Aistė Diržiūtė you are best known for the role of Austė in The Summer of Sangaile (Lithuanian: Sangailė or Sangailės Vasara) by Alanté Kavaïté for which you became the first Lithuanian actress named as one of the European Shooting Stars, alongside actors such as Maisie Williams and Moe Dunford at Berlin Film Festival in 2015. You also won the award for Best Lithuanian Actress at the Vilnius International Film Festival and was nominated for both Sidabrinė gervė and KINFO awards. How that made you feel and what attracted you to the role of Austė?
It wasn’t my awards, it was our awards. Without director, crew and of course Julija, I couldn’t have done anything. Maybe because from the very beginning we were all focused on the idea and how to spread it, we didn’t think about a journey the film could have, so everything what came after was a big and pleasant surprise. Though my most important award is people who decided to come out, to change their lives, find and accept themselves after watching The Summer of Sangaile.
When I was invited for the first audition for Auste, I was so impressed by the amount of similarities I have with her as a character. My mother is a sewer, so I knew how to sew, favourite Auste’s song was my entry’s exam to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre song etc. On the second round I’ve met with Julija, who is actually my very very very old and dear friend. We know each other since we were 13 years old, we were very close friends and when we reached 16-17 we just stopped talking, nothing happened, just our lives have changed, and we’ve met in audition room after not seeing each other for around 3 years. This part was crazy and it was more or less clear that a destiny brought us there to make that film together. After a film we became inseparable. Being more particular about Auste, I was really impressed by that kind of a character, positive and happy lesbian character, who knows herself, who is confident and who is accepted by her family (mother). Usually LGBT characters are shown in more melancholic way and I think we need to show more positive stories to inspire the ones who are still fighting with their sexuality to accept themselves and enjoy the love.
Can you tell us where your inspiration, knowledge, perhaps even experiences came from for playing Austė? For sure there was a good guidance by the director Kavaïté, however the way you portrayed the role it depended solely on you.
Me, Julija and Alante (director) became friends, we were spending a lot of time together, talking a lot and just enjoying our time together even before shootings. That helped us a lot during all the process, we were friends who built a world together and lived in it for some months. As it was my first ever role in a film, I was following Alante and absorbing every word of her. Though all of her guidance worked with everything what I’ve had in mind about Auste. First of all I’ve found an animal of her which is fox. Auste is cute and charming fox and sometimes a Teddy Bear, when you really need it. I am a ‘giver’ one by myself, so just needed to work on that part of mine even more and be very open, loving and sincere. For the lesbian sex part of the character, I watched The L World and talked a loooot with my lesbian friends, because we wanted to make it as real and beautiful as possible. To get the flow for the character I watched many films from 40s, 50s and 60s and listened a lot of music from that time. And I was madly in love at that time, that probably helped too : ))
Do you think that sexual orientation of the actresses and/or director matter in making a lesbian film? I know acting is acting and good acting shouldn't influence the performance of which ever form of love portrays, however do you think that a certain experience adds to the quality of the role portrayed? Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, equal, free, democratic relationships and world)?
I don’t think that sexual orientation or gender matters. I do believe that everyone of us is bisexual, some more into heterosexual part, some more into homosexual part, some equally in love in both genders. I don’t think that I would play a lesbian character better if I would have had more experience with girls, after all, love is what matters. It would be worse if I would have never been in love before the shooting.
I think film or in general art shouldn’t portray certain values or attitudes just because it’s progressive or trendy now, you should want to talk about it and care a lot about that matter. However nowadays I see another a bit dangerous thing when many people try to talk about it just because it’s “not good not to talk about it” without really caring, believing and changing the world.
I read that after playing Austė you, your co-star Julija Steponaitytė (who played Sangailė) and director Kavaïté got many love letters, how that made you feel?
Surprised and inspired! I could have never imagine how many people from all over the world would be inspired by the film and get connected with characters and the story. The most amazing thing is that even though the film was released in 2015, we still get so many beautiful letters from people who got inspired by The Summer of Sangaile! People’s love is the greatest award.
In 2016 you stared in Kings' Shift directed by Ignas Miškinis and the short film Back directed by Gabrielė Urbonaitė. Both films premiered at the Vilnius International Film Festival. Can you tell us about those roles and alongside the role in The Pagan King (2018)?
Julija, Alina and Lauga. All of them are very different. Julija in Kings’ Shift is typical up and coming millenial, who doesn’t care much about anything but fun and easy life. She works at the private hospital as a nurse, just because her grandpa was an important doctor etc. That kind of a person, who is not bad by herself, she just grew up in particular circumstances. She has everything, but in fact doesn’t have anything. She is lost and she doesn’t even understand that. Alina in Back was more or less a small and joyful cameo in my friend and really good director Gabriele Urbonaite film. Lauga in The Pagan King is my first ever lead female role in English were I worked with such an amazing actors like Edvin Endre and James Bloor. Lauga is a pagan girl who became queen and managed to remain that wild spirit. I had to learn how to throw knives, fight with swords, ride a horse, hold grass snakes in my hands, get well super fast with dogs and of course how to love and trust without any doubt. Julija, Alina and Lauga were such a pleasure and joy to live in!
You played Marina Malich in Kharms by Ivan Bolotnikov (2017). How come you decided for that role and you played Joana in Ashes in the Snow (so called Baltic Schindler's List, 2018) based on the best-selling book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Both films are about the times of the Soviet Union.
Marina came to me out of the blue. Casting director just wrote me on Facebook and asked if I can speak in Russian, I said “no, but I can learn” and that’s how it all started. Beautiful journey of Marina, from shootings in Saint Petersburg to the premiere in Shanghai IFF. One friend was helping me with a language, another friend was translating a small book of Marina memoirs from Russian to Lithuanian and all people around were just supporting me a lot. I fell in love with her from the first sentences, such a character! Such a story! Filmmakers should make a film based on her life, seriously! I would always remember my days off and shooting days in Saint Petersburg, walking around city, museums and exploring everything through Marina’s eyes.
Ashes in the Snow is a very special film for me too. It all started with readings of script some years before shootings and ended up with a beautiful story based on a great book. Joana is that sparkle of joy and happiness in a scary, sad and tough world in Siberia that reminds you about the bright days before the war.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? I watched an interview where you mention actresses like Merly Streep, Irene Jacob, Tilda Swinton and Ingrid Bergman as your biggest inspiration.
Love. In all possible and impossible ways and senses, love is my biggest inspiration. Love for people, world, life and amor. Actors, books, films, art, fights for good, it all melts in the power of love.
I’m very superstitious and never talk about the future, because I know very well from my own experience, if I say something, that usually doesn’t happen or happens in a bit different way. So let’s say, we’ll see.