“I try not to pause, but to keep going,” says actress Martina Apostolova. Her busy schedule never seems to lose momentum. We caught her amidst the excitement of the upcoming premiere of Theodore Ushev’s first feature film φ1.618 based on the novel Pumpal by Vladislav Todorov, which will open the Cinelibri festival on October 8. This brings her back to travels on festival circuit, which ground to a halt due to the pandemic soon after the success of her debut feature film Irina (dir. Nadezhda Koseva, 2019), which garnered her a number of international awards, and in 2020 she was pronounced a European Rising Star at the Berlinale Film Festival. Right now, Martina is shooting a Bulgarian TV series (River on the Heart) for the first – and, she says, the last – time, and has been living outside of Sofia for about half a year. At the same time, she is starting the theatrical season with a new portion of the dance performance PASTET. On October 5, she will also perform as a dancer with FreeFall, and Poker Night (dir. Kasiel Noah Asher) will open in a new space. And while she’s waiting for rehearsals to start for a new dance project, again with Marion Durova, she is excited for the beginning of the school year and meeting her new students.
Your big breakout role was in the movie Irina. Three years have passed since its release. How did everything happen after that?
The Bulgarian premiere of Theodore Ushev’s first feature film φ1.618 will take place in early October. What was the most challenging part of the project and how do you think audiences will react to it – here and around the world?
Every part of this project was a challenge. We were filming between two lockdowns, the pandemic had just started. We were constantly worried about someone getting sick. On the creative side – it’s something you can NOT imagine in advance. Theo’s consciousness and imagination operate on a completely different level and frequency, light years into the future. You’re just running along and trying to catch up, to keep up with him. You film different takes and hope that your imagination can reach out and touch his, so that the magic happens. That’s why I have no way of knowing what the final result will be like, and how audiences will receive it, we have yet to find this out. There are always people who are extremely disappointed and people who are super excited. I predict that this film will provoke extreme responses. The best thing Theo said to me before we started was, “We’re either going to fail or we’re going to succeed, but whatever it is, let’s do it with a bang!”
After your successful debut in Irina, you said that you avoid TV series. What made you change your mind and agree to star in River on the Heart now?
Even before Irina, I did not like Bulgarian television productions and I had told myself that if I ever found success in this business, it would not be through television. I didn’t want – and I still don’t want – my face to appear everywhere, I don’t like being recognized. My opinion has not changed since then. I agreed to shoot a TV series in Bulgaria because something really drew me to this project, and it’s not about money at all. You know I care about the quality of the things I make. Well, with this project, I decided that there was something I could offer, and something new I could show through my work. Martin Makariev won me over one hundred percent during our second conversation. It is very important for me that the person I work with trusts me and believes in me, since I do not trust myself at all and I lack confidence. If I am offered that trust, I’m able to do and offer things as an actor that I haven’t done so far. That’s what happened with River on the Heart. Marto offered me a kind of creative freedom that I haven’t had before. He challenges me. He sees my potential. Filming a series, a long one at that, turned out to be a real challenge, professionally speaking. A very valuable experience. I won’t do it again, but what I’m learning is priceless, and I know it will help me grow as an artist. The actors I’m working with are a dream! And that’s what’s important to me – for us to take pleasure in our work and be satisfied when it’s all finished. Of course, there will be edits afterwards, requirements, chasing ratings, tricks for all this, but to me, our work – the creative work – is the most important part. And we do it well.
When and how did you discover that acting and the stage would be your calling? Were there any moments in your childhood that signaled that you would take this direction?
I guess there were always signals, I just didn’t read them as such or rather I took them as something normal, a “part of the game.” Because the truth is that I only “discovered” that acting was my thing during the university entrance exam. It seems that I had always walked this path, it had just been quiet and unconscious until that moment. I don’t remember how I decided to apply, I don’t remember why. It must have been some inner force guiding me without me noticing. When I got up on stage to present my material, I felt that infamous magic – like rising just a millimeter off the ground. And then I realized – this is it. I don’t want to do anything else. As a child, I loved to “play.” I played the guitar, sang, danced, my dad started taking pictures of the day I was born. I shot my first commercial when I was two years old. I never took any acting classes or did theater. It took 18 years for it to dawn on me that, well, this is my way.
How did contemporary dance find its place alongisde cinema and theater for you?
