Marina Gera won Hungary’s first International Emmy Award, the ‘Oscar of television films,’ for the Best Performance by an Actress for her role in Hungarian television drama Eternal Winter at the 47th International Emmy Awards. Hungary Today then had the opportunity to speak to the actress about the award and the opportunities it brings to her. Marina wanted to become an actress since the young age of two. For her role in this film she has already received three smaller international awards, finally gaining acclaim from the Hungarian press with the IEmmy. However, she wishes every actress such an entry into the acting world, to receive the most prestigious television award after waiting for years for a great leading role where she can show her talent to the international movie scene as well.
Many news portals reported that you won an International Emmy Award as an almost unknown actress, but that’s not the case since you’ve already had a lot of roles, yet somehow have been overlooked by the media. Is being a celebrity not really your world?
I think the media just didn’t really pay attention to me. Because of this, I wasn’t so well known, and there are some who try to introduce me as though I came from nowhere. It’s not necessarily offensive to me, it’s just not true. Furthermore,
it paints a distorted picture because it shows that a relatively unknown actress suddenly won a television Oscar. This is not the case; it is not how it happened.
I have already received three small international awards for this role which the media has not picked up on in Hungary. It seems the award they finally picked up on was the “TV Oscar.”
It is a great click-bait headline though…
Well, for that, it is… Even though I think it would be a much better title that I wanted to be a movie actress since I was two. I’ve worked a lot to achieve it and now I am recognized with an award for it. But maybe that would be too boring.
How did you get the leading role in ‘Eternal Winter?’
Attila [Szász, director of the film] and I had already known each other, and after a two-part casting he chose me.
How did you prepare for the role? For example, you lost a lot of weight for Irén’s character.
I was skinny before as well, but I lost around 10 kilograms and became very thin. People in these camps were starving, which is why I felt it more credible this way. It was my idea… not that Attila wasn’t happy with it, but he didn’t ask for it specifically. I had to keep this weight throughout the whole shooting.
When I wanted to make my face look even worse, more tired, I didn’t drink the day before.
This was the physical part of the preparation. Otherwise, I have an established method of preparing for roles, and we also tried to build up the character and her relationships, together with the director. For me, the latter was the key to the role. I don’t know what it’s like to be in such a camp, but I can imagine what it’s like to be separated from your child.
Was anyone in your family in a Russian labor camp?
My great-grandfather was a prisoner of war, and although not Gulag, he was freezing in the same way. He walked home from Russia. He told me a lot about the time he spent there, and I have kept the camp letters he wrote to my great-grandmother.
Did you read these letters during your preparation?
I read them, yes. As I mentioned before, he was not in a forced labor camp, but the distance and the correspondence with the family were similar. There were some letters that did not reach my great-grandmother, but she received them when he finally returned home. And he came home without anyone knowing it: he just suddenly appeared at the gate. But I also read about the Gulag camps a lot.
How demanding was it to play the character emotionally and physically?
I gave my best in every single scene.
It was a big responsibility as an actress and very demanding. I had days that consisted of 12-14 hours of filming, and I had to give a hundred percent the whole time.
The responsibility that came with the role was also great. Physically, it was also hard not being my usual weight. During the weeks of filming when I had days off, it was even a challenge to go to the shop. But I had been waiting for such a big movie role for a long time. I think I’m the type of person, who when assigned to a greater task, the more accurate she has to perform, and the more of an adrenaline rush and concentration I feel.
You were already very happy to be nominated for the IEmmy Award. As I saw in a video, you cried.
It was a great surprise that the academy chose me as one of the four best actresses in the world in the category. No Hungarian actor has been nominated before as one of the best four. As Hungarian actors cannot be nominated for an Oscar in Hungarian colors, the “television Oscar,” the Emmy, is the most prestigious award we can get. The actor’s main goal is to play the role, and be present.
But the opportunity was there for me as well to get on the map in not only the Hungarian, but also the international film profession with this main role.
My British producer, who contacted me for a movie a year ago, said that even if I was “only” an Emmy nominee, it would still open a lot of doors.
The first Hungarian Emmy nomination was followed by the first Hungarian Emmy. This may have been an even greater surprise.
Although the audience could only see the evening of the awards ceremony, it was a four-day festival where we were introduced to top producers, the foreign press, and we gave interviews.
People had a lot of interest in me and I thought it is because there has never been a Hungarian candidate before. So I found it natural and I just enjoyed being in such a professional environment.
Then other Hungarian artists and staff at the consulate told me: “Haven’t you noticed how much attention they were paying to you?” And it only occurred to me then. It’s also a fact that they invited me to the academy lunch before the awards ceremony, where I was the only actress… and the only nominee. I met a few people from the academy and they knew who I was, looking at me with glittering eyes. But, of course, I was worried when they opened the envelopes.
Have you received any feedback about why they chose you?
