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International Emmy’s CEE winners talk, Part 2
 15 Mar 2021
Continuing our focus on the International Emmys and how the prestigious awards could help to further develop the TV industry in Central and Eastern Europe, we talked to one more winner of the biggest award in television coming out of the region. In 2019 Hungarian actress Marina Gera won the International Emmy Award for her role in the TV movie Örök tél (Eternal Winter). She also won awards at three international festivals for this lead role.

Since the success with Eternal Winter, Marina has worked with English film director Peter Strickland, and is currently working former BBC commissioner Adam Kemp at Aenon Ltd, to develop film ideas with Marina in mind. She is also working on writing her own original screenplay, about the dramatic coming-of-age story of an Eastern European actress.

Marina, in 2019 you won an International Emmy for your performance in Eternal Winter. Tell us a little bit more about the drama and your involvement in the movie?

This is the story of a woman, Irén, who is taken away by Soviet soldiers in 1944 along with many other Swabians. Far from her country, she is taken to a Soviet forced labor camp and she doesn’t know if she can ever return home and see her little daughter or her husband (who is at the front in the second world war and whom she hasn’t seen for years) again. Irén is forced to work in the coal mines under inhuman conditions. She meets a man, Rajmund who decides to teach her how to survive. A special relationship is born between them. While Irén is determined to return home to her little daughter, Rajmund and Irén fall in love, and although she has to build a new life in the camp, she never forgets her family. This is a women's film, a women's story, and the first Hungarian feature film about malenkij robot.

I was selected by the director, Attila Szász after two-rounds of casting. It was a great challenge, a great responsibility, and a great gift to play this multifaceted drama. Irén must change to survive, she must be selfish following her kindness in helping others. And what is it like to have two hearts? One in the camp to the man, the other pulling you home constantly. What will this woman choose after her release, when she can run away with her love and fellow prisoner, or see her little daughter and her family again?

This was the first leading role of my life in film although I had been waiting for such an opportunity and I wanted to give a hundred percent because of the responsibility that came with this role. It was also an opportunity for me as well to put myself on the map of not only the Hungarian but also the international film profession.

You dedicated your award to all the Hungarian victims who suffered in the Soviet Union but also to the millions who were abused, beaten, tortured or murdered by communism. What were the most difficult moments when preparing and filming Eternal Winter and when portraying your character Irén in the context of such a historic tragedy?

When I won the award, the day of the award ceremony was also the Memorial Day of Forced Laborers in my country. It was fantastic and so touching to receive this award just then.

I would highlight two scenes from the film. One is when Irén finds out in the camp that she can go home because the war is over. Then it turns out she has to stay and she does not know how long for. As an actor, I wanted to achieve the result that I couldn’t accept the bad news, and would be in denial, but when I realize that what I deny is real, I become shocked. I was really prepared for this, and my throat was swollen so much that I really couldn’t breathe.

The other scene was when I realized I loved Rajmund, my campmate. He has an accident and I worry that he will die and suddenly the relief that he lives breaks out of me, the love, and the realization that now he also sees how important he is to me. Emotions from anxiety to the confession of love and happiness were only visible on my face without words.

I wouldn’t highlight physical exertion - it was very cold, but it just helped me not have to play this, so I really only had to build up the emotional part of Irén.

Eternal Winter is based on true events. How did you prepare for the role? Did you consult historic records, meet with survivors of Gulags or their relatives?

I had two months to prepare. First, I lost weight to 46 kg, which was strenuous but gave me a different state. I had to keep this weight throughout the whole of shooting. Norbert wrote the script and my dialogue as very natural, we only changed a sentence or two that personally suited me better. During those two months of preparations, I read survivors' memories and watched documentaries. There was a key to understanding the role for me. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a forced labor camp, but I can imagine what it’s like to be away from my family as if they were dead to me. I wanted to build up before the shooting the idea that I had a child, to feed this into my nervous system - and then on set being torn away from my little daughter. I think it really worked out. By the time we got there the sense of absence in me was there and the desire to see my child again.

