Sydney-based actor Rèka Gavaldi joins us on Close-up Culture to chat about overcoming accent issues, receiving an emotional response to one of her roles, and her hopes for 2019.
Q: How was your experience working on Dominik Hauser’s Dead Squad?
A: I feel very lucky to be cast by Dominic for this role from the pool of actors in Australia. I played the role of the zombie wife and it was a very physical role. Dominic did a great job directing all of us and paying homage to the 1980’s horror movies.
I got to play alongside Conan Stevens, who is best known for his roles in The Hobbit and HBO’s Game of Thrones (‘The Mountain’), and Amazon Eve, who is known for her role in the American Horror Story: Freak Show. It was a real treat to work with such an outstanding director and cast members. The set was amazing, and the makeup artists and costume designer helped to bring my character to life.
Dominic knew exactly what he wanted. His directions made it easy to perform take after take.
Q: As seen on your Instagram, fitness is a big part of your routine. How important are gym time and fitness to you? Also, what other activities do you like to get up to away from the camera?
A: I work out five times a week. Physical exercise is an essential part of my day, just like breakfast. I love endurance training because I love to push myself to the limit and challenge my body. I did judo from age 9 to 15, and I competed. Those six years shaped my mind and gave me a disciplined foundation.
I love doing energy work and especially channelling energy through my hands. I like to help heal people.
Q: One of the most notable projects you’ve worked on is ‘No Place on Earth’. What memories can you share from this project and the impact it had on you?
A: The documentary, No Place on Earth, written and directed by Janet Tobias, is an astonishing story of survival. Thirty-eight Ukrainian Jews hid underground for a year and a half — 511 days in total — and survived the Holocaust. This is remarkable since ninety per cent of Ukrainian Jews were exterminated in World War II.
We shot some major scenes in temperatures as low as minus 42 degree Celsius in a cemetery and up in the mountains in Slovakia. We also spent a week underground in the cave the survivors had hidden in for that length of time. So minus 42 degrees Celsius in a cemetery, mountains, and caves, really put us right in the middle of where all of the horrors happened.
I remember when I was reading the script and getting instructions from Janet, I was swallowing my tears at the same time, as the story hit me very deeply.
Three amazing cinematographers worked on the film: the Oscar-nominated Cesar Charlone, a Hollywood giant; Eduard Grau, Boy Erased; and Peter Simonite, Tree of Life. It was a phenomenal experience working with these incredible cinematographers. Their combined expertise helped the performance all of the actors. The film was nominated for the Writers Guild of America award for best documentary screenplay.
Q: You recently shared on Instagram that you received a letter from a friend of the family that was portrayed in the movie. How special was that for you?
A: Very. When you play a real person the responsibility as an actor is huge. I played Leah Wexler, a very fragile young Jewish mother who was executed with one of her sons in a very intense scene. I kind of talked to Leah in my meditations before shooting the scenes, that way I felt that I was channelling her. I was told that when her son watched the movie the first time, he was very touched by the way I portrayed his mum.
He sent me this message: ‘Dear Reka, I wanted to let you know that in the movie No Place on Earth you portrayed my friend’s grandmother, Leah Wexler. Thank you for the wonderful job you did and for keeping her memory alive and well. Her son, Sol, who is now 85, has you to thank for paying honour to his mother’s memory. Thanks so much.’
Q: You’ve been living in Sydney for 4 years now. What have been the biggest challenges for you as a person and as an actor in Australia?
A: My greatest challenge here as an actor is my Eastern European accent, which has unfortunately limited me to certain roles. These days, my accent is more neutral, and that’s made my agent very happy! It’s also helped to open more doors not available to me before.
Personally, it is hard to live so far away from my family. My family lives In Germany, but we are originally from Hungary. I lived in Budapest before I came to Sydney. It is hard not being able to hug my mother, father, grandmother and my sister as often as I would like to.
Q: We are fast approaching the end of 2018. Do you have a favourite film or performance from this year that you can share with us?
A: I’ve been shooting mainly TV commercials this year, quite a lot of them. I recently shot an image campaign for Destination New South Wales Sydney edition. It’s an Australian Tourism campaign introducing Sydney to people who choose to visit the city. I also had a small role in Ladies in Black, a film directed by Bruce Beresford. It was a non-speaking role, and I was in a scene with Julia Ormond.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for 2019?
A: I am very grateful for all that happened to me here in Sydney. I am now ready and prepared to get larger roles here in Australia, as well as in Europe or wherever the role takes me.
Title photo by Daniel Sommer