Rea Lest talks NO99 Theatre, Estonian Cinema and Tarantino

REA Lest is one of Europe’s most exciting acting talents having won praise for her lead performance in Rainer Sarnet’s film November. Prestridge² had the opportunity to speak with Rea about November, her stage work and much more.

Q: You are part of the highly renowned NO99 theatre in Estonia. Can you tell me about your experiences working with NO99 and how it has shaped you as an artist?

A: I JOINED theatre NO99 straight after graduating from the Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre some three years ago. So it is my 4th season with them.

It is not a typical drama oriented theatre – we sometimes start our projects with a written play, but mostly we work with improvisation.

Usually we start from a theme, a feeling or an abstract idea, and then go on a journey to the great unknown in hope of returning with something that can be formed into a performance.

Working like this keeps challenging me as an artist (although I prefer not to call myself an artist) every day. It challenges me as an actor, a human being, a citizen. And in order to work like this you need to be sensitive, aware. You need to dream and keep your fantasies alive and most importantly it demands an awareness of the energy between people.

Q: Out of the NO99 productions you have appeared in, do you have any favourites? If so, why?

A: IT is difficult to name a favourite, but NO36 Dreamers is special to me, partly because I got to fulfil my secret dream about being in a band. For that production we created a metal band – and that was really exciting for me to be a part of.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into acting?

A: I WAS born and raised right here where I am today, in Tallinn. How I got into acting was actually a coincidence. I was asked to join the theatre group in high school, because they were missing some girls. Although I had no interest in theatre, I was hooked by photography and spent my spare time in a darkroom developing photos. I then decided to give it a try. Somehow I kept going back and ended up where I am today.

Q: You play a lead role in Rainer Sarnet’s November, which has received great reviews and is considered to be an early Oscar contender. How does it feel to be part of such an exciting project?

A: IT feels exciting of course. It was the second movie I started working with. When they asked me to play the role of Liina I was more than happy to because I liked the novel and I liked how Rainer had transformed it into a script.

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Rea Lest in Rainer Sarnet’s November (Image by Gabriela Liivamägi)

I really wanted to work with these people and be a part of this magical world of November. At the moment I feel that the movie is living a life of its own – travelling and screening all over the world. It is nice to read or hear that it is doing good.

Q: Did you enjoy going to the Tribeca Film Festival with the film? How was that experience?

A: TRIBECA was exciting – I mean New York was exciting. It was my first time there and my first time in a city that big and vibrant.

I felt like the week we spent there was just like in the movies. Since I am not a huge fan of festival glamour and red carpet situations, I was just happy to stroll down the streets enjoying my coffee and a 99cent pizza.

Q: As well as Rainer, you have worked with director Sulev Keedus on The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow. Can you tell us about both directors, more specifically their styles and what they were like to work with?

A: SULEV Keedus is a scriptwriter and director whose documentaries are fragile and beautiful and whose movies are hauntingly mysterious.

He was the first director I started working with. At first it was a bit strange, because I had pretty much no idea how a movie is shot – how it works on the set and Sulev is not a man of many words.

Rea Lest in Sulev Keedus’ The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow

So we just met on the set, said ‘Hello’ and started shooting, or in my case discovering this new world. All his directions and proposals were very delicate, only a few words maybe. But the atmosphere he managed to create on the set was so strong that sometimes no words were needed. That was the magical element I really enjoyed while working with him.

Working with Rainer Sarnet was different. He likes strange humour, grotesque, dreams, fairytales and horror. In November he was always in that world with us. It seemed that he managed to put himself in every character, discovering the possibilities not only through the actors, but through himself as well.

We also did a lot of rehearsals, because we had many non-actors who were just really characteristic people from all over the country, so we needed to let them get used to this new situation and to find a balance between us acting wise. Some of them turned out to be just brilliant.

Q: Sadly, we do not get to see many Estonian films in UK cinemas but streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix are starting to take an interest. Can you tell us about the condition of the Estonian film industry? 

A: I FEEL like the Estonian film industry is rising. There are more and more films coming each year. It is quite amazing considering the fact we basically have two professional teams full of incredibly passionate, hardworking people who are pretty much behind all of it.

I really like the fact that the main emphasis is on author’s cinema and creative storytelling. Of course some attempts to make Hollywood style blockbusters or comedies occur from time to time, but I think this is just part of the business.

Q: What are your ambitions for the future? Are there any particular actors or directors that you would love to work with?

A: WELL I have always had this little dream that maybe one day I will get a call from Quentin Tarantino, but until then I will keep on doing what I do and try to manage my everyday life as well as I can.

Click here to lean more about the NO99 theatre

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