Close-up: An Interview With Luana Velis

LUANA Velis is one of the lead actors of Tilman Singer’s debut feature Luz. A film about demonic possession that has already been described as ‘flummoxing’, ‘tantalising’ and ‘daringly unconventional’.

Luana joins us on Close-up Culture for a fascinating discussion about her role in this mysterious film and her background.

Q: I know Luz may not be the easiest film to pin down. But how would you describe this film and your character (also named Luz)?

A: FOR me, the film is an open one with a lot of great visuals. It is very metaphoric. There are many questions without any answers. That is what I love about it. You don’t have to understand the film. You have to feel it.

In the theatre it is often the same. The audience wants answers from the director or the actresses and actors – “Can you explain to me..? Can you describe to me..?” For me it is much more interesting to ask how people feel when they see a film/piece. Do they feel provoked by it? Why? What are their associations to it? To be able to play this role I had to answer these questions for myself, too.

This is how my fantasy goes along with Luz: I would describe it as a coming-of-age film with a lot of punk rock. A love story between the devil and Luz? Yes. It is also about sex, virginity and losing it.

Luz is far away from being one of the crowd. She understands people, situations and emotions deeper and profounder than any one else and gets bored with small talk and daily life. I haven’t found a word for it, but perhaps you could say it is like an emotional autism? She can hear the emotions and sounds that others don’t hear. She wants more. She has passion. She tries to feel alive in discovering the limits. The devil is the first one who understands her and shows her a limit. With him she finally can let go, and “fall” in love.

The film is also about a connection between the audience and the film, because the film teases you constantly without giving you relief or a solution.

Q: How did you get cast for this film and do remember your reaction when you first read the script?

A: TILMAN and I had a scholarship for Montepulciano in Italy a few years ago. There we spent a few weeks together as students, and got to know each other and our works. Two years later he sent me the script, which I did not catch on first sight. My first reaction to it was: ‘ha!’

The script was faster then and I had no idea what it was about. But there was an intuition and a vibe in it. Tilman and I met up. He told me about his fascination with hypnosis, the way he wanted to shoot the film (in 16mm) and about my colleagues Jan Bluthardt and Julia Riedler. After hearing all of his plans, I was immediately committed to the project.

Q: This is a rather audacious debut from Tilman. Can you tell us about working with him and what he is like as a director?

A: TILMAN also has a theatre backround and you can notice it in his work. He was constantly interested in our thoughts and always stayed close to us. There was no casting process in the usual way. He already knew Jan, Julia and me and our work from a long time before and had us in mind.

It was important for him that the team and the actors get along with each other. So Jan, Tilman and I spent some days together and talked a lot about the film and ourselves. There was huge trust coming from him. Tilman knew what he wanted and he was sparkling. He must have had these talks with everyone who did participate in the film because during the shoot we often had the same intuitions. We usually didn’t need more than one or two takes. There was a huge concentration from all people involved and we were all clear about what we wanted to tell.

Q: This was also you first feature. How was the experience? What were the challenges you faced?

A: TO work on my own. Usually in the theatre you have eight weeks of rehearsals and you develop the figure and the piece together. You are constantly in touch and in dialogue with your colleges. Now I had to prepare on my own at home without knowing my fellow actresses and actors and their approach on set. As I told you, we had almost no rehearsals – only trust and conversations. It felt like playing tennis without a partner.

Also the language. It was the first time I had acted in Spainish. Luz doesn’t speak German well. So I had to find a language for her. The way my father speaks helped me with that.

Also I was very new in the job. I recently came from drama school and I was a huge fan of Julia and Jan. It was a big thing for me to get to know them and get the chance to act with them. I was freaked-out nervous.


Q: Are you a fan of the horror genre? If so, can you name any favourites?

A: NOT horror in particular. I like films where you do not know where they take you. When there are figures in it you fall in love with. Like Charlie Kaufman films, Victoria by Sebastian Schipper or Magnolia from Paul Thomas Anderson.

Q: Theatre has been your main profession. Did that background help you in Luz?

A: THIS film was special because we shot it in 16mm. Since it was a low budget film there was a huge concentration on set. Almost like a life moment in theatre. Every scene was like a premiere show in theatre. I enjoyed it a lot! The concentration from 30 people in a hot and full room.

That is also why I do theatre. When the doors close and the piece begins there is an accordance between the audience, the actors and the people behind the stage. It all flows together to become one. For me this is the power of arts – it brings people together. There is magic in it.

Q: How about your grounding in dance?

A: IN my preparations for Luz, I thought a lot about the body language from Luz. Perhaps because I was a dancer before I went to drama school my first access to a new role is the movement and body language.

The whole hypnosis taxi scene was a lot of fun for me – it reminds me of my first year at school where I had to do physical theatre and tell stories only with my body. I had to play the role of breast cancer, a chair and a schnitzel. I always wondered what it would be useful for in future. Turns out it was Luz!


Q: Can you tell us more about your background? I believe you have South America roots.

A: MY father is a Chilean musician and political refugee from the time of Pinochet’s dictatorship. He had to leave his country because of his music. That is why I grew up in Germany. But the plan was always to go back one day. The cap I am wearing as Luz in the film is his ones.

Last month I won a price as best actress in Brazil with Luz and he saw it for the first time. He was very proud to see that Chile is in me and that the continent which he is from is finding joy in my performance. There is also some South American spirit in this film. It reminds me a lot of the magic realism you find in South American literature, like The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Q: What is the current state of the German arts scene?

A: THE scene is very much influenced by globalization. The art scene is opening and diversifying, although there is still a fight for the same rights between men and women, people of color and white people in leading positions.

Also defining and overthinking the role of women and men on stage or in stories. Opening the borders between nations, arts and languages. What stories and topics are important to tell?

But there is no political system that protects the artists and the value of a group like an ensemble, working together for years. There are almost no more women older than 50 in the ensembles of the German film and theatre landscape. Instead of working 10 years in the same house, in the same city, with the same people you get contracts for two years. This reality is very difficult to combine with the necessaries of reality and a family life.

Q: What is next for you? Do you want to make more films?

A: SURE! I would love to do more films and to work in other countries. Next week my rehearsals will start at the Schauspielhaus Frankfurt, where I am in the Ensemble and on stage. I will work with the director Luk Preceval and we will make a piece about cancer titled Grace and Grit. And I will do my drivers license.

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