by Victoria Khroundina
Just like her recent trip to CinefestOz to promote her new film The Reckoning, Viva Bianca leads a whirlwind life. The actress, writer, and co-founder of SheRa Mag wears many hats. If she’s not on set or in a writing meeting, she’s on Viber with me talking shop or out for a walk with her adorable pup, Harriet. Over a long-distance call from Istanbul to Melbourne, I spoke to my partner-in-crime about playing a detective in her latest film, doing a sex scene with one of her best friend’s boyfriends, and why she might soon go brunette.
Vicky: Hey V! How was CinefestOz?
Viva: Great, V. WA [Western Australia] is a state that is investing thoroughly in its film industry and the results are fantastic. It’s a symbol of cultural respect for film, which has not traditionally been the case in Australia. But it’s not just WA. The standard of Australian films that were invited to attend CinefestOz was exceptional. There was the excellent Son of a Gun, which stars Ewan McGregor and a bunch of other Aussie talent. There was Paper Planes by Robert Connolly that actually won the $100,000 award. There was Felony, which was written by and stars Joel Edgerton, and then there was The Reckoning, which is, you know, “hello Mary” (giggles). I left that festival thinking that this is a rocking time for Australian film.
Vicky: So tell me about The Reckoning (theatrically released in Australia in September).
Viva: It’s a complicated little story, actually. But in a nutshell, it’s about two detectives (Jonathan LaPaglia and myself) investigating the murder of a fellow police officer (Luke Hemsworth), whilst also investigating the disappearance of a religious fanatic teenager (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) who is on a mission to punish all those responsible for the hit-and-run that killed her sister the previous year. So the film is essentially this cat-and-mouse chase of the detectives tracking down the teenager and her boyfriend who are simultaneously tracking down the killer of her sister.
What’s interesting cinematically is this constant juxtaposition of seeing the world through the teenagers’ eyes, which is only ever shown through the lens of their home video camera, and the story of the detectives, which is filmed in a very cinematic way.
Vicky: You carry a gun in the film. Did you do any special preparation for the role?
Viva: I actually got the role when I was in LA and so I contacted a friend of mine who’s a stunt coordinator and a trained armorer. He took me down to a shooting range and we had a few hours of gun practice and it turns out…
Vicky: You’re a natural?
Viva: I’m a crack shot. It was really bizarre. I thought I would be a complete wuss. But it was great and got me confident in handling a gun. On set I turned to our stunt coordinator for the guidance.
Vicky: Tell me about your character, Jane.
Viva: Very intimately speaking, I found her an interesting character as she is still a young detective so there’s this vulnerability to her. For instance, while she’s physically robust and competent, she’s pretty thrown by the sight of death and terror. She’s a new kid on the block and yet at the same time she’s just keeping up with the boys in a very male-centric world. As an added layer, she is working alongside the man who she is having an affair with and is in love with which always makes things interesting…
Vicky: Did you draw inspiration from anyone for the character?
Viva: I think I channeled a bit of Agent 99 from Get Smart.
Vicky: You work most closely with Jonathan LaPaglia and you too have a great chemistry onscreen…
Viva: We first met in LA a few weeks before rehearsals were due to begin in Perth and later both revealed that we were initially rather disenchanted with one another. I thought that he was uptight and he thought I was annoying! A few weeks later, we were further disappointed to discover each other at LAX as we had to fly beside one another to Australia. But as soon as we stepped foot on set and started vibing the chemistry of our characters, we hit it off. I developed a great respect for him because he is a really fine dramatic actor and he’s so thorough and invested in understanding the motivation for everything his character does. And not just his character; he will then be examining other characters. It became routine on set that him and the director would go off on these insane tangents about the script and then come back with rewrites.
Vicky: This was also the third time you worked with Hanna Mangan-Lawrence.
Viva: Cha-cha-cha. [giggles]
Vicky: You shared the screen in X and Spartacus. How come you girls are always working together?
Viva: I think it just comes down to this incredible luck. The strange thing is that we both flew back from New Zealand whilst filming Season 2 of Spartacus to attend the X premiere at MIFF. And at that time a lot of journalists were interviewing us about it and the trending joke was “what will be the third one? Will it be a hat trick?” And so the story goes, within a year, we were cast in another Australian feature film together.
Vicky: Is The Reckoning getting a release in any other countries?
Viva: It is getting a theatrical release in the USA in late October, followed by VOD, I believe. It has also been accepted into the Antipodes Film Festival in St Tropez.
Vicky: You have also recently made a film with Dominic Purcell called Turkey Shoot (a remake of the cult 1982 film Escape 2000), which premiered at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) in August. In it, you play a Navy SEAL, a role that your fans are not used to seeing you in.
