Today we are thrilled to be able to welcome Dana Ivgy to the site in order to talk about her new film Next to Her. Dana impresses in the film playing the mentally disabled half of the sibling relationship which the film revolves around. She gives a stunning performance and we couldn’t wait to sit her down and find out just how she approached the tricky role. Read on for more…
Could you begin by introducing the film to our readers?
Well… it’s always hard for me to answer that question because I look at a film from a very subjective point of view, from my characters point of view. I guess objectively it’s about Cheli living and taking care of her mentally disabled sister. She devotes her whole life to taking care of her which is something that their parents, for unknown reasons, gave up doing. One day she is forced to put her in day care and that’s when she finds that she has time for herself.
What was your initial reaction to Gabby and the possibility of playing her when you first read the script?
Well you know Israel is a very small place so I get to work with a lot of my friends, Asaf and Liron are actually my two best friends. Me and Asaf go way back to high school where we both studied cinema and we were always doing things together; I was his cinematographer, he was my editor and I used to act in his films. Once he married Liron we were always talking about our ideas together so I knew about the film when it was about three lines on a page!
The moment I heard about the film I knew it was going to be a great film, it just blew my mind. And regardless of whether I was going to play it I told them that they just had to make it. Having known of the idea and having thought that Asaf is a genius for years, it wasn’t as if I had to think hard about whether to accept the role!
Did you have any reservations or fears given that it is both a challenging role and also inspired by Liron’s sister?
Yeah, you’re right. Firstly if you don’t do a lot of research and assume you know things without studying the medical details you can really screw it up. It’s different to playing any other character because people can watch you and say we know that disease and it’s not like that.
I was very concerned though with the small details and I nearly drove them both crazy as I refused to show my work for three months. It was the only time in my life actually where somebody asked if we can do a tester and I said no, because without those three months of preparation it would have been like a parody and disrespectful.
I was afraid, but good things happen to me when I’m afraid as it drives me deeply into things. There’s a lot of fascinating material about mental disabilities and autism. In fact there are a lot of people who are autistic who have written books and so I could get their input and not somebody external’s.
It changed my life completely because the strongest thing I went through is just being at the place where Liron’s sister lived. I went there every week and spent time with her and those taking care of her. At first I was afraid it would be too much as some of the people there are in really bad condition. But then others were in good condition and communicative, after a long time there I realised it was just a different way of communication and it just needs time to understand their different language.
When I was watching your performance I was wondering how you approached the role, and I initially thought it would have been to focus on the physicality. But that came later you say…
Every time I tried to approach it like that it was such a cliché, I couldn’t even do it when I was alone in my room! I said to myself ‘don’t do anything until you know what it means’.
I needed to get to a place where I didn’t have to think about anything. The worst thing you can do when playing a character like that is let the camera see you think because nothing is thought of, it’s all very basic instincts.
Was much of the performance improvised then?
Well the script was really worked on and polished and they worked really hard to make it perfect for shooting. With my character it’s always a bit improvised as, despite having my cues, nobody knew what I would be doing in between those during takes.
I had this look which I was working on which has something more to do with autism than any physical disability. It’s a different kind of look, it’s a look inside and when you try to do it everything comes out of focus. So I was always improvising.
I was really afraid, I didn’t know how it would feel. On set I’m always talking between takes and making jokes and I was afraid I would have to lock myself away by myself for this role but I didn’t, I was just the same! But the whole time I worked on this performance it would take me to a different place somehow. It was very playful and flowing. I was also pregnant so maybe that had something to do with it!
You have such a diverse body of work behind you, was that a conscious decision which you made to strive for such varied work?
Well I’m very thankful for the people who want me to be in their films, I normally just pick roles and films which are interesting to me, to my personal taste.
When I was a teenager I had a membership for an arthouse cinema and me and Asaf would go and watch three or four films a day, two was casual. And I still dream to this day of making the kind of movies that I love watching, and they are always drawn from this diverse range of films at the cinema.
Have you ever considered writing or directing a film?
Yes, I have been considering it since leaving high school actually! I was originally hoping to study cinema in London, I tried to get into one but I was very naive and childlike. I only had my school film which, was ok for a school film but….
Then something came over me one day and I made a sudden decision to go to acting school. There was a specific teacher working in Israel and I thought they were the only person I must learn from. They were my mother and father’s teacher, in fact they actually met at that acting school and he was a real character around my house. He has passed away now but he is still one of my mentors, and I find that I talk to him in my head.
I didn’t know if I wanted to direct, act, work in theatre or make music… so I didn’t know if acting was what I wanted to do from early on. I gave myself until I was 45 to make my first film.
I know your work with the theatre group Tziporela and was wondering, do you think that the theatre and films inform each other in your work?
Oh absolutely. I think theatre is where you learn acting actually. It’s a really good thing to be on stage a lot as it is so exposing. Unlike cinema it’s always all of you which they are seeing all of the time. There are no takes, it happens now, and you have to learn how to love it when things go wrong. It’s a different technique, but for me their source is the same. People ask me what I prefer doing but I just like doing something that’s good! It doesn’t matter if it’s on stage or in film.
Whatever I do I try to make it a development both for me as an actor but also as a person. I put all this time and energy into something and I love that it changes me. Especially in cinema as I find that the changes are inside. I feel that I have to make those changes so people don’t notice that it’s me on screen! I love how these characters and experiences change something within me, they leave a very deep imprint.
Next to Her is released in UK cinemas from today (11th of March), will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!