Attila (the director) also had a vision of the character as did I, we put it together, it was the combined work of the two of us to create my character. Irén is a very religious woman who is also kept alive by her faith. Her strength is her faith while also being a very fragile woman. It was a huge acting task to maneuver between her strength and her fragility, and I prepared for that. I have a very personal story during the preparation of my role. My great-grandfather was in military captivity, my great-grandmother entrusted to me the letters he had written from the camp. I read these letters again before shooting, and although it was not the malenkij robot, there in his letters appeared the same hope and disappointment, the same desire and strength to return home. I remember my great-grandfather from my childhood when he told me a lot about the time he spent there, how he walked home from Russia. He came home without anyone knowing it: he just suddenly appeared at the gate. I also heard about his arrival from my great-grandmother, and I absolutely remember from my childhood, how she recalled the unexpected arrival of her husband. I was very deeply influenced by the personal history of our family.

You are the first ever Hungarian to receive an International Emmy Award which has, undoubtedly, put a bright focus not only on your personal career but also on Hungarian cinema and TV in general. Has this award led to an increased interest in Hungarian cinema?

Hungary received a strong focus because of my prize. This award is a big spotlight for me but for my country as well.

I was involved in this performance for a small market in a small country and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to break through from here. It doesn't mean that we don't have a great professional system, it's world-famous, and foreign productions love to come here. I just thought, without a world-famous streaming service provider it would be harder to break through. Being able to hold the International Emmy in my hands also proved that someone from a relatively small sized market can also become visible to the international film and television academy. While it is recognition for my work, it is also a sign that there is such an opportunity and even though we are not backed by a world-famous TV company or streaming service provider, we could make ourselves conspicuous.

I think this spotlight still has provided a pretty good opportunity not only for me, but also for the Hungarian artists and the crew behind this award, and for the Hungarian film production. There are a lot of foreign productions shot in Hungary, Hungarian crews also work in big foreign productions, just as we Hungarian actors also work in foreign productions here in Budapest. I graduated as an actor from the prestigious university here in Budapest that educated many talents. The appetite of home audiences for foreign stories and talent from different cultures grows and grows. The appetite for authentic insights into foreign worlds is really changing. During the pandemic, we could see how the world-famous streaming service providers obtained an even bigger influence. I'm pretty sure that they will make more original-language programming in the CEE region. With my prize, I could help to get involved in the process of developing some great projects with some foreign producers, and I hope my country will benefit because of these co-productions. We are developing some ideas for this region as well with my foreign producer.

I also really believe in regional co-production, it would be very exciting to work on such co-productions and there is an aspiration from the creators of my country to make such co-productions, and from my foreign co-producers as well.

What would be your advice to actors from the CEE region? Your fellow Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, for example, has taken the world of cinema by storm following her role in Borat 2. Do you think "the golden time" for CEE actors has finally come?

My foremost piece of advice is to trust that it’s always interesting where you come from. We are special because we are born in the CEE region. Obviously, we don't need to compete with the English or Americans, as no one can present characters more authentically, either in their own language or even in English, than those based on the stories of our region. My first English-language leading role is yet to come, but there’s Maria Bakalova who just got a Golden Globe nomination and played in English. My Emmy Award or her Golden Globe nomination could benefit not only the two of us but also the actors in our common region.

Let me quote from Adam Kemp, a two-time Primetime Emmy-winning English producer with who I have been working with. He says the international market was still very closed ten years ago, but I have achieved success and recognition at a really extraordinary moment in the evolution of European television and film when the boundaries seem to be blurring. And producers need European stories, the authentic perspective of actors from my country, and from the CEE region. In short, yes, I believe him, I feel the process has started and I am confident that more and more CEE regional actors will find their place in the regional and international market.


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