The Australian talent pool is a world-class arena, fuelled by a unique authenticity and a rigorous work ethic our actors continuously set remarkable industry standards. The recipe for success for these driven Aussies exceeds artistic brilliance, with intelligence and courage factoring into their triumphant international careers.
Born in Belgrade, Bojana Novakovic is a Serbian-Australian actress who personifies this method. With a sharp mind, contagious enthusiasm, and unquestionable talent, Bojana excels in all that she does. At seven years old she moved to Sydney where the gifted student attended The MacDonald College, graduating at the top of her class. Three years later she received a Bachelors Degree in Dramatic Art from NIDA.
Since then, the determined actress has dazzled Australian audiences in theatre, film, and television, earning multiple awards, including a 2003 AFI award for the role of Randa (ABC Mini-Series Marking Time), a 2006 Helpmann award nomination for best supporting actress (Necessary Targets), a 2007 Green Room award nomination for best actress (Criminology), and a second Helpmann award nomination in 2009 for best supporting actress (Woyzeck), all of which were staged at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne. Stage credits in Australia also include These People, Away, and Strange Fruit at the Sydney Theatre Company; The Female of the Species at the Melbourne Theatre Company, and Romeo and Juliet with Bell Shakespeare Company.
Novakovics extraordinary theatre credentials extend to ownership of the independent theatre company, Ride on Theatre, with its success consisting of the sell out season of Loveplay at the Downstairs Belvoir Street Theatre, and the 2006 Green Room nominated production of Debris (in which she was also nominated for best actress). In 2008, she translated, adapted, and directed Fake Porno in Melbourne, which was invited to be part of the Powerhouse season in Brisbane in 2009, and also received three Green Room nominations including best production.
Like the stage, Novakovic also has flair for film and in 2010, she received an AFI nomination for International Award for Best Actress for her role in the exciting thriller Edge of Darkness alongside fellow NIDA alumni Mel Gibson.
Some may remember her superb comic timing in the hilarious Blind Date Project in the 2013 Sydney Theatre Festival. The show was brought to New York and performed in the annual COIL Performance in 2015, whilst others may remember her from the American version of the Australian hit TV show Rake alongside Greg Kinnear and Miranda Otto.
Now residing in LA, Bojana’s talent continues to shine on American TV including roles on Westworld, Shameless, and in film, including staring roles in Beyond Skyline and Malicious, both currently in post-production. She is also set to play the lead in Varanasi—the film will be the directorial debut for Australian actor Christian Willis and will depict a woman’s journey of grief and letting go as she travels on a motorbike throughout the unpredictable Indian terrain.
Fresh from a month in New York where Bojana filmed the pilot Instinct for CBS opposite Alan Cumming, I recently sat down with the delightful lady at the Chateau Marmont, in the company of her gorgeous rescue dog Mowgli, to discuss (in a little more than 5 questions this month) art, life, and her tremendous ventures.
Alixandra: You have your own theatre company. What are you doing with it now?
Bojana Novakovic: Well, we have finished with the company now. It was for ten years in Australia. We put on a bunch of shows. It was amazing! Tanya Goldberg was my best friend throughout NIDA, and we just wanted to put on theatre that we wanted to be in and that no one was casting us in. We were frustrated about this. I was frustrated for her and she was frustrated on my behalf. She has a different taste to me, so we did our own things, but still helped each other out. She would basically direct classics. Tanya really wanted to direct, and then I would direct, or produce, or create smaller pieces. I always really liked alternative pieces that were venue based. I really like location based works. We really did a lot. We just got a renewal for the website and every year we have the same conversation about whether we should renew it or not, and I’m like WE HAVE TO keep it alive forever but we aren’t really doing anything under that company any more. I think that was 10 years out of drama school, I mean the Blind Date Project stemmed from our work, which I then continued to do for a few years and will probably do again. We took that to New York, LA, Edinburgh. They did it in New Zealand with a different actress, a local actress; they did it in Cincinnati. It has been everywhere. Now I want to direct other people in it; at the moment I am talking to an older actress, Kathryn Grody, she wants to be in it and I would love to do it with older actors. It would be so cool to see how they navigate the dating game in today’s world because they have lived through dating, not even just without the Internet, but cell phones too.
A: Favorite medium and favorite co-star?
BN: I think theatre. Yeah, I like live performances, but you know what I haven’t done, which I would love to do, is a podcast. I haven’t really done radio and that interests me a lot. But I think theatre is my favorite medium. I just love one-on-one live connections, and also in theatre, if you are talking about acting, that sort of matters more, also writing for the theatre I find interesting and directing. Theatre is a human medium—I like that. I really loved directing Fake Porno; I translated it and adapted it. That’s one of my favorite things I have done. I also loved writing with Thomas Henning—I wrote something with him for the Adelaide Fringe. I really loved doing that. In terms of Hollywood, I loved working with Keanu Reeves, in terms of actors and I loved working with Alan Cumming —the two of them as actors for sure. They are very different. Keanu is really smart, he is SO smart, very generous, and a really great collaborator. Alan is just a bundle of fun and joy. I really like working with Cherie Nolan and John Doyle on Marking Time. That was a BIG deal. I worked with Cherie on Rake too.
A: And you won an award for MARKING TIME?”