Viva: Well, what’s really interesting is that up until this day, there are no female Navy SEALS. Because of the rigorous training and the strenuous qualification process, there’s something like a 70% dropout rate. But my character is a Navy SEAL and she is a total contender, a real badass.
Vicky: You do some pretty octane stuff in the film…ride a helicopter, partake in a car chase. Was it fun to film?
Viva: Yeah! It was a really different world. I guess I was playing an action heroine. Once again, there is kind of a link to my role in The Reckoning. Jill in Turkey Shoot is ultimately the character who saves the protagonist. She comes in and literally escapes him from his living hell.
Vicky: Which is the interesting thing about both films. On the surface it seems like you’re cast as the pretty girl, but actually you play women who save the male protagonists.
Viva: And that’s the way it should be, right?
Vicky: Absolutely! And, so how was it doing a sex scene with your friend AnnaLynne McCord’s real-life boyfriend? Have you met Dominic before?
Viva: We first met in Portsmouth, Ohio where AnnaLynne and I were shooting Scorned (in 2012). Dominic came over and stayed with us for a few days. He was quite shy and I didn’t really talk to him much but we connected because we were both Aussies and we both studied at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts). And then, I feel like I never met him again, but I just heard so much about him because AnnaLynne is a really close girlfriend and girls talk a lot about boyfriends. And then suddenly we’re cast as romantic leads in this Aussie film, and I was put into an environment where I was spending a lot of time with one of my best friend’s boyfriend and had to make out with him and writhe on his lap. It was awfully awkward.
Vicky: Is it similar with most sex scenes?
Viva: No, this one was especially terrifying. Anyone who was watching me on set that day would have thought that it was the first one I’d ever done. And obviously anyone who has seen Spartacus knows that’s not the case. But I can’t believe how much I reverted to green, fresh drama-school graduate, biting my nails and knock-kneed and literally hiding behind the make-up artist. It wasn’t anything to do with Dominic; he’s great and a nice person, I guess, to kiss (laughs)…if I can say that. But it just felt really, really wrong and I felt so exposed.
Vicky: You often get cast as the sex symbol or the love interest. In Turkey Shoot, you are referred to as Dominic Purcell’s “blonde bombshell accomplice.” Is it hard to break out of that mold in the film industry?
Viva: Yeah for sure. It’s partly why I write because I want to define the characters that I play and to break those molds. And it’s also why I’m thinking of going brunette soon.
Vicky: Really? Is this a SheRa Mag exclusive?
Viva: Exactly. Breaking news.
Vicky: In Hollywood, it seems actresses really get pigeonholed into certain roles because of their looks.
Viva: Yes and I think we’d all be foolish if we didn’t acknowledge that at least 50% of what we’re being judged on as actors is the way we look. So it’s not even about being blond, it’s also that I’m tall and statuesque and, for instance, I once had to convince a director that he was wrong when he said I was too “sophisticated” for a role. I was like, “bullshit, I can get down and dirty.” So yeah, I think we can get pigeonholed in all kinds of ways.
Vicky: So leading on from that, what kind of roles interest you most?
Viva: Characters that express the multi-facets of the female experience. And thankfully we are seeing more and more of these kinds of characters emerge in TV and film and that’s because more female writers are getting their work produced. Girls and Orange is the New Black are two really good examples. But to answer your question directly, I would say that I want to play women that are less an image of a male fantasy and more a real, visceral, living, breathing human being who is going through some kind of given circumstance that other human beings can relate to and learn something from.
Vicky: If you could play the character of any real-life person in biopic (alive or dead), who would you choose?
Viva: That’s a good question, V. The problem is, I’m too tall to play Dorothy Parker, too Anglo to play Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nicole Kidman has already played Virginia Woolf… So I’d have to say, my grandmother, Alina Rostkowska, whom I never met. She participated in the Warsaw Uprising, endured two years at a labor camp in Berlin during WW2, and was imprisoned for 18 months for having “political associations” under the Soviets. She was a heroine.
Vicky: Finally, V, what does sexy mean to you?
Viva: Sex is everywhere. It’s in the air that we breathe. Politics and societies are governed by sex, and so of course, with sex comes power. This notion is mirrored perfectly in both House of Cards and Downton Abbey, as well as all of Shakespeare’s plays. But for me, sex is a very beautiful thing. I grew up in a liberal household where sex was discussed openly and where in my mid-teens, my boyfriend was allowed to sleep over. Sex became something loving and wonderful; I was never made to feel seedy or secretive about it. Now, I can honestly say that one of the instrumental signs of a healthy relationship is great sex.