Rea Lest studied acting at the renowned Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Since 2014, she has been performing on stages in Tallinn and Europe with Theatre NO99, an innovative theatre ensemble of nine core actors under the direction of Tiit Ojasoo and Ena Liis Semper. On the big screen, she was cast in the lead role of Maara/Elina/Luna Lee in ”The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow” (2017) directed by Sulev Keedus, which was screened at a number of international festivals including the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and the Helsinki International Film Festival. She also enjoyed acclaim for her main role as Liina in ”November” (2017) by Rainer Sarnet. ”November” has had a huge international success, having been invited to more than fifty film festivals and winning awards at a number of those festivals, including the Grand Prix Golden Listapad at the Minsk International Film Festival for Best Film and Best Estonian Film at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Lest was nominated as Best Actress for her performance in ”November” at the Tribeca Film Festival. She was also awarded Best Actress at the Estonian Film Awards 2018 for ”November,” which also won Best Film and Best Director for Sarnet. Lest can next be seen in the leading role of Jenna in ”Scandinavian Silence” by Martti Helde, which will premiere in 2019.
Tara Karajica talks to Rea Lest about being an actress, a Shooting Star, women in film and her next projects.
What made you want to become an actress?
Rea Lest: In high school, I accidentally joined the school’s theater group without really having any idea what it is. I hadn’t even been to theater that much. I was completely in the unknown, but somehow I kept going. I used to be a very quiet and shy girl, but getting involved with theater opened something in me; I somehow discovered this girl in me, and I actually liked her. Something about acting seemed right for me and since then I’ve discovered myself in the most wonderful places along this road.
Your credits are so eclectic and your roles so different. How do you choose a role?
R.L.: Since these were my first film roles, I was, of course, more than happy to take on the challenge, but also these different worlds were so inviting from the start. Now, when I receive more invitations to collaborate, and you can’t do everything and need to choose, then I follow sparks. When reading a script, meeting a director, hearing about an idea sparks something in me, then I tend to trust that.
Your character in Rainer Sarnet’s November is very raw, human and animal at the same time. Can you talk about Liina and her soul?
R.L.: One’s soul is like a deep, dark water and the secrets lay in the bottom. Liina is a young girl in love in a world full of greed and deceit. A world where magic is as normal as farting, dealing with the devil as usual as stealing from your neighbor. And everyone is driven by the need to possess something and that may also be a loved one. But although Liina is this animal-human driven by the same desires as everyone else, there’s something in her that makes her different from others. There’s this abstract longing for something unnamable, something that cannot be touched or possessed. A feeling out of this world, both painful and beautiful. And through this, she’s able to let her own desire go and experience some kind of higher selfless love or the existence of the soul.
Your role in that film is very physical even if deals with spiritual matters present in Estonian pagan and European Christian mythologies. How have you prepared for it?
R.L.: All this pagan mythology is something that, in different ways, has always surrounded me. Through the superstition of grandparents, the scary stories to keep children out of the woods and near the farm, the traditions of the day of the souls, which you can also see in the film. This mythology, the fantasies it provoked and the subtle feeling of magic in the air has always been more of a physical experience for me. And what inspired me most about Liina and her way of being was the fact that she was also a wolf. So I guess that’s where the physicality came from.
You have starred on stage, on TV and in film. Which medium do you prefer? Why?
R.L.: When it comes to theater and film, I couldn’t prefer one to another. They are two very different mediums with their own different working methods and, as an actor, I find it important to practice and experience both. And I really hope I have a chance to do so in the future.
How much of you is there in every character you play? Do you manage to dissociate yourself completely from your persona in order to play someone else?
R.L.: I think no matter how I put it or how dissociated I consider myself to be, in a way, I am always present in the characters I play. Something in me made me choose a role, therefore the initial decision to become someone else comes from me. Of course, the life and the actions of the character are far from my own. But the desire to experience something other than what I imagine myself to be, to surprise myself is a desire to escape from my persona. And every character is a chance to try that.
What does being a Shooting Star mean to your career and how do you think it will impact it?
R.L.: The chance to be a part of the Shooting Stars program couldn’t have come at a better time! The existence of Theatre NO99, where I’ve spent the last four or five years has just come to an end and now I’m taking my first steps as a freelancer in an unknown territory. So I think that before visiting the Berlinale, it’s difficult to predict what it all means and what will come of it. But I’m looking forward to it!
What does it take to be a star, according to you?
R.L.: Hmm… I think true stars are the ones who don’t really think about it.
There has been a lot of talk about women in film this part year. What do you make of the situation of women in film? How is the situation in Estonia?
R.L.: I think a human’s desire to make films should manifest itself in making films on equal basis and with equal opportunities. It’s difficult to say something from a position where the directors I’ve worked with have put a woman in the center of attention. The upcoming film projects that I’ve started working with or had discussions about seem to do the same. I can’t say that there’s a lack of female filmmakers in Estonia.
Who is your favorite female filmmaker? Is there one you would love to work with?
R.L.: I’m glad Triin Ruumet, my favorite female filmmaker in Estonia, invited me to work on her next project. Also I’ve enjoyed the works of Sofia Coppola, Liv Ullmann and Patty Jenkins.
What are your next projects?
R.L.: At the moment, I’m working on a short film with students from the Baltic Film and Media School. As mentioned earlier, I’ve had discussions with Veiko Õunpuu about his new film and with Triin Ruumet about hers. This year, I also wish to continue working on stage – I’ve had some discussions with some people I’d like to work with, and I hope these plans and ideas will eventually happen.
Photo credits: © Harald Fuhr / EFP