Tamila Koulieva’s gifts and skills

The first thing that comes to mind when looking at Tamila Koulieva is «transformation.» How does this thin, petite woman with the huge eyes transform into a femme fatale, a sensual, dynamic, strong and decisive monster? She is the kind of actress who can run the whole gamut of emotions from frailty to total control and then back to base again, more mature and gifted. Critics and audiences agree: Koulieva is gifted, while at the same time hardworking and well organized. In Greece for the last 10 years, the Russian actress cracked the language while acting on stage, in film and on television, constantly improving her accent. «I’m still working with a teacher and I don’t think I will ever stop. Speech must sound familiar to the audience. These days I think in Greek and that was no easy to task,» says Koulieva. The actress first came across the Greek language while at the University of Moscow. She took courses for two months before moving to Greece with her husband Greek director Grigoris Karantinakis. «I continued on my own, reading books with the help of dictionaries,» she explains. It was love that took Koulieva from Moscow to Greece. A love affair that began to blossom in college: Her future husband was taking courses in direction while she was taking acting classes. Although Koulieva’s family has no connection to the theater – her father is a professor of mathematics and her mother a civil engineer – both she and her sister are actresses, though in different parts of the world. Her sister is based in Ecuador and is also a critically acclaimed actress. «I feel lucky to have the basis I acquired in Moscow at the State Institute of Cinema. I owe a lot to Alexei Batalov, a brilliant teacher,» says Koulieva. In Athens, the actress transmits her multifaceted knowledge to her own students; since 1992, she has been teaching acting and improvisation at various drama schools, while this year she began teaching at the National Theater’s Experimental Stage. Her own first appearance on stage in Greece was in Richard Kalinoski’s «A Beast on the Moon,» directed by Stathis Livathinos, followed by Shakespeare’s «Coriolanus,» and Euripides’ «Trojan Women,» among others. This year, Koulieva and Karantinakis were reunited at the Poreia Theater, in David Mamet’s play «The Woods.» In the play, which Karantinakis directed, Koulieva stars alongside Dimitris Tarlow. Her character, Ruth, is a woman who acts on instinct, knowledge and desire, leading both herself and her companion to self-knowledge through an endless exercise of foiling her sexual desire. «These are innocent characters, even though Mamet does not absolve them. There is nothing in the back of their minds. The trials of their relationship lead them to an embrace, which might be the only one out there. Who knows? The man is living in some kind of self-created virtual reality, where he has found comfort and security. And that, I believe is a typical characteristic of men. They find comfort in a situation, and when they lose that they don’t rise to the occasion. They don’t want to leave their fears behind. They are so used to them. The play’s single most important moment is when these two people face each other as they truly are. This revealing moment is a magic one.» Magical and exhausting at once, the play requires great stamina and a wise hoarding of energy and technique on the part of the actors. For Koulieva, it must be doubly exhausting as she is also preparing for her summer appearances in «Medea» at Epidaurus. A National Theater Experimental Stage production, the tragedy will be directed by Livathinos. «I began rehearsals a month and a half ago and I am particularly stressed. This is the part of a lifetime,» says Koulieva. The year’s activities were further complemented by a film appearance in Ersi Danou’s «A Sea Apart» (currently playing in local cinemas), where Koulieva takes on the role of a Greek-American woman living in Los Angeles with her family. «I think that the movie brings out this feeling of nostalgia and the desire to go back, something we all carry inside. Nostalgia for our past and nostalgia for ourselves. We are always looking for our lost adolescence.» Do you share the same feelings of nostalgia with the film’s heroine? For me, there is no such thing as coming back. I never felt like a foreigner in Greece. Though it’s all somewhat relevant: You might feel like a stranger among your own people on the one hand, and feel that you fit in with a group of strangers, on the other. It depends on how you feel and how others make you feel. I was immediately accepted here, be it by the land, the environment or the people. Do you feel blessed as far as your career is concerned? You made local headlines as soon as you started working here. Do you know how hard that is? It all started with Vangelis Serdaris’s film «Vassiliki.» Then I went into theater, followed by some work in television. When success comes so suddenly, the pressure is on and you must find a way to handle it. I keep on thinking and talking about responsibility. I constantly feel that the next step is completely bound to the previous one. Were your steps facilitated by the situation you found here? I was given a chance. It’s just that when you get a chance you must be ready to take it. I was very lucky. A talented actor, even one who performs miracles, must work on his craft every day, otherwise he will not make any kind of progress. I learn through the different characters I interpret. At times, the characters’ reactions reveal things that are locked up in our own personal attitude and mentality. I am discovering myself. What did you discover about yourself through the role of Mamet’s Ruth? That I’m very much «locked» in the past, that I live through my memories. Ruth made me see how wrong that is. Our past is a dowry, a great wealth, but you can’t always bathe in memories; what is important is the day after. Does the fact that you are now an established actress give you a sense of power? No. The only time that I feel that I’m controlling myself is when I’m on stage, sharing someone else’s pain, for instance, and it is up to me to build the road to catharsis. I am not the kind of person who uses power on their family or in their relationships. I don’t enjoy exerting power.