Spotlight: An Interview with Elvira Sinelnik ("Lifeless")
Elvira, Congratulations on winning Best Actress for your role in Lifeless. An absolutely remarkable performance! Tell us about your journey. Before moving to Los Angeles, your career was going in a very different direction: you studied economics at the State University of Management and had a prestigious gig in the upper chamber of the Russian Federation Parliament, as well as other well-paid jobs. What made you switch directions, what were the first steps you took in the industry?
Yes, you are absolutely right. My path to the silver screen took a completely different direction. I got an Economics degree at the University of Management and worked in the upper chamber of Russian Federation Parliament and in commercial companies. However, the dream of becoming an actress has been ever-growing in my heart since childhood. My fears and self-doubt prevented me from entering the world of cinema in my early years. I constantly played the main roles in plays at summer camp, and I enjoyed it. But I didn't have the courage to take it any further. I didn't even think about going into acting, to be honest. For my parents and me, I needed something "real", "stable", predictable...
As an adult, I felt that my soul was torn. I wanted to become an actress - to become a part of the movie industry, play in theatres. My husband supported my decision to go to Hollywood to study at the age of 27.
Of course, my parents were very worried about me going to Los Angeles, but were comforted by the fact that my husband would be with me, so they let me go. I entered the acting course at the New York Film Academy in Hollywood. I admired the fact that so many talented creative people surrounded me. Then I graduated with Honors, and entered three different acting studios at the same time. I worked very hard, almost seven days a week. I didn't even have Christmas vacation. To be honest, I didn't want to rest at all. I just wanted to work and study, study and work. I was finally living my dream! I worked in theatres. I worked at almost every major studio in Hollywood. I had an incredible experience in Los Angeles. I appeared in several films: “Bloody Hands”, “The Institute”, “Scales”, “Iris”, which won a lot of awards. Among my other credits are lead and critical roles in multiple shorts films. I had a goal to join SAG, because I realized that this would open up more opportunities for me, and within 8 months I had achieved this goal.
What acting training did you go through?
I studied acting in LA at the New York Film Academy. I simultaneously used to be a part at the Actors Studio Group theatre of William Burns, a famous Broadway artist, and studied the Stanislavsky method, the strongest technique to come out of Russia.At James Franco’s Studio 4, I studied Meisner technique with the wonderful Anthony Montes. Later. I was accepted into the acting Studio of Bernard Hiller, and I believe that the most transformational training sessions were with him. Bernard is my permanent coach. I will be always grateful to him for his contribution to both me and my work!!!Later in Moscow, I Studied at the Acting studio lab "Reforma" with amazing teachers.I dove deep into acting training at Carina Romanova Lab: Camera for Acting & Business.
You've had many roles in different genres - drama, thriller, action, crime...Do you have a preference for a specific genre, and do you think your acting techniques change when handling different genres?
For me, each genre is both interesting and unique. There was a period when I only thought about romance movies, drama and plays . When I met Bernard Hiller, I opened myself up to comedy. My clumsiness, naivete and a certain absent-mindedness helped me with a lot of work on comedic characters. For me, it was a challenge and incredibly interesting to audition for the role of a cold-blooded, cynical female boss in the criminal industry. And I got the part. I prepared for the role in China, at a distance, and I worked a lot on the character and accent. ☺ I think my usual approach would have to be a mix of Stanislavsky and Meisner, but I tend to swap in a lot of approaches and techniques.
How do you normally prepare for an audition? Any tips?
I love preparation work, love writing the story and creating the detailed backstory of my character. This life story gives me the opportunity to feel my character deeply and in detail. Then I begin to analyze each phrase that is to be said, each purpose for it being said, and each task. I really start living my character’s life, thinking like my character…My head is mixed up with a lot of theories about preparing for a role. I do have my favorite techniques for preparing and learning lines. I'm sure every actor has their preferred technique.
What do you like about being on set, and what do you dislike?
When I am on set, I forget about everything. I don't want to eat. I don't want to sleep. I'm ready to work 24/7. The only one thing that I request is that there should always be COFFEE, hot tea and water.
It’s like floating away to another reality. I find myself in this space where history is created. When I first started working in Hollywood, I always asked to be on set and watch the process, even though I wasn’t scheduled to shoot. Maybe all these observations have led me to love the directing process as well.For me, being on set is Paradise!
Let's chat about Lifeless, it's such a powerful film. Why did you decide to tell this unique story, and what was the writing process like?
Thank you very much!!! Yes, the film turned out to be a fateful and tremendous step in my life.