BN: That was cool! I wore a dress that looked like a sports tennis dress. It was my first ever award ceremony. No one helped me. There was no publicist. It was hideous, what I wore! So ridiculous, I look at pictures now and I just laugh at myself. There is Abbie Cornish in her white gown and with her makeup, and I think I did my own makeup, so it was hardly anything. I wore a collared short dress. A checkered, brown, collared dress with some high heels. I looked like a boy—not that I mind looking like a boy, but no one helped me and I didn’t think I would win the award. Then I won the award and I couldn’t even say the speech. My friend Ross was playing the trumpet back in the orchestra and he goes, “We were just about to start playing your music. You didn’t even get to the music bit!” After 20 seconds, they give you a warning. I didn’t even get to the warning bit! I thanked everyone I needed to thank but I just spoke so fast. I speak fast naturally, let alone when I am nervous. I even managed to thank all my refugee friends who were fighting for their freedom. It was a really good speech, but if I just said slower. I made a statement and everything because I was working with them a lot at that time. It was such a blur, but I love that show. It won a lot of awards that year.
A: What would be your dream role?
BN: That’s is a hard question. Hmmmm my dream role . . . I don’t know, maybe when I was a kid I had this idea that acting was going to fulfill me and, therefore, I have this dream to play this role. But now, it’s like I don’t have that dream because it doesn’t matter what kind of role I play—if I have dream role, I’m going to get there, and then I am going to have another dream role. I always like to do something that I think I can’t do. I don’t like it because it is hard, but I always like to say yes to things that I believe I possibly can’t do, and then prove myself wrong, and maybe prove others wrong in the process. I remember when I was younger, I would say, “I wanna play a single mum with a daughter who is struggling with a drug addiction,” or you know, someone with a lisp. I think also in terms of what I would love to play—it is always the research aspect that I love about it. Learning about aspects of humanity or aspects of the world that I need to learn in order to play those roles. That even excites me more than the role itself.
A: It is probably because you are quite intellectual?
BN: I am intellectual and I am not scared of that anymore. There is an amazing policeman from Baltimore called Michael Wood, and he speaks out against police violence and police corruption, and he talks about anti-intellectualism. He says there is this real polarizing affect that this anti-intellectualism has in the police force, where if you are smart and educated, and you base theories on facts, it’s frowned upon. I think there is that sense in every social circle because people’s street worthiness has become such a trend now and so it’s cool to break the rules but the best rule breakers are the people who are the most educated in whatever the rules are. That’s when you actually break the rules the best. So I am super into research and educating myself on things. Kevin Jackson, who taught me at NIDA, talks about this and I really like it—he believes actors are a little bit crazy, and it’s kinda true. If we are not in touch with our feelings, we are at least very good at pretending we have feelings, and we know how to express them. You just don’t become an actor unless you’re good with the feeling part. The technical work, the intellectual side of it, is what’s going to ground you. You know, if you are shooting in the cold, or your body is falling apart, at least you will have your head in place to go, “Okay, I need to rely on my technique now.” I am always really about the technical side of the work, because I know with the talent side I am okay, but I can’t utilize the talent unless some form of technique does not ground me. Technique by its very nature is brainwork.
A: What was the transition like from Serbia to Sydney as a child?
BN: Horrible. I was bullied at school. I couldn’t speak the language—it was horrible. I wanted to be friends with the cool girls, but they didn’t like me. I got tripped over and I grazed my knee. I remember they asked me about scripture and I’m like what’s scripture? There was scripture class and I wanted to go with the Catholic kids, but they told me I was “no scripture.” I was Serbian Orthodox, but I wasn’t even christened, so then I asked my mum to christen me. I mean it was horrible. Now I am christened because I asked for it when I was 9 years old. I went to my own christening, with my sister. My sister was born and I said, “We need to christen her as well, otherwise we are all going to hell!” It was so traumatizing because this Catholic group told me I would go to hell if I didn’t get christened. Unfortunately for them, I didn’t become catholic, I became Serbian-Orthodox. Kids are cruel, but it was the adults who told me that I’d go to hell—in a Catholic church group. Because the two cool girls who were best friends went to this Catholic group on the weekends and my parents sent me there, and I didn’t know what it was. It was called “Kids Club” and we just played, and the “Kids Club” had a camp and the girls didn’t go. I went though and it was all about how people who do not believe in Jesus go to hell. But it was so nice because there was camping and animals. I tried to convert my parents when I came back home. [laughs] They were like, “No, we believe in God, our own God.” I was like “No! They said if you believe in your own God, you go to hell!” [laughs] So bad! My parents had to put me in a private school because I was being bullied, and it wasn’t good for me. I also didn’t know how to fight back. I mean, I am a fighter, but I didn’t know how to fight male bullies tripping me over. Maybe if I was born in Australia it may have been different, but I didn’t even know the language, so I just couldn’t fight back. When I went to MacDonald College Performing Arts School, everything changed.
A: What are some of your upcoming projects?
BN: Well, I made a documentary about my family in Serbia three years ago. We finally got some money to develop it further, to edit and reshoot. So I am going to Serbia on Sunday for three weeks to work on it. It’s so amazing; I mean, it was three years ago this all began. So we are going over there and the producers have been travelling around Europe with it and getting all these notes, advice, and input from different funding bodies. So I am doing that.
I will find out about the pilot I just completed in NYC and I am developing projects. So I sold a pilot, I wrote it, and it didn’t get picked up. So there you go—that’s something you will never hear about. So that happened and then they offered me this other pilot. It was all for CBS, so they offered me this to be in.
So I am going to come back from Serbia and then I guess I will see how the pilot goes. I might do some more work in Nepal, because you know I have been helping out some locals—it all depends on what happens. I am going to be in Varanasi. It’s amazing. I love the script. The story is amazing, it’s beautiful, and I want to shoot in India. It’s a female lead role, but even if the roles were reversed and I played the smaller role, I would still want to do the film.