the mainstream media, because you have to remember – media is also entertainment largely at this point in history. And I feel like I’m in the Bermuda triangle right now – I’m considered “empowering” or this thing I did was considered empowering, and I feel no extra power, I don’t see any effect on the world… So, I don’t know, I really don’t know.
But Nimani definitely has skills that are making you think that?
From one viewpoint Nimani is just a woman. She’s expected to be the nurse, she’s expected to be the psychologist, she’s expected to be the fucktoy, she’s expected to make sure that Milutin eats properly and he’s a giant baby about it. What it really boils down to is a man and a woman. And because it’s science fiction she’s an android, but it’s the same expectations that happen in life.
The production of the movie as such is very progressive, for Serbian standards especially. It’s highly aestheticized, “retro” if you will, but in the most modern sense of the word. Technically implacable, this unique imagery and sound initiate some old references, but even more so introduce the new ones. Tell us more about the creative concept and the people behind it? From your perspective, of course.
I didn’t realize until I did more acting how incredibly smooth and almost perfect things on set were and the actor that I was working with. So I came out of the movie thinking: “Maybe I don’t ever want do acting again, because this went really well.” But then I went and did more and found out: “Oh, this is like… really work.” It’s rare for everybody to show up on time and give their all, all day. Not only that apparently it’s not the norm in Serbia, it’s not the norm anywhere, it’s definitely not the norm in the US. So, it was this really magical, everybody involved really, really cared and gave everything they could all day long and then came back the next day at 9AM and did it again, all day long.
Dimitrije, the writer, he made himself available for film calls all day long. The set really felt like you were on a spaceship or like some Disneyland kind of theme ride. And the costumes (laughs)… I really hope those pants are still lying around somewhere, because I want them. The costume designer was really talented and she…I mean, when you see the movie you know that the costume designer is really talented.
The zipper also did the trick… not the zipper?
Oh, yeah. The way that the jackets were cut pulled my shoulders back and kept them kind of stiff. So, some of my friends who have seen the movie, they’re like: “Wow, your walk… you looked so robotic.” When I was in the costume it was the most natural way to move and so, again, through no faults of my own everything was set up for me to deliver the best performance possible.
How did you feel when you first watched the complete screener?
My first feeling was: “Oh, fuck, man. Now that I’ve learned more about acting, can we go back and redo it all. (laughs) Everything else is great. I would, maybe, have done that a little bit better.” And then, when it was over, I was like: “Wow, holy shit! We DID something! We did something that’s coherent and beautiful and talks about really terrible things without just being sad.”
What do you expect? Who are the people this movie is made for?
My prediction is that it will have kind of a long tail life as a cult movie. It’s like most of the things I enjoy doing, there’s more than one layer to digest, which requires that an audience be prepared to think and to go places that are possibly a little bit uncomfortable, so I’m not really sure who’s gonna have the balls to be open to it. I hope more than the cult movie people watch it and absorb something, but like, who knows.
Someone said that there should be a sequel. So, if you do a sequel, would it still be a cult movie? Is it open for sequels?
It’s definitely open for sequels; it’s also open for prequels. We have a small mini comic coming out with the release of the film that talks about some of the back story. Dimitrije and Lazar have a sketch of the whole world that got to the point where the Ederlezi Corporation is launching people into space to install different ideologies, which of course requires – World War III, how did it go down? Why do all these robots look like this porn star from the twenty-teens? There’s so much room there to do things on a sequel but also maybe, a prequel and… who knows. The key is to watch it through the proper channels and purchase it instead of, say, stealing it on a tube site. Because, that’s what allows a second production to be made. Unfortunately… ‘cause capitalism.
Well, yeah. I think that’s a proper ending to this talk.
It’s a perfect Stoya interview – unfortunately, capitalism.
Well, good luck on this mission.