Los Angeles-based Ukrainian actress Natasha Romanova recently played the lead antagonist role of “Olga” in the 2017 SXSW Film Festival Grand Jury Award-winning dramatic thriller feature film Most Beautiful Island, directed and starring Ana Asensio, produced by Glass Eye Pix and Palomo Films.
Romanova’s previous work as an actress includes roles in Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York, starring Academy Award-nominee Gerard Depardieu and Golden Globe Award-winner Jacqueline Bisset, as well as Love is in the Air, starring Ludivine Sagnier, amongst several others. She is also published poet and singer-songwriter from the European-based band Discrete Encounter. Her motion media directing and writing debut, the mystery short film Shoe Lady, premiered at NewFilmmakers New York Film Festival in 2017. Natasha has also acted as show host for two major international television channels, NTV America and RTVi.
Q: Natasha, what does this win mean to you personally?
Natasha Romanova: It is overwhelming, and I am still processing it, I think. The movie has been so well received by the critics, and the audience! That makes me very, very happy. We filmed it two years ago in New York. I was going through a very difficult time in my life because I’d suffered second and third degree burns all over my body after an accident involving a campfire. It was quite a task for our makeup artists to cover those burns before almost every scene.
Q: Did the burns happen after you got the role?
Natasha Romanova: No – they happened before, but when I heard about the movie something about it spoke so strongly to me that I had to audition. It took pain killers, long gloves, and carefully chosen clothes to cover my newly acquired wounds. Then the call back followed. Again, I wore my long, funky gloves to the audition. Ana Asensio actually thought it was just cool and stylish of me. Then I got the script, fell in love with it, and got cast as Olga. I couldn’t decide when to tell Ana about my injuries. What if she changed her mind? Fortunately, she had a very strong feeling about me playing Olga. She even said that my character could have totally ended up in a similar situation. (I was trying to jump over a camp fire and didn’t make it).
Q: Is there anything in particular you remember about making the film?
Natasha Romanova: It would be very hard for me to talk about any of my favorite moments from this shoot without spoiling it for future viewers. We will have to come back to this question once the film is released! I have to say, this film helped me with conquering one of my phobias, but, obviously, I can’t say which one at the moment.
Q: What was it like working with Ana Asensio?
Natasha Romanova: From the beginning of the shoot, Ana and I shared a very unique understanding, and she really helped me with taking my performance to a higher level. All the scenes we had together inspired me so much, and not only as an actor, but also as an aspiring director myself. For example, when we were filming this one very terrifying scene, she only nodded to our cinematographer (Noah Greenberg), without ever saying “action,” and while I was still preparing myself for the worst, they were already filming! And when I realized what happened, it was way too late.
Q: Being an immigrant yourself, have you personally experienced any of the struggles portrayed in the film? What was it like for you to follow your own American dream?
Natasha Romanova: I was born in a small town called Vinnytsia, located in West-Central Ukraine. My mom is Jewish and ever since I was a child, I remember having to keep my ethnicity secret to avoid being bullied in school. Of course, not everyone in Ukraine has antisemitic tendencies, but in my town it was often an issue. In the mid 1990’s, my whole family had enough, and decided to emigrate, following Gorbachev’s decision in the late 1980’s to allow free emigration for Soviet Jews. We moved to New York, which has the largest number of Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants in the world. Upon our arrival we were automatically given green cards, and after a few years became American citizens. So, an answer to your question is “no.” I did not have to go through the struggles that illegal immigrants usually go through and playing Olga reminds me of how lucky I am that I didn’t go through her experiences. My main struggle was learning how to speak English, and it took a good few years before I felt comfortable.
Q: You began your career in the entertainment industry as a singer. Why did you change your path?
Natasha Romanova: I always knew I was an entertainer. Even as a five year old, I already loved the energy generated by a live audience. Every time my parents had house guests, I would always come up with some kind of performance. I would read poetry, sing, and dance, wearing my mom’s high heels, scarves, and night gowns. At the age of six I was admitted to a school of music, majoring in playing piano. Then at the age of twelve I began writing my own poetry. Combining both skills quickly turned me into an aspiring singer-songwriter. At fifteen, I began studying at a college of music, majoring in singing and choral conducting – and at the same time, I started working on my first album. I must say, I have amazing parents. They always allowed me to follow my biggest dreams and aspirations, supporting and encouraging me in every possible way. Our way of life was very modest, especially after the Soviet Union broke down, yet, they still managed to fully produce my debut album and traveled with it to Moscow.
They believed in my talent so much, that they literally knocked on every door, eventually signing me up as a contestant on a major talent show at the time, called The Morning Star, which aired every Sunday on Channel One Russia. I was 15 years old and had just barely started at that music college when I stepped onto the big stage, and I still remember the trembling and the excitement. When we moved to New York, I kept pursuing my music career, eventually forming a band called Discrete Encounter with a Russian-born composer named Taras Mashtalir. After several releases, we parted ways. I felt like I needed a change in direction, and began my studies at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute. I quickly discovered an incredible world of filmmaking that pulled me in and just won’t let go!
Q: How does it feel living in LA now?
Natasha Romanova: I moved to Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. Immediately after the campfire accident I had a car accident, and while I was recovering I just had a sense that the universe was telling me I had to leave New York City if I really wanted to follow my dreams. After my recovery I briefly went back to work. I’d worked as a news anchor on a Russian channel for several years, and now I was hosting an entertaining Russian show about all the things to do, buy and eat in New York City… but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Those two brushes with death changed me. It was now or never. I dropped everything, even my boyfriend at the time, and made my big move to the West Coast.
I decided to follow my dream of becoming an actress full force, began taking classes at Playhouse West acting school, and worked on reducing my Russian accent. Even though, I’ve lived in the United States for more than twenty years now, I still have a slight accent – another throwback from working in my native language for Russian TV. I am in love with Los Angeles and its residents. Literally. I am lucky to have a whole new circle of awesome friends, and within my first six months of moving here, got engaged to cinematographer Scott Leyse. We are true comrades, and recently even launched our own boutique production company Mikka Productions.
Q: Is that connected to your writing and directorial debut Shoe Lady?
Natasha Romanova: Yes, exactly! Last summer I got an idea for a music video, and while working on the script, I witnessed it slowly evolving into a script for a short film. Scott shot and produced the film, and I directed and stared in it. Ana Asensio is definitely a huge inspiration! As women, we have to keep proving to the world that we do have a voice, and that we are passionate and strong enough to let that voice be heard everywhere. I am currently working on my first script for a feature film, and even though it drives me crazy, and I often lose sleep over unfinished scenes, I am allowing my vision to take me further down the rabbit hole. We’ll see what happens.
Q: What about poetry? When did you become a published poet?
Natasha Romanova: Ironically, the answer to this question takes me back… to the camp fire accident. I finished my poetry book while recovering from those burns. I could hardly move during the first month, so laying in bed writing poetry was the only thing that kept me sane. While writing all that new material, I also compiled poems I wrote during the last ten years or so. The book is in Russian, and is called The Fiery Path (pun fully intended). It was released by a Russian–American publishing house, located in New York.
Q: What would be your ideal next step, now that Most Beautiful Island had won such a prestigious award?
Natasha Romanova: The universe always conspires in the best possible way, and I am just coming along for the ride. By observing and analyzing my life so far, I came to the conclusion that everything is connected, and dreams do come true, as long as you yourself don’t stand in their way and sabotage everything. I will keep my heart open for all the new connections to be made, and for all the future projects that are hopefully in store for me. To keep creating, and to make sure my creations matter – that would be the goal.