Check out our interview with up-and-coming Polish actress Alicja Bachleda, who played the title character Ondine in the new Magnolia Pictures release. The movie, which was filmed in Ireland, is set to be released in the U.S. on June 4. It tells the story of an Irish fisherman named Syracuse, played by Colin Farrell, who discovers Ondine in one of his nets. His young, sick daughter Annie, played by Alison Barry, comes to believe Ondine is a selkie or mermaid. ‘Ondine’ will be available on VOD, XBOX & Amazon on Friday, May 7th.
Question (Q): How much time did you spend in the water? It looked like you were turning blue in certain scenes. Tell us about the swimming.
Alicja Bachleda (AB): Swimming was quite an important part of the movie and the character. Unfortunately, I had to do much of the swimming myself. It was quite difficult. It was a challenging task because the water was so cold. It was about 37 degrees. It was close to freezing. So I had to overcome a few obstacles. I thought I had some boundaries, but obviously I was able to cross them, stretch them quite a lot. It was actually a great experience because it taught me a lot of disciple and being focused on what I want to do.
Q: Was swimming a big part of the role?
AB: Yes, it was a challenge physically. There were some aspects that were tricky.
Q: But you were a swimmer? You had some experience in the water?
AB: Kind of. I could swim. I’m able to swim, but I won’t say I’m a swimmer. I’m okay.
Q: How did you remain in character? What was going through your mind when you were in the water?
AB: The challenges, the cold, make you gasp for air and breath quite shallow. I really had to free my mind to be able to survive it. It’s not even the water itself. There are many scenes in which she (Ondine) just came from the water and there’s a dialogue. In the scene where she meets Annie for the first time, the little girl, she actually comes from the water, which I did. She has that dialogue and obviously we were shooting that scene, which was quite long, for a few hours. But because she just came from the water, she had to be wet. So, of course I had to be wet. You know, they went for the easiest solution and just sprayed me with the sea water, which was freezing. So that was quite draining. The second you actually get warm and nice, you get tortured again. I had to get used to that.
Q: For yourself, it seems like quite an evolution (from your previous film, ‘Trade’). How does the change feel for you, that process?
AB: Those two films were so special to me. The first one, ‘Trade,’ I got the part with the huge help of luck, because I was there on the set. The lead part was already given, and at the very end, they managed to give that part to me, which was kind of the intention of the director at the beginning. But because I was able to be introduced to an American audience, it helped me as well with some other projects and scripts that were coming my way. This, ‘Ondine,’ (director) Neil Jordan saw a play that I was in and based on that, he wanted to meet me for the character. We met in London and had a screen test and after that I got the part.
Q: Then there’s the irony of the connection between the character in that movie and this movie, the abused girl you are in underground trade.
AB: True, true, true. In ‘Trade,’ it was mostly about the tragedy and circumstances in certain spots. Here, it’s actually the opposite. She has a past that’s dramatic and harsh and suddenly she’s exposed to that hope and belief of people that she may be somebody else. It was a bit different approach.
Q: Considering all the mermaids that have gone before you, how special was your mermaid?
AB: Well, thank God it really wasn’t a mermaid; she’s called a selkie, which is half seal, half woman. Now, how this influenced my acting, I don’t know. I mean, I did some research about seals and selkies. I focused on being someone from a different world, from under the sea.
Q: You studied acting in New York City. Is there anything that you find that’s different from studying and in the real world?
AB: I did some plays when I was eight, and then I some features in Eastern Europe. So before I went to (the Lee) Strasberg (Theatre and Film Institute), I did have that experience and 10 features under my belt. It was a great school, and I wanted to get some perspective on acting, between American acting and Polish, for example. I was wondering, why the children in America, they’re so great, so natural. Many times in Poland, in the movies you would actually see an older actor playing a child because they were too scared to give a part to a child actor. So that’s just one example. I also heard so much about the Strasberg and the method, and I really wanted to find out what it is. It was a very interesting experience. It did give me a different perspective. I wouldn’t say it completely shaped me as an actor, but that was interesting.
Q: Your character is so complex, but we don’t really see that until the end. Did you see that, and how did you approach that?
AB: Well, that was the tricky part. The psychical aspects of the character. The ability to be truthful to my character, who had a past. To be that person, while at the same time make everybody believe and myself that I might be somebody else. In order to keep the fairytale going and at the same time be very truthful to who she truly was. That was quite interesting.
Q: So Ondine was consciously feeding into those fantasies?
AB: Well, yes. But she wants to believe that she’s somebody else. But she actually believes it and wants to think everything in the past is gone and have that new life.
Q: Did your character falling in love with Colin’s character have anything to do with your personal life?
AB: When I was reading the script, I didn’t know Colin at all. I really fell in love with the character and the movie and the story itself. It’s fate that way. We were so focused on the work and the lovely fairytale we were creating, it was so beautiful. It was almost beautiful enough not to leave any space for our private emotions. It was very much included in that little bubble that we created on the set and that had to be created for that story to exist.