I discovered contemporary dance and movement, physical theater, back at NBU, thanks to my teachers there, in particular Vazkresia Vikhorova, Tanya Sokolova and Asya Ivanova. It was a whole new world for me. A means of expression I had no idea existed. Imagine the excitement and fascination! I couldn’t sleep with excitement and impatience to try again, to train, to go return to the rehearsal space the next day. After I graduated, I kept doing alternative forms of theater, even though I was working at a regular drama theater. A colleague and I worked together and did documentary theater. And the moment finally arrived when someone saw that, purely physically, my body was very well developed, or rather, the imagination of my body. And she trusted me (like I was saying earlier). That was Marion Durova, who invited me to join Hating Machine. Before that, I had only danced in student shows. And so, little by little, the focus shifted. I continued working with Marion and we now have four shows together. I also met Yanitsa (Atanasova – Pastet, Obligatory Pleasant) and my interest in modern dance and all these techniques has just kept growing and growing. This is my way of expressing myself on stage. I am lucky because as an artist I have several different options, I think the best ones, for how to express myself. In front of the camera, on the classical stage and through dance and movement. I am not missing anything.
Do you think that artists should have a more active civic stance?
I think that artists in Bulgaria not only need to have a MORE ACTIVE civic stance, but that nowadays they simply can’t afford to not have one. No subject has remained unrepresented in art, popular art still treats some topics as uncomfortable and undesirable. We cannot expect anything to change until we start talking about important things in the conventional theater and art spaces, we cannot expect most people in the audience to change their minds and open their eyes before then. I know that most of the people in our audience share the same values. But outside that bubble, people also need to be provoked and urged to think about all the different issues of our time. All the problems. And we have to finally start discussing mass disinformation in our art as well. Yes, art doesn't always have to be politicized, but in times like this, it's imperative that we use all available channels to fight against this massive, excuse me, idiotization, despair, indifference, nastiness.
Art reflects reality. What kind of reality do you think art reflects in our country?
In our country, art is rarely allowed to reflect any reality. Rather, it is used as a kind of distorting mirror. Showing some parallel sugarcoated reality. It's an archetype. It’s folk psychology. BUT! More and more young artists from all art forms are taking steps forward and working with pressing issues. Ecology, environmental pollution, climate change – these are some of the main topics in contemporary art (cf. Maria Nalbantova), in my opinion. When it comes to cinema, we often find a reflection of the grayness, the misery, the difficulties which the little (and not just) man is facing. Survival more generally is a very big topic. I also really like art that touches on politics or explores its quagmire, for example in Antoni Raizhekov's The Silent Ones. There is more and more art about social issues – about all the hate and intolerance towards minorities, for example. In general...we are doing better when it comes to reflecting reality.
How do you recharge and do you have your own islands of timelessness?
I haven't been able to do this at all lately. As much as I loved to travel, all of a sudden it started to tire me out. They say a man is a man when he is on the road, but that’s not quite the case. I'm looking forward to having at least one week off after shooting is over. Because I can't get out of this if I have a day off. I stay in character, I protect it, and this does not allow me to really rest. I have my island of timelessness – my grandfather's house in the town of Rila. That’s where I go to recharge. Even just for a few hours, it's like an energy bank for me. I've also noticed that performances help recharge me for the other "work." You find ways, otherwise you lose it. And an artist should not be exhausted (though this sounds like a joke).
Where do you feel most at home and where can we find you when you are not working?
GABA BAR. It opens very soon and I hope to be in Sofia to drink one for the road. This is my second home in Sofia. My friends are there, the energy feels right to me, I love the music. I also like the Toplotsentrala bar, which is slowly revving up. The terrace it is super cozy.
When is it hardest and easiest for you to follow yourself?
I find it hardest to follow myself when I have to say "No." It’s an absolute paradox, but it is a fact. I also find it difficult when I have to please someone or live up to someone's expectations. I haven't gotten over that yet. I am always nice and talkative, but when I have to say "No," I have to be firm and decisive. Because people perceive me as this small, gentle Martinka, we can climb all over her and push her around. And I am in fact small, white and good, but that does not mean that I will martyr myself. It's easiest for me to follow myself when I'm working, when I let my imagination run wild and I'm surrounded by people who share my goals. In general, I find it easy to follow myself more often than not.
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