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"War stops progress and destroys everything we have been building for so long" - interview with actress Daria Zueva


Actress Daria Zueva has recently received two film awards at European film festivals, released an English-language music album, had time to star with director Kirill Serebrennikov, and put on a musical performance for Ukrainian children.

Daria told Media Loft correspondent Katja Kobenok about this, as well as about her recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival.

"And then Johnny Depp comes out. And the whole crowd is like, 'Wow, Johnny!' "

In May, the French Riviera hosted the annual Cannes Film Festival. As usual, it attracted the most famous faces of the film world - Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johansson, Harrison Ford and many others.

Daria Zueva attended the film festival as a mentor for Casting Bridge, an international community of Russian-speaking actors.

"The film festival was amazing. It's a great inspiration for anyone in the film industry. It's a level that every actor wants to aspire to."

Creative people from all over the world come to the festival for inspiration, says the actress.

"You can meet all sorts of celebrities in this little town on the Côte d'Azur. I remember walking towards the film pavilions on the first day of the festival and seeing a crowd. I said to a fellow actor from London: "Someone will definitely come out of the press conference now". And then Johnny Depp comes out. And the whole crowd: 'Wow, Johnny!'", recalls Daria.

This was the third Cannes Film Festival for the actress. This year, the president of the feature film jury was Swedish director Ruben Östlund. Daria Zueva and the cast of Casting Bridge were so inspired by their meeting with Östlund at the Berlin Film Festival that they did an online challenge of improvised film scenes from his upcoming film.

"Ruben reacted very energetically to our videos, which we posted online. Being involved with such a brilliant contemporary filmmaker is exhilarating and motivates you to pursue the acting profession further," says the actress.

"It's a joy to see children smile"

Daria, who has been living in the Netherlands for five years, has started an online school called Let the sunshine in. And with the help of a theatre group team, Daria managed to stage an interactive play for Ukrainian and Russian-speaking children in the Netherlands called Be a Tree.

Daria says that this play about the wisdom of nature and kindness to neighbours helps Ukrainian children and their parents to adapt to the new reality. So the team decided not to delay the production:

"We were obsessed with the idea of helping, of doing something joyful and inspiring for the children who have been  forced to leave their homes. We raised the money, organised all the transport, set up processes and played five performances in different locations in the Netherlands. We want the play to continue and we want to see smiles on the children's faces."

By the way, the play was attended not only by younger children, but also by teenagers and even adults.

"The play is interactive, so children of any age might question and reflect on it and that's exactly the kind of dialogue this play aims to have," explains Daria.

The performance itself was based on the book of the same name by American writer Maria Gianferrari, and the stage adaptation was written by Daria herself.

"This performance is about being one with nature; about learning from the trees to support each other. They create micro-systems and even whole cities with their roots underground. That's how they grow, leaning on each other."

So in life, people need to support each other to create a community, says Daria.

"We have an interactive scene in the play where children are invited to feel the connection between themselves, the actors and the protagonist of the play - the oak tree. For this purpose, the designers have created a skirt that symbolises the trunk of the tree. It branches off into a multitude of roots and twigs.  These, in turn, are attached to the legs of all the actors involved in the scene. On a physical level, you can feel the connection to each other and think about how important it is to take care of each other."

Daria says that she purposely chose music for the play in Ukrainian.

"My grandmother was born in Ukraine. I am very closely connected to this culture and I think Ukrainian music is very beautiful and has an amazing depth. Everyone in the theatre group speaks Russian, but I wanted us to learn the Ukrainian song to open the performance. From the first moments the play makes the most important point - we stand united".

War does not move us forward

In March this year, Daria performed at the Afas Theatre in the concert "1000 Women Singing for Peace on Earth" ("1000 vrouwen zingen voor de wereldvrede"). A thousand women sang in the hope of stopping war and the pain wars cause all over the world.

Humanity, with all its accumulated wealth, must pave the way to a better future for children, without unnecessary conflicts in which people die, says Daria.

"I sang in Ukrainian and English, and after my solo, the hall gave a standing ovation for over a minute. It was a moment that sent shivers down my spine. I wish with all my heart that our world would finally enter a new era. After all, war does not move us forward; it only brings misery. War stops progress and destroys everything we have been building for so long."

"We have so much weight on our fragile shoulders"

Daria recently released a music album called The Power of a Woman, which is about the transformation of a woman. She says that each of its songs reflects life-changing moments such as girlhood, growing up, and motherhood. The songs also raise issues such as feelings of freedom and security, relationships with kin and bonding with partner.

"A woman can be different things: strong and fragile, vulnerable. Kind-hearted and bold, intelligent and frivolous. In every song you can feel the different feminine characters. We women can be different: weak, strong. Our creative projects can be a reflection of ourselves and reveal our personalities."

The song "The Power of a Woman" is an ode to women from previous generations.

"As an Eastern European woman, I feel like the power of being a woman has given me a lot. I'm very grateful to my family, especially my grandmother and my mother, for giving me what I have now. I think that the album will resonate in the heart of every woman who has gone from girl to woman, from girl to mother."

Incidentally, the actress starred in three of her music videos while pregnant. One of the songs Daria dedicated to her daughter Zlata.

"It is in the three languages, in which I communicate with Zlata. We shot the music video to try to capture the atmosphere of home with our one-year-old daughter as well as my mother. I'm very glad she agreed. It turned out to be a very personal story," says Daria.

The actress recalls that she introduced her album at the iconic Bitterzoet club in Amsterdam together with musicians from the Netherlands.

"Every woman faces powerful changes at some point in her life - having children, moving, changing activities. We are always stepping out of our comfort zone, but it's normal. We have so much weight on our fragile shoulders, so in my work I strive to inspire women."

Working with Serebrennikov

Daria recently starred in Kirill Serebrennikov's new film Limonov: A Ballad about Edichka, which is expected to be released in early 2024. The film is about the writer Eduard Limonov, and the main role is played by BAFTA, "Emmy" and "Golden Globe" award-winning British actor Ben Whishaw.

The actress says that playing in an international team was a great and interesting experience for her.

"I have always liked Serebrennikov's work. I love the way he thinks freely and the themes he touches on. The biographical drama  tells the story of a Soviet writer who emigrated to America. Incidentally, he predicted a similar turn in history, this relationship between Russia and Ukraine. It's amazing how some writers, willingly or unwillingly, have a real gift for prophecy."

Darya herself, who played an American in the film, says she found it very interesting to work on the character and the American accent.

"Since it's a historical film, I did research on my character and the time period - the film is set in the 70s. I think I got a real feeling of the era," says Daria.

The actress says she is happy with the work and can't wait to see the premiere.

Before emigrating and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Daria Zueva played at the Theatre of Nations and MDM (Moscow House of Youth) in Moscow, as well as at the Lensovet Theatre, the LDM Theatre and the Music Hall in St Petersburg. However, even in exile, Daria has successfully built her career. She managed to act and produce the film Burden. By the way, it was for the female role in this film that the actress won a prize at the film festivals in Romania (Eastern Europe Film Festival) and Germany (Mannheim Arts and Film Festival).

Now Darja is waiting for a television project for Dutch television, which is scheduled for early autumn.

By: Katya Kobenok

Photos: from Daria Zueva's personal archive

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