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Office girl one day, film star the next. . . well, almost. Aleksandra Vujcic, the beautiful young star of Broken English, lets ANDREW L. URBAN into her Sydney hotel room, where he discovers how she was discovered in an Auckland bar.

It was St Patrick’s day three years ago and Aleksandra Vujcic was celebrating it with some fellow Croatians at an Auckland bar, when her life changed forever. Out of the crowd stepped Fiona Edgar, Irish, to be sure, but more importantly, the casting director for a new film being produced by Robin Scholes, who produced Once Were Warriors. Introducing herself, Edgar told Vujcic about the film, Broken English: would she audition for it?

"I’d never before thought about acting as a career," says Vujcic now, sitting in an elaborate hotel suite suitable for film stars, 18 floors above Sydney with a view across Hyde Park. She is even ‘superstar’ late for the interview, having spent some extra time in make up, getting ready for the photo to accompany the interview.

But she’s sincerely apologetic and instantly generous, annulling the perception that she might have let it go to her head, this instant fame. But no: the film was shot two years ago, and since then Vujcic has been "following the film around various festivals" and waiting for offers. On her way back through Los Angeles in July, she did a couple of auditions, but has yet to hear back on them. Her performance, certainly notable and an excellent career launcher, has yet to be seen by a wider public. (The film is only now being released in the US, UK and Australia.)

"My starting point, my rocket fuel ... was being fearless." on her first acting role

"My starting point, my rocket fuel," she says by way of explanation for how she tackled her first ever acting job, that as the star of the film, "was being fearless." Vujcic, formerly a philosophy student at Zagreb University, was initially so underwhelmed by the prospect of acting in a film, she completely forgot about her first audition.

"I was very open to things . . . I didn’t develop any ideas about it," she explains. "I was working at a model agency, painting the walls for photo sessions, interviewing people, passing my boss incorrect messages because of my broken English . . .The first time [the prospect of acting in the film] started to be important was at the fifth audition. I started to taste the possibilities," she says in her unnervingly eloquent English with its Croatian accent still inflecting the words.

"Now I know enough to know where I want to go."

Friends started telling her how good it would be, but she remained uneffected. "Now I know enough to know where I want to go," she hastens to add, and it is very much in the same direction. She says this with a big, wide smile of assurance.

Vujcic regards herself "very lucky to have had my first acting experience with Broken English, because [Gregor Nicholas] the director was my mentor and he led me through that field, that magic forest of filmmaking with some of the trees very scary, some with smiles. He quietly introduced me to the jungle of movie making and for weeks we’d just sit and talk with a tape recorder, going through the script, adjusting it for my abilities. . .and I would tell him stories we’d incorporate. . ."

In Broken English, Aleksandra (Sashka only to her friends) Vujcic plays Nina, a headstrong young Croatian whose family escapes their war-torn homeland and settles in New Zealand, where she falls in love with Eddie, a young Maori chef. (Yes chef, not chief.) Played by Julian Arahanga, Eddie is a handsome and intelligent young man, proud of his culture yet relaxed about it. Nina’s father, played by the highly regarded actor from former Yugoslavia, Rade Serbedzija, refuses to accept the cultural cross match, and his possessive love for Nina threatens to rip his family apart.

The theme is reminiscent of the Romeo and Juliet story (or stories) but differs significantly in that the basis of conflict is deeply cultural.

"I was carried on wings of love from my father. "

For Vujcic, the daughter’s role was in part recognisable as a young Croatian, but part unknown as the daughter of this particular father.

"My parents weren’t like that," she says, "I was carried on wings of love from my father all my life, and never even yelled at. So the cultural environment was different."

Vujcic stresses that her circle of family and friends were quite different to the ones portrayed in Broken English.

Rade Serbedzija was something of a superstar figure for Vujcic, who had seen his many films during her teenage years, before she moved to New Zealand, just like Nina’s family did.

"I didn’t know how I’d approach Rade," she says, but her sense of awe turned to admiration and respect on set. "I found this beautiful, charismatic man, so generous and so inspiring with how he works and lives. . .how he creates things on the spot, how he uses space. . . just by being with him was learning about life."

This interview first appeared in The Weekend Australian, 9/8/97

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