Interview with Emanuela Ponzano (Medea)

Profile: An award-winning and versatile actress in both cinema and theatre, Emanuela Ponzano was born in Brussels and attended drama school at Belgium’s Conservatoire Royal of Liege. She has starred in several films by accomplished directors, including John Irvin, and won a National Artistic Award for her acting in Italy, and a nomination for the prestigious “Prix Jacques Huisman”  theatre award. Emanuela recently wrote, directed, and acted in the multi-award-winning ‘La Slitta’ (The Sled)- a short film that was picked for the qualifying round of the 2018 Academy Awards (Oscars).

This interview is by Producer Massimo Barbato.

Q. What motivated you to play Medea in the upcoming short drama ‘Thessalus & Medea’ by Flying Dutchman Films?

Medea is Medea! An iconic woman of Greek tragedy, and of the Theatre. I remember the many great actresses of the past who have played Medea – I think of Irene Papas, first of all, then Isabelle Huppert whom I saw on stage. Then there’s Pasolini’s Medea, with Maria Callas. So for an actress, to be asked to play Medea is a wonderful gift, and I thank Flying Dutchman Films for this chance. The character is very complex and demanding. Having worked on many characters of Greek Tragedy before but never Medea, except at drama school, I found it interesting to be able to play her in a more interior way, through the lens of the camera. Jan Hendrik Verstraten’s screenplay interested me a lot because it starts about twenty years after the tragic end in Euripedes’ play. This is a totally original way to give Medea a voice and an identity. The story of ‘Thessalus & Medea’ exposes her inner torment, her remorse and tries to answer many unanswered questions about her past actions. I thought, this is a woman who deserves to be heard and that’s why I accepted the role.

Q. Describe Medea’s journey in the story, and how you prepared for the role?

In this story, Medea is hiding out in a labyrinth with her nurse. Many think she is dead. As an oracle, her activities are devoted to worshipping the Gods, practicing clairvoyance and magic. When a Greek soldier turns up unexpectedly one day, Medea initially tells him that she no longer has any influence with the Gods, hoping that would get rid of him. But the soldier has been sent to kill her, and questions her about the terrible crimes that she committed in the past, and causing the death of her children. Surprised by the soldier’s passion and fury, Medea realises that it’s her son Thessalus who stands before her, alive after many years of believing him to be dead. A journey of dialogue and confrontation between them begins towards the truth, and perhaps forgiveness. It’s a path that she never thought she would ever walk. I began my preparation by reading through the text, together with the director and the other actors in the cast. My development of the character took about two months prior to filming on the set. It was a long process using subtext, and researching Medea’s journey – her words, her emotional memory and her senses. I use a similar method for all the characters I play but for Medea, it took more time to explore the deep layers of pain that are associated with her past.

Q. What was the most challenging scene to film? Do you have a favourite scene?

In my opinion there are no favourite scenes in a film. For an actress, all moments are equally important. I will, however, say that the moment when Medea recognises her child, Thessalus, is one of the most poetic and delicate moments in the story. Then there is the need for her son, although reluctantly at first, to embrace his mother after all those lost years. It’s a profound and meaningful moment created with actor David Cotter who plays Thessalus, and the directorial tension given by Jan.

Q. Fox Italia has just voted you one of Italy’s top actresses to look out for in 2018. Congratulations! How does it feel, and was it a surprise to be chosen for this honour?

Thank you! To succeed in this industry is difficult for any actor in any part of the world. Reading that I am in a strong position to make an impact in cinema in 2018, encourages me to persevere here in Italy and abroad. I want to be known as an international actress and would like to work more often in the UK and London.

Q. As an international actress, how does working in the UK compare with other countries?

I have always held great esteem for English actors and cinema. Their rights are protected by Equity, and they have many possibilities to work internationally. This does not always happen elsewhere, except in France. England is a bridge between America and Europe, and many films are shot in the UK. England has a great respect for the profession and a good work ethic when it comes to preparing for a production.

Q. Did you learn anything new as an actress working on ‘Thessalus & Medea’?

As actors, we learn new things on every job. It’s one of the beauties of this profession. In ‘Thessalus and Medea’ there were lots of rehearsals, and I found this very useful. It’s not always the case that you get a director who is attentive to the actors and so a lot of your time is spent working alone. Directors tend to be more focused on the technical side of the film process than on the artistic side, but this was not at all the case.

Q. Is there a central message in the film that you would like audiences to understand?

This story shows that there is always the possibility of light at the end of the tunnel, even after years spent in darkness. Also, every woman, every mother has the right to speak her truth, especially to a son she presumed dead, as painful as it might be.

Q. To date, which film project are you most proud of?

As an actress, I embrace all the films I’ve been involved with and support them all. As a director and writer, I am most proud of my latest short film, ‘La Slitta’. The story carries an anti-racist message, as told through the child protagonist. I’m also proud of the 110 festivals that it was screened at, eventually qualifying for the 2018 Academy Awards.

Q. Where can we learn more about your work and future projects?

You can follow me on my website or via my social media, especially Facebook or Vimeo. My next role as an actress will be in a feature film in Italy. As a director, I’m currently writing the screenplay for my first feature and preparing a new short film. Thank you!