Zsófia Szamosi was a member of Budapest’s coolest theatre company with Béla Pintér, she has gained a national acclaim in the Hungarian version of HBO’s ‘In Treatment’, she was the antagonist in the Oscar-winning Hungarian short film ‘Sing!’ and she won many prizes with Árpád Sopsits’s serial killer-drama, ‘Strangled’. This year Zsófia Szilágyi’s first feature, ‘One Day’, is the Hungarian participant at the Cannes Film Festival. The film stars Szamosi in the main role, playing Anna, a 40-something-year-old mother of three.
Millions of people saw you on stage as Kristóf Deák was handed the Oscar for Best Short Film for ‘Sing!’. Could you ever get excited about anything ever again?
Of course! Cannes? Yes, please! I’ve been there once as a tourist, and I always thought how cool it would be to go back with a film. I am the lead in ‘One Day’ and the whole film depends on me and my acting, so I am more than curious to find out about its reception. I will travel together with my five-month-old baby girl.
The film is about a mother who has three children. When you were shooting you were not yet a mother, but you were when you first saw it. Did you see the film differently or did you feel differently about it after becoming a mother yourself?
Indeed, the first time I watched it was as a professional, not as a mother. I was constantly thinking back to the shooting, about how we were stuck in a traffic jam when we were doing the car scenes. That was the hardest part, actually, because there really was traffic. I had to play the part, with children in the car – which is a challenge in itself – let alone have to drive in rush hour and be mindful of the camera all at the same time. It was a real nightmare.
This film is completely built on your performance. How did you meet the director?
Zsófia was first looking for actresses who already have children, so I was not originally considered for the part. My name only came up later, when she was running out of time.
This was before ‘Sing!’ received the Oscar, right?
Yes, but I don’t think it mattered to Zsófia that my reputation improved after winning the Oscar either. I was scheduled to tour for three weeks in America with the Béla Pintér Company, so she and I made a quick pilot study before that. It was not like a usual casting with one or two scenes; they were hour-long shootings. Then while I was in America I got a long e-mail from her explaining why I didn’t get the part. I was still in the States when she wrote again to say that she had finally decided to chose me.
Interesting. How did the shooting go after a beginning like that?
It was hard, because the relationship between an actor and a director is built on mutual trust. But then later in the rehearsals we managed to touch common ground: we spent three weeks practising the scenes and practising with the children. I would meet them at day care and at kindergarten and we would play together so they would get used to me, to my hugs and to my affection. Becoming intimate needs time, even for me. Between the rehearsals and the shooting I returned to the United States for the Oscars, where we won the Best Short Film award. It was a really strange time in my life: one day I was rehearsing a constantly overwhelmed, broken down-looking mother of three and the next I was attending fittings for my evening gowns for the Oscars.
Were you given any guidelines for the role?
I could see the minimalist style from the script and the pilot. There is no action in this film like you might find in another movie. I was constantly asked: what are you shooting? What is it about? I would say that it’s a story that covers a typical day from a mother’s perspective. And people would always expect more, like ‘Ok, so that’s the context, but what’s the story?’ All I could add was that the character’s marriage was in crisis. It’s strange to have a film without a real synopsis, but that didn’t render the shooting any easier
What was the hardest part?
Shooting does not usually follow a chronological order, but in this case it was particularly diffi cult because there are only a few minutes’ diff erence between scenes, and yet I still have to show an inner change. But how? I have no lines, I have no big breakdowns. The director always made it clear what my emotional state should be, because an actor needs to receive a lot of guidance from their director. The fi lm is in the director’s imagination, so an actor is much more defenceless on set than in theatre, for example. On stage I can clearly see the structure I take part in, but in a movie I only see small slices that we eventually puzzle together.
What was it like to have three children on set? Like day care?
This fi lm was made under the Incubator Program funded by the Hungarian National Film Fund, so we had very little money and no buses or trailers to hang out in when there was no actual shooting. We shot in a fl at for three weeks, and there was a little place in the cellar where you could rest between takes. But then came the part with the three children, and all the noise and everything that comes with that. It was really tiring, and even though I was the lead, everything was adjusted to the children’s needs, not to me or to my comfort.
Just like in the movie.
Shooting took place during the theatrical season, so it was really hard for me to go act in a play after 12 hours of shooting. And, to my biggest surprise, it turned out that I was also pregnant. Thank God I wasn’t aware of it earlier, because I had to hold my 2-year old on-screen baby in my arms for hours on end! It would have been quite hard to secretly spare myself of that while carrying out hard work.
You and your little one look really happy in the movie.
Markó is a really cute boy and he really adored me. We spent some great times together before the shooting. But we also had some pretty tough scenes. Never in my life have I used a nasal aspirator on a baby, and here I had to try it with somebody else’s baby, which we could only record once.
Did all the women-related topics about invisible work aff ect you in any way?
Yes, it made me think about a lot of things, about how easy you can slip into another life and how fragile a relationship is.
Where do you think the on-screen couple went wrong in their marriage?
I don’t think they did anything wrong. It’s just that when you have three children, the attention gets scattered across everything. And it’s not a fi lm that focuses on the social life of Hungarian intellectuals; there are no clear answers. It’s strange that a director who does not have any children herself should want to address this theme. I think that’s the reason why this fi lm stays so objective and does not judge the couple. The husband is not an antagonist, he also puts himself on the line and feeds and baths the children just as their mother does. It’s just that in this partnership they lose each other, their love and their marriage. They forget to pay attention to one another. I found this film really interesting because it takes risks. The audience will find it either very interesting or very boring, there is no third option.