At one very difficult time in my life, I felt that I NEEDED to make this movie. The subject matter is a very painful one for many people. Just like a pandemic, it drives the whole world into this network, into addiction. And this topic has troubled me for a long time given that, unfortunately, my inner circle has faced its own tragedy. As my friend and gifted actor once said, “the main thing to remember is that we can’t let this addiction become a cancerous tumor.”
For this particular film, I was an actress, producer and co-director, I wasn’t the screenwriter. I wrote my idea as a story, and my most talented partner, colleague, friend, and director Alex Fedosov wrote the script.
The script was created remotely. I was in Russia, Alex was in America. We wrote, called each other, discussed the script, changed it, and rewrote. When Alex finally added a sharp turn at the end, we realized that the story was READY. I organized a focus group, sent messages, and received feedback.
You portrayed Elza's character wonderfully. The viewer can really feel her pain and anxiety. How did you prepare for your role? Did you feel any similarities or points you could identify with?
Thank you from my heart! Movie is a teamwork and I was so blessed to have Erin Michelle Soto as my partner!!! Our chemistry helped me to create my character in this wonderful way.
Elza is a tired young mother who has lost her bearings and values in life. She is tired of living a lie, but at the same time it is difficult for her to give up this part of life. It’s like death in a sense.
I mean - absolutely not living in reality. Devaluing her existing life. For her, addiction becomes a tumor. Preparing for the role was very interesting and challenging in some way.
Overall, the topic of social media was an interesting one to me. It was both important to me and worried me. The catalyst was the true story of a person very close to me. I wrote the story in one sitting; a story that later, through transformation and additions, resulted in the script written by Alex.
I talked a lot with different people and even conducted a sociological survey on the topic of social media and the obsession surrounding it. I was shocked by the responses from young people...I was terribly frustrated by the huge number of people who are addicted to it.
I understood immediately that I want to film this story. I want to transform the problem, the pain. At least we tried to get the message out to the world.
Tell us about your collaboration with co-director Alex Fedosov. How did you start working together, what is your creative writing process like, and what makes you such a successful team?
Alex Fedosov and I have known each other for many years. We met in Los Angeles when I was studying. When I talked to him, I realized that we would eventually work together on some sort of project. You always feel when a person is your person. It worked out so that we created our film together between the US and Russia. Alex is a very inspiring person. He’s easy-going and interesting to work with, and he is an incredibly talented director and producer, and just a plain good human being who is responsible and sensitive and professional.
Which scene was the most challenging for you, and why?
It's weird, but the most difficult scene is the scene where I leave home. Too many triggers in one scene.
As an actress, you deal a lot with film directors. In your opinion, what is the common mistake film directors do? And what are some things you'd encourage film directors to do more?
I started studying directing myself. For me, this is a new world, another planet, or rather space, if you will. Creating a story from the beginning to the end on the other side of the camera is now my world, too. I'm happy!!! Since I was lucky enough to prove myself in this capacity by communicating with the actors on set, I realized one thing - I want the directors to talk more with their actors and spend more time on the role together. This information should be in abundance if you want to get the desired result. It is important for actors to know the director's vision, and then you can create the role with your heart and soul.
If you could go back in time and give yourself career advice, what would you tell young Elvira?
Not to fear your fears, but to follow them. Go into them. Don't wait 10 years like I did. If you feel that movies are your thing and you can't imagine life without them, then throw everything away and step into the shot!!!
Chase your dreams!!! Be unstoppable and unflinching!!!
What's next for you, and what's next for Lifeless?
I was blessed to work with a fantastic team, and I hope that our film will change the world in some way and make people who watch the movie think. Having received feedback now from those who have watched the film, I finally realize that we did something good! I realize that the process of doing something good has been put out into the Universe!!!
And I am writing a new story and I already intend to shoot as a Director! Fingers crossed!
Would you like to add anything or thank anyone?
I would love to thank a huge number of people, and each of them knows just how grateful I am!!! I want to send a special thank you to my beloved family and, of course, to my team! As we say in our little troupe, “We’re a team!”
I am eternally grateful to my dream team. Every person in our team gave their all and did everything in their power to bring this story to life. Our Director, Alex Fedosov, our cameraman Alex Flash, our sound engineer Alexander Anikin, first assistant cameraman Tolya Ivanov, our photographer Elkhan Shakhbazade, production manager Daria Kotelevich, our makeup department head Evgenia Golyzhenkova. Our incredible actors Ian Michaels, Erin Michelle Soto and Sofia Fedosova!
Thank you to Denis Rudchenko and Ahmed Bek! Thank you to the B212 team with Vova Dovbney at the helm! Thank you, Daniel Barnes! Thank you to Anastasia Dokukina, Antonina Fisun, Maxim Dokukin, Tonya Flash! Thank you Maria Furdychka, Fran Kirchmair, Nastia Merinova!
Dream team, you made this movie a reality!