VUJCIC, ALEKSANDRA: Broken English
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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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