Yes. Those who came talk to me said that I was the main candidate all the way and wanted to give it to me because I did a fantastic job, and what I know and do is special. They also said it was visible how well we worked together with the director, that it was a team effort. Without this, we really couldn’t have succeeded:
we both had a vision of the character, the movie, and put it together. The two of us built up Irén.
The day of the award ceremony was also the Memorial Day of Forced Laborers – you mentioned this and offered the Emmy Award to them. Did you plan this in advance?
It was absolutely planned. After my nomination, when it turned out that the ceremony would be on the same day, I had already decided. It was so touching because it was a coincidence, the jury did not know about it when they nominated me. Long before the announcement of the results, I had said in the red carpet interviews that it was great to have a film like this in focus on that day. They also responded very well to my speech and I received a great applause.
First you thanked your stepfather in your acceptance speech. What role did he play in your career?
He played a giant role. We have been working for 20-25 years for me to become an actor who would later be chosen by Attila Szász for a leading role.
I also thanked him first and foremost, because although I am grateful to the creators of the film, I didn’t become an actor during the film and I did not learn right then what I was trying to apply there, but over the past 30 years.
And he supported me for 20-25 years of it.
I read that you already wanted to be an actress when you were two.
Yes, I’ve been on the stage since I was 5, but I already wanted to be an actor at the age of two. You see, I haven’t come out of nowhere.
What caught your attention in acting so early?
Even then I really liked playing different characters, the people I saw around me telling a story. Or to show personalities, the ones I perceived around me. I really liked to imitate, and I was always interested in the more complicated things: when people lied or hid something. A child feels when something is wrong. These are the really interesting moments.
You said you rather believe in hard work and not luck – what do you think your virtues are?
You should ask others about this because I can list my bad qualities more easily, which I can often use in acting. It may be a cliché, but I really believe in hard work for a role. And of course, perseverance.
Not just sticking to it and working for your dreams, but that you have to work hard for everything and luck only comes then – if it even comes.
For example, I am lucky that I got a major role in which I was able to showcase my talent. We actors can only be people, we play. It is a vulnerable situation.
And Hungary is quite a small market in this respect…
Yes, there are only 10 to 12 films made every year, much less opportunity than in many other countries. They do not write roles for an actor here, but write stories and seek out actors for the characters.
A larger role that the international profession may notice may occur once in every six years. Or rather, every ten years.
And it is not at all certain that an actor will fit the role, or that they will even get it.
That’s why you said you felt this film was your first and last chance?
Yes. I did not mean I felt unsuccessful, that’s not the case. It’s about having little to no opportunity and not knowing exactly when it will come if it comes at all.
With this award, however, international opportunities may also open up to you.
Because of the nomination, a German director has already contacted me, who will be filming here in Hungary and asked me to sit down with him. I have had a previous collaboration with an English producer who has been in contact with me for a year. They are specifically looking for a role for me there.
Wow, that’s a big deal, congratulations. In light of this, Hungarian actresses may have opportunities abroad as well.
Yes, and even after the awards ceremony, academics were convincing me that “you have to make an international career.” Well, my mother tongue is Hungarian, so we’ll see … But these possibilities have been around for a long time, more than a year when the first foreign request came in to do something together. We’ll see if it even becomes something. Currently, I am playing in an English-language piece, I was with them when I heard that I was nominated. During the play, I don’t realize that I’m not acting in Hungarian, but obviously I have an accent.
Do you have any specific foreign opportunities?
With the English producer who contacted me last year, we have several joint ideas, and I even have one of my own that I have been thinking about and working on for a very long time. He liked it as well, so I pitched the idea and it has become kind of a joint project. We also wrote it in the Emmy introduction that we have a movie plan together.
Personally, and as an actress, what did the Emmy Award mean for you?
It showed me that someone from Hungary could also become visible to the international film and television academy. Obviously, Hungary also got a strong focus because of my prize, by finally setting foot in the Emmys as well. I think many people have tried to interpret this prize in many different ways, to see who can get their chance at it. It is a big thing for Hungarian film production as well, but since it is an actor’s award, I would say it is in praise of Hungarian actors in particular.
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 can still make ourselves conspicuous.
As we mentioned before, many wrote about you in terms of your relative obscurity when receiving your IEmmy award – do you feel you are a star in their eyes now?
Now when I got home, I was confronted with the magnitude of the change. I have a lot of missed calls on my phone, stuff like that… I have yet to deal with all that, but I’m very pleased with the requests, and the great interest.
My biggest goal is to continue to appear both in Hungarian and international films. I do not want to attract the attention of the media anymore, I am just pleased that the Hungarian press has finally noticed me in a wider circle. And I am happy that they noticed me receiving the most prestigious international prize. It’s beautiful this way, so I’ll take it. I wish everyone such success.
Interview and translation: Fanni Kaszás
Photos: Zita Merényi/Hungary Today