Film & TV

Interview: Romanian Actor Katia Pascariu

Katia Pascariu, star of the break-out Romanian hit Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, chats to Glam.

Romanian actor Katia Pascariu is not well-known in Australia. With the opening of her first feature film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, all that is set to change.

Telling the story of Emi, a teacher who finds herself embroiled in a scandal over a leaked sex-tape she made with her husband, the film has already garnered awards such as the Golden Bear at Berlin.

Zooming from Zagreb, where she was attending yet another film festival, Pascariu chatted to Glam about the movie, the film and theatre industries in Romania, and her own career.

“I got into acting through a very simple and clear path. This is what I wished always, and when I finished high school I just thought OK I will try. I tried, I got lucky, studied performance art at university in Bucharest and then started working. I do mainly theatre. I’m not very often in movies. Theatre in Romania is very traditional, very conservative, at least the main scene. I work mostly in how you’d say, “off off”, so a lot in independent, socially engaged, and political theatre. I’m very happy with the groups that I work with. We have some artistic collectives and we do our own projects. And this is how I met Radu [Jude, the film’s director]: he was one of our spectators in the theatre. [In Romania] not a lot of movie directors go to see actors in theatre. Radu however is a big fan of theatre, and he comes a lot to our plays. But we’ve known each other for a few years; we’ve worked together in some public conferences and discussions. So when he sent me the script and asked me if I was interested in playing Emi, we already had a good relationship.”

Jude’s love for theatre seems to colour his directorial work on Bad Luck Banging, which has a theatrical feel to it.

“There were some commentators who criticized this [theatrical} aesthetic of the movie. They didn’t find it suitable for the screen. But Radu is like this. He really provokes!”

The film’s opening scene is the sex video that Emi and her husband are making, in their bedroom. Its realistic nature has both delighted and shocked in equal measure. Pascariu takes a refreshingly sex-positive view of this experience.

“When [Radu] sent me the script the scene was in there, so it wasn’t a surprise! He first imagined it that we don’t see the husband because he is the one shooting everything. In [his original script] it is only Emi that you can see doing first a sort of striptease, and then fellatio. But we were very lucky when we met Stefan [Steel] who plays the husband, because he is actually a professional actor and director for adult movies. So we started choreographing and improvising a little based on what Radu had written. We really connected and enjoyed each other, so Radu decided Stefan will appear in the movie.”

Possibly due to her theatre-background, Pascariu seems to take on any challenge thrown at her.

“ I told Radu I’m totally OK. I have no boundaries or restrictions if I find it OK for the script, for the story. My body is there to be part of my work. And we did some research, which was very fun! We were like kids discovering a new world. We needed to see home-made videos. And Stefan told us that even they as professionals are asked for videos that look more home-made. It’s very trendy now apparently. It was really useful because we got some ideas that we copied. For example we saw a video where the woman was wearing socks so Radu said “Oh I want socks!”. Also it was great how they created the space, the bedroom, to look so homey. I felt relaxed and safe. It was a small crew and everyone was very careful and respectful. And because Stefan was a professional I felt I had to level-up. AND it was shot in our producer’s offices! Low budget, you have to adapt!”

Another challenge that the whole cast had to rise to was wearing COVID masks almost the entire time on screen. This was a decision made both in the interests of health, and of art.

“A few months into the pandemic Radu and the producers had to make a decision. They put safety first, and also Radu had an intuition that it would be important and interesting to get the pandemic. Some of my colleagues were stressed about the level of interest audiences would have in a movie where everyone is masked. But on a personal level I felt safe, and as an actress I took it as a challenge. It was part of my costume, just how you have to work with any kind of costume. And the restriction of the mask, I think it helped me focus more on the ideas, and on the emotions. I felt I had to be very clear. I’m sure if it hadn’t been our reality; if Radu had said we’re doing a movie set in a pandemic and you have to wear a mask, I would say ‘OMG we’re doing a science-fiction!’ So you have to make it work. This is the character, this is the situation, this is the context: sorry, you have to do it!”

Bad Luck Banging is a film that encompasses a wealth of themes, tropes, and styles. In some ways, audiences can almost choose what it is they want to take from it. Pascariu has her own thoughts about that.

“There is the first level where you feel that you get a glimpse of Romanian society. But then the themes that the movie attacks are globally understandable.. So even though Bucharest is so specific, and it looks how it looks, there are wider themes: the relationships between people; the communication issues. And then the bigger discussions that the movie brings like the hypocrisy towards sexuality, towards obscenity, towards politics, the problems we have with the return of fascism and conservatism, the patriarchal world that we cannot escape. I think what makes it such a great piece of art is that it is so specific, but at the same time so universal.”

This universality has been helped by the film’s surprising prominence on the international film scene.

“I’m very surprised and happy that the movie got such good distribution. None of Radu’s [previous] movies were distributed all over the world. It’s incredible.”

Could this see a broadening of Romanian cinema outside of Eastern Europe? And possibly growth for the Romanian film industry?

“[In Romania] there is very little money towards cinema, unfortunately. The fight for culture in general, and for film in particular where you need a lot of money, is a very tiring battle for producers and directors. They need all the support they can get from co-producers. They wouldn’t be able to make a film with only local budget. But if you look at the number of movies we produce and the amount that get awards and international media recognition, the percentage is high. I’ve been to many film festivals this year, and it’s a different world. It’s nice! I’m very happy to be able to represent [the Romanian film industry]. I’m very honoured to do this.”

Katia Pascariu is sure to find her own international prominence with the release of the movie in Australia and elsewhere, this month. But meanwhile she will be back to treading-the-boards

“My next project is theatre, although Radu did promise me a part in his next movie. I have some projects in educational theatre, working with teenagers, which I’m very passionate about. And some political theatre, trying to fight capitalism. Fighting the good fight!”

Interviewed by Tracey Korsten

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn releases in Australia on November 25th. Read our review here.

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