An interview with Silvia De Leonardis | On The Line | VMA20 BEST ACTRESS | January Edition
"Nearly the whole secret of great hearts lies in this word, perseverando. Perseverance is to courage what the wheel is to the lever, it is the perpetual renewing of the fulcrum.”
Victor Hugo, The Toilers of the Sea
This path of perseverance and sacrifices is the one undertaken years ago by Silvia de Leonardis, a talented German-Italian actress, and producer, currently engaged in her career as an actress in the United States, in her tireless search for artistic and personal growth. The same path that made her decide to make an entire short film by herself, by taking care of directing, producing, writing, editing, casting actors, and acting.
Her short film 'On The Line', which recently granted her an Honorable Mention as Best Actress at the Vegas Movie Awards, highlights the human frailty of a parent struggling with a child who starts using drugs to overcome the trauma of his father’s loss. A film that brings awareness on how our both self-conscious and unconscious behavior can have consequences on the people we love most.
We have had the pleasure to speak with Silvia. Here is our interview with her.
• Hello Silvia, congratulations on your impressive acting performance which allowed you to get a significant Honorable Mention as Best Actress at the Vegas Movie Awards last January, and many other awards all around the world. From a formative standpoint, how important was growing up in Germany to your first important steps in the film industry? What are the valuable lessons you carry with you in your current career as an actress in the United States?
Well, I think as far as I’m concerned the typically german attributes like for example hardworking, efficient, disciplined, practically thinking and trying to find a solution for nearly every problem is very much me. But my father taught me how to build something. He came from Italy to Germany at the age of 19 with nothing but his love for his work. He was a bricklayer. And he has built his little own company and a good life with his love and his hands. And people loved him and hired him over and over again, because he was always friendly, customer oriented, did always a great job and never left a mess. They were blessed to have him work on their houses. And this is my secret of my success, too. My love for acting has brought me into the United States. It’s not that I wasn’t scared. Scared to fail, scared to see my dream crumbling down, scared to get a lot of no’s. But my love for this beautiful craft gave me all the strength to go on step by step.
• In your short film, ‘On The Line’, you worked as director, writer, producer, main actress, and everything else in between. Which of these roles did you enjoy the most?
Yes, before the film I would have definitely said “acting”. I did this film, because I didn’t find enough work as an actress. And I don’t like suffering. And I don’t like to be stopped. I needed to express something, work with my body & soul, work with a crew. I’m an artist and the problem with being an artist is, if you’re not acting for a long period of time you get depressed. And I don’t want that. I tried to find someone to write me this script, but found out that my inner voice was too loud and too less flexible for this story. I’ve already had all images in my head, and it was impossible to transport them to a writer. So, for the first time I wrote the script myself. And I know my limits within that. I was sitting on my computer for hours seeing the images, but it was horrible to write it out in lines. I guess that was also why I called it ‘On the Line’. So as it comes to writing, I’m not sure if I’ll find my love for that. Directing on the other hand was easier for me. I just had my love for the team, the images in my head and it worked. I loved my team and helped them in any way as good as I could. Sometimes I forgot myself over it, and when I saw the images I’ve often thought “Ahhhh, you didn’t give yourself time to dive in fully, because all the others were ready and I didn’t want them to lose their preparation.” Well, next time! And with the editing I also had limited skills at that time. But somehow I like it. I’ve learned so much during the process and can’t wait to do it better next time.
My love for acting has brought me into the United States. It’s not that I wasn’t scared. Scared to fail, scared to see my dream crumbling down, scared to get a lot of no’s. But my love for this beautiful craft gave me all the strength to go on step by step.
• What actresses, and women, inspired you the most as an artist and as a human being?
Yes, that is weird. Because I guess I have more male people who inspired me. Well, first - of course - Meryl Streep. She is absolutely great. Then Viola Davies – ‘Doubt’ with both of them was terrific. And I love the energy in the eyes of Anjelica Huston. But I remember I came to my acting teacher in Los Angeles one day (I’m trained with the Meisner technique), saying “I don’t get it with being blind. It’s not perfect.” I watched Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’, working on my blindness for days, but every time I moved my head fast, there was a little jolt in my eyes. So I asked my teacher: “What am I doing wrong?” and he said “Al Pacino had his focus differently.” and explained me what to do and it worked perfectly. Robert de Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Edward Norton, Tom Hanks just to name a few and as a human being everyone who had the strengths to fight against injustice: Ghandi, Martin Luther King and many more. • Your film highlights the emotional weakness of a parent who feels the failure of not being able to raise his/her own child. Where did your inspiration for the story come from? Is it somewhat related to the relationship you have with your own daughter?
