Born and raised in Hungary, the actress Veronika Varga moved to Brussels to train at The Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Veronica then completed her training at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris.
In Paris she found her breakout role in the short film Emilie Muller, which merited much critical acclaim. Working across Europe in three languages Veronika has established a brilliant body of work; including roles in The Witcher, The King of Paris and The Serpent among others during her dynamic career across the European continent. Frequently travelling to London for film auditions Veronika has established links with Durham as her children now study here.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Where were you born – where did you train/move too etc?
I grew up in Communist Hungary, in a poor neighbourhood in Budapest, my father fought for my education and I was lucky to go to a good school despite of the circumstances.
Higher education is particularly difficult to get into in Hungary and so I left for Belgium for a year to learn French.
Acting has always been a passion of mine, and something that I have dreamed of as a child. I left Hungary, where Universities are particularly hard to gain a place at, so I applied to train at the Royal Conservatory in Belgium Brussels. I was supposed to return to Hungary the following year, but at the encouragement of my teachers applied to and won a place at the National Conservatory of the Dramatic Arts in Paris, which was a huge achievement, at a time when people wouldn’t easily leave Hungary, nor get back in, it was a risk that paid off!
Why did you choose not to return to Hungary to train?
The acting schools in eastern Europe are being called out for the way the treat young actors- they break them down to build them back up again. There is a degradation of creative young people, which is being spoken about and exposed at the moment. The first time I auditioned in Hungary I knew I couldn’t train there. Hopefully things will change for young actors training now.
One of your first works, the short film Emilie Muller (1994) was a critical success, and continues to be acclaimed today- could you tell us a little about the film and how it changed your life?
It’s a short movie, of about twenty minutes directed by Yvon Marciano. It’s about an audition of a young lady who presents what’s in her bag, giving a touching story for each item.
It’s like my little clock, it’s been twenty-six years, almost every week I receive letters, parodies or commentary on the film- pictures, drawing comedies- I’m always reminded of it. It was my biggest success: it was a big project, but if you don’t immediately bounce off it get more roles, it becomes difficult to have a big break- it was a hit but in the film world that doesn’t mean the actors instantly become famous.
Watch Emilie Muller here now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Om8e9494G-Q
You perform and act in three languages! What does this mean for you as an actress and do you believe the languages (French/Hungarian/English) communicate emotions differently?
As grew up in Hungary [then a communist state] I discovered the theatre by chance, on a trip to Belgium.
I was able to discover the world of theatre through the French language. I was learning the French language at the same time that I was learning to be an actress, they were intertwined completely, I learnt fluency in French through theatre roles. There is a formal space, a large space between the language of the play and the role of the actress, and I can fill that space through fully inhabiting a role on stage which breaks down any barriers in language.
For me it is so difficult to act in English. To audition for a scene in English it takes a lot of work. I am able to do improvisation in Hungarian and French, but not English. Before a scene in front of BBC casting director I trained with an English friend and even was hypnotised so I believed I could speak English for the audition!
Acting in different languages have also been symbolic of the different stages of my life, and my movement through the world and my own life. In terms of communicating emotions, English is still very difficult and I am working on a project where I have to speak English for a full series for a Hungarian project.
Do you feel frustrated that commercial projects are often in English, even when projects are European?
Well English is a communal language, the project I’m working on is Pan-European and offers insight into many different European cultures through the medium of English, which makes it accessible for many people across the continent.
What is your favourite medium to act in – theatre, television or film?
The theatre for me- it is my first passion, to act in front of the camera is not the same thing- it’s very, very different. I have come to like working in film and in front of the camera, but it wasn’t immediate, my dream was always the stage. My training in the conservatory focused on the theatre, we wrote plays as young students and trained performing in them. It’s the life you live and breathe as a young actor.
Do you have a favourite theatre piece or playwright?
The Seagull, by Anton Chekov is my favourite. I love this play, in my first film, and it was about the theatre, and in the film was focused around the performance of the play. it’s a story which happens in Paris in the thirties and is focused around the theatre.
What would be your dream role and your dream Director to work with?
I’d love to work with Thomas Ostermeier [a German director best known for his genre of Capitalist Realism, and applying his realist aesthetic onto classic plays] in my opinion the best director for Shakespeare. I have seen his work in Berlin and Budapest. He engages with the text and gives it a modern understanding, despite its classical groundings he engages with the text and digs for the hidden messages not just using modernity as a setting, but as a theme to deconstruct and understand the text.
I loved his production of Ibsen’s A Dolls House, A dream would be to play Nora in his production.
You recently starred in Small Country: An African Childhood, about a young French child who becomes caught up in the Rwandan genocide. What did the project mean to you and do you believe the film is political or simply a comment on history?
I read the book and loved it. I played the role of a beautiful character, of a teacher- a very fair and just person.
The film is both, it is a political and historical film. To me it’s interesting because it allows us to see the start of a political event, a genocide through the eyes of a child. We can understand how hierarchies of power filter down discreetly- we see the rise of a power but not directly through a power structure, but through a disempowered child. This allows the audience to analyse the insidious ways prejudices filter down manifesting into barbaric events.
What has been your favourite role to play?
Phèdre, has been my favourite role which I played in a production directed by Christian Rist. I worked six years on the piece. I travelled to six cities in Morocco and around France with the company. We played it more than a hundred times.
It is my favourite role, I got so attached and dug so deep that I understand the character understood the message, the character became very personal to me. The play is written in Alexandrine meter, the more I worked on it the clearer the meter became to me, it was like breathing when I was speaking. When I stopped playing the role it was like talking part of myself away, because the role meant so much to me.
You have spoken of your love of the English theatre- what have you seen and what makes it different from Hungarian or French productions?
I have seen Warhorse, and I adored it- and I find that English theatre is similar to Hungarian theatre, it is more accessible, and it is a wonderful spectacle and show. Theatre in France is less accessible, it is serious and classical and is less democratic than English and Hungarian theatre.
I’ve seen it- it’s a fantastic production! [Warhorse is available to watch on the National Theatre Live site until January 2021].
Have you ever been to Durham? What did you think of it?
I have been! I like the town a lot – particularly the Cathedral and Palace Green- it’s very beautiful.
What role did you have in The Witcher and what was it like to work on the set of such a big budget production?
It was a small role- I was a 'Cintra Upper Class Woman', but the set was incredible [shows photo of an elaborate set] and although my role was very small my hair alone took three hours, and had about three kilos of extensions. There was a lot of money behind the production and so the sets were really elaborate, it was filmed in Hungary and it was my first insight into how American TV influences and shapes Hungarian productions.
Three hours!! Do you enjoy the transformation process before you play a role, like hair and makeup?
I like the transformation. It’s one of the main characteristics of acting and my job, it helps to fully embody the character, it’s like dressing up in childhood. I used to tell my children I used to go to ‘plays’ and they used to get angry because they thought I was playing with other children and not with them!
Finally, who would play you in a movie of your life?
I would! Or a famous actress? Julia Roberts or Audrey Hepburn are beautiful and I adore them, so I’d pick either.
Thank you so much for speaking with us! Enjoy Christmas in Budapest!
Special thanks to Ilona Barbier for her help translating.
Check out some of Veronika Varga's film work throughout the holidays!
Emily Wright is an English Literature Undergraduate, with an interest in modern theatre, impressionist art and world literature particularly theatre works in translation.