Q: Colin said that for the first time in 12 years, he didn’t want to leave behind his character. The character seemed to touch him. What do you think about the character touched you?
AB: We’re very, very attached to the story. I’m quite comfortable saying that it did change our lives. For me, on this spiritual level, it was a very spiritual experience. I don’t think Neil is even aware of how much it meant to all of us because it had so much beauty. It defied emotions. It has a huge impact on all of us. I love Ireland, I have to go back. I remember, for my personal self, I started writing again poetry. I started painting again. It’s that closeness to nature, it’s a beautiful nature.
Q: How important was filming in Ireland?
AB: It was very important, it was a big help. To inhale that energy, that beauty. It is quite exotic. I live in Los Angeles, and I grew up in Poland, but it is quite different. There’s no place like Ireland. It’s really very special, and there’s something about the place that’s just magical, and it helped me a lot to create that magical world on camera.
Q: What did you learn from this movie? You’ve done a lot of European movies, and then ‘Trade’ and this movie. How would you contrast?
AB: There’s no very big difference between European sets that are Polish or German. What I really love about working on an American set, or on a set where Americans are involved, since ‘Ondine’ wasn’t completely American, people here are very focused and excited about what they do. I don’t want to talk badly about my experiences from Poland. But there is a sadness in Poland that’s past on for generations. But in America, everyone is really kind of excited in everything they do, and it gives you such a great energy. It’s so creative. You’re there, and you feel that everyone’s involved.
Q: You spent a lot of time with Alison Barry, who plays Annie, as you spent a lot of time with her character in the film. You sort of became a surrogate mother to her. What was it like working with her, since this was her first role?
AB: It’s her first film. She was very fresh to everything. She doesn’t even know if she wants to be an actress. But I’m sure after that adventure she might reconsider. She was fantastic. To work with her was a pleasure. Of course, we had to establish a relationship before. That’s always something you have to do when you work with a child actor. But it was great. When I saw the movie and I saw her delivering those lines Neil put down so witty. That combination of that angel face and those big blue eyes. There’s smart dialogue.
Q: Have you gone out and explored other Irish cinema as a result of this?
AB: I’ve seen many, many movies by Neil Jordan. I would say that’s Irish enough. There’s a movie, ‘In the Name of the Father,’ that’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Irish cinema has a great weight to it, and I love it.
Q: Is there any acting advice you would give from your experience here in America and abroad that you would give to other actors?
AB: There are so many things. I can just say I found it very important just to stick to what you do and focus on that. Focus on your development and not really get distracted by everything that’s around, especially living in Hollywood. You meet people that don’t really know if they want to act or what acting is. They just want to be there, they “want to make it big.” That’s a great energy. To really focus on working and developing and evolving as an actor. You never know. As an actor, you get the right part. You love it, it fits you, it suits you well. People love it, and you can follow your dreams.
Q: ‘Ondine’ is kind of a fractured fairytale. What do you think people are going to take away when they see this?
AB: I can just talk from my perspective. I saw the movie for the first time a couple of months ago. I was quite objective. It left me with a very hopeful emotion. Very hopeful, very warm feeling. There’s hope, a light in the tunnel for everyone, even if you think your life is really miserable and dark. There are things that can happen that can change everything. That’s important, especially in our days. There are bad things happening in the world. It’s nice to have that break from it.
Q: Have you ever thought about doing a Polish film again?
AB: I would love to, especially since English isn’t my first language. Acting in Polish is so comfortable and natural. I miss it. My last film was ten years ago, almost. I believe in my past. If I’m lead to Poland, I’d be happy to act again.
Q: You were born in Mexico. Do you know Spanish?
AB: Yes. I was born in Mexico, but after two months, we went back to Poland. I learned Spanish at school.
Q: Would you act in Spanish films?
AB: Yes, Spanish is very easy. To me, it comes easy because I’m a singer.
Q: Are you doing anything in terms of the singing, recording?
AB: I might do something soon. ‘Ondine’ allowed me to combine those two passions, acting and singing. It’s always in the back of my mind. I’m singing all the time, just not publicly.
Q: Do you write songs?
Q: What do you like more, acting or writing and singing?
AB: It’s so hard to tell. What I really miss is the stage. The theater, that I performed for a few years in Europe, or the singing. It’s getting the energy from the live audience, which is irreplaceable. I really miss it, so maybe soon.
Q: Who are your musical influences?
AB: There are a few great groups from Ireland, like U2. I grew up in Poland around jazz musicians and gypsy music.
Q: Is that next?
AB: I don’t have a plan yet. I do have to presume that that will come soon. Acting wise, I do have some offers waiting. There are a few projects towards the fall that I hope will happen.
Q: What was it like to have ‘Trade’ at (the) Tribeca (Film Festival)?
AB: I have never been to the Tribeca Film Festival. ‘Trade’ had a premiere in New York at the United Nations building, which was a fantastic experience. This is a festival that I’ve followed and it’s very much focused on work and art and movies itself, not the glamour you see in Hollywood. I was excited just to be part of a great cinema festival.
Written by: Karen Benardello