Yes, it was, but not like in the film. My daughter Cecilia was only 11 years old, when I wrote it. So no drugs, no addiction, but the fact, that I had the possibility to live my dream and get to LA. We were always very close and she is my life and at that time I thought “She’s grown and old enough. There is her Daddy and two grandmothers loving her and taking care of her while I’m in LA for a limited time.” I thought everything would be perfect. We were talking on the phone for hours. But then, one day, she started to be very short on the phone, sometimes didn’t want to talk for days. She closed up and I was terrified and felt guilty. It felt like she slipped away from me. So I made a break with LA for a while and asked her, if she’d love to make a short film with me. And she loved it. If anyone of us has the writer’s gene, it’s her, she was a great help. I loved having her in ‘On the Line’.
• We believe that having a limited budget for this short film perhaps allowed you to concentrate all your efforts on reaching very deep feelings with the acting of the main characters, which is undoubtedly the most valuable thing in 'On The Line'. Do you agree?
Yes, absolutely. Acting is the thing I’m best at and I know most of. And I’m experienced in teaching, as well. That allowed me to bring all the actors in a great shape. I love films with deepness and strong feelings and films with messages. And I know, if the acting is good, the audience listens. It’s said “The eye always goes to the truth”. I did my best on all the other parts, but if I’d had a higher budget, I would have immediately hired a crew. Nevertheless I’m very happy that I haven’t had a higher budget, because I’ve learned so much and feel so much stronger.
• Thanks to your compelling performance, the viewer can empathize very easily with Caroline’s and Raphael’s emotions, portrayed by you and Bastian Theurich. How difficult was it for you to deal with such a complex role?
Thank you very much. It was easy and hard work. Easy because I have a great technique. If you do it step by step, it builds up automatically into something truthful. The hard work is the work you do at home, mostly on your own. Memorizing, repetitions, work on the script, research (I went to an AA meeting with Bastian), relationship work, character work, etc. but this is also a very fun part, because you create something – and when it’s done and grounded, it’s easy to be flexible and go and shoot it.
• Your short film wants to convey an important message of hope. Anyone can potentially get their life back on track, if only we don’t give up on people we love. What’s the best advice you can give to a parent who suspects their child is using drugs?
Yes, hope and not giving up was indeed the message I wanted to convey in ‘On the Line’. Isn’t that what we all need every single day? We all have problems, sometimes small ones and sometimes challenging ones. But only if you face them, you can find a way out. The best advice I give myself every single day, if it comes to my daughter, is: “Don’t make it about you. Make it about her!” It’s so easy to fall apart if your child confronts you with something unexpected, shocking or with something hurtful. But that doesn’t help anyone. You’re just falling apart. But if you manage to make it about your child and put your focus on her/him and not onto your pain, your feelings or shock, you’re open and able to see beyond. Thank God, ‘On the Line’ isn’t autobiographical. But I did a lot of research, so the only advice I can give if it comes to drugs is “Look for professional help. Don’t carry the weight all by yourself.”
We all have problems. But only if you face them, you can find a way out.
• You love to portray strong women leading characters who are fighting for love and/or justice. Which character would you like to play in the future?
Haha so many... My imagination as an actress is somehow without any limits. I’d love to play a detective analysing the cases and convict the bad guys. A lawyer helping the disadvantaged people to get justice, a mother having sorrows or murdering for revenge or historical movies! I love historical movies and stepping into other centuries: a powerful magician would be great. And one movie would have made me the greatest pleasure, but it’s already out with our all favorite actress Meryl Streep: ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’. I just saw it last week and would have loved to play it.
• What’s lined up for Silvia de Leonardis for 2020? Where our readers can follow your work?
Well, first we have Cinema Premiere on March 5th with “Verbrechen am Bodensee” in Germany. I portrayed a female poker player and here we are again with the work before the work: I’m very ambitious and wanted to be able to mix the cards like pros and so, I was rehearsing every single second. My hands were full of blisters, till they got used to it. But it was worth it – it really looked good! The director did some close ups on my hands mixing cards and playing with the chips. And then I’m planning to get back to LA in March. In May, I’ll be in Las Vegas attending your wonderful Vegas Movie Awards event, in August I’ll be back in LA - this time with my daughter - and then… I don’t know… Hopefully something great happens.
• Thank you for this interview, Silvia. We wish you all the best with your acting career here in the United States!
Thank you very much for having me. You are so wonderful, kind and thoughtful and I can’t wait to meet you in May.