The plan never was to write scripts or direct films, the plan was to act. But now Thea Gajic found herself doing all three, or at least she had done so for RUN, her independent short film released last year. The story, a “humorous yet delicate take on male indecision” and the “strength of feminine vulnerability,” had first surfaced in her mind as a poem. But the idea expanded and before long it was a film, winning awards and wide acclaim from the British filmmaking community.
More work and more acting has followed, both on stage and on screen and it now seems that Thea Gajic, still only 22, has found a good rhythm to her work. Today she was sat in a coffee shop in South London, sipping tea on a stale spring afternoon, snatching glances out the window. “That guy out there is smoking,” she said, holding her gaze for slightly longer and pointing. “That could be a scene in a film, I see things like that, in film. It’s weird. Like why is that guy rubbing his head over there? How is he picking up his mug? What does that mean?”
She went on, laughing now.
“I just steal it all from the street.”
Who is Thea Gajic?
I’m a young woman and I’m an actress. I’m a filmmaker. That’s who I am.
How would you describe yourself?
I’m very independent and driven and stupid and…I think a lot about everything. I have to be inspired to work, like I’m not really one to be like ‘Oh let me write a film and then write one.’ Something has to click for me because something’s pushed me to do it inspiration wise.
What is it that usually pushes you?
Anything, I could watch a film or listen to a song or sit and read a book and then something just clicks in my head and then a story comes and I quickly have to write it. Which is why when people ask me how long it takes to write scripts I’m like ‘I don’t know.’ Sometimes it can be two days if I’ve got it in my head, sometimes it can be longer, but it all depends on what the source of inspiration was.
How often does that burst of inspiration come along?
Enough to keep me relevant [laughs], but not often. Like with RUN, it’s not all I did last year but it’s the main thing I did and that’s still going now. I think because of the industries that we’re in, we don’t have to be inspired every month to maintain that, you just have to do something good that you believe in, that you can run with for however long.
Are you happy with the rhythm you’ve got?
I wish…sometimes I wish I had something to push me more or someone, because I know I can do more than what I’m doing now, and I think we all can. I think we get comfortable at the level we’re pushing ourselves at rather than going to fifth gear, right now you’re just comfortable in third like ‘this is working for me’, but you don’t know how much you could achieve if you went to a different level. I think we all get comfortable in a certain place that works.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know…procrastination, laziness, fear, all of those things that we don’t want to admit that we are, but we are to some extent.
Do you think it’s important to do something you love?
You have to, I think you put more effort into it and you do the research and you do your homework and you better your craft. If you’re just doing it because you stumbled across it or you’re just doing it because everyone else is doing it and you don’t really love it, then I don’t know how far it can take you and you be fulfilled at the same time. You can get far off of false pretences but for yourself on a personal level, I don’t know how fulfilling that would be. But it depends what people value, you know what I mean? Some people don’t care about that, they just want the name or the fame or the money and that’s cool.
Are you fulfilled now?
Yeah I am. I always want to excel, but yeah in terms of what I’m choosing to do and what I’m doing, I definitely am and I feel quite in control because I know that I’m able to create things and don’t have to rely on industry things or roles. If nobody wants to hear me out I’ll just do it with the team that I work with. I know that we’re all good at we do and we’ll just do it, regardless if people want to make room for us. Sometimes you have to be like ‘alright cool but I’m still coming.’
You’ve mentioned before about telling working class stories, why is that important to you?
Because I grew up on a council estate in Brixton Hill and I lived there for 15 years, like that’s very much my home. I don’t feel like that part of London is represented at all and it keeps everyone separate. If you only see rich people’s houses or middle class families, then it keeps everyone in their place. I think it’s important to put different communities in those places to be like ‘we do this too and we do that too’ and it’s not all like knife crime, there’s a whole other side to it.
You seem quite observational…
Yeah very much so, very observational.
Where does that come from?
I don’t know where it comes from. I think most actors and storytellers are, because you have to be. It comes down to what you’re interested in again. You wouldn’t be an actor if you’re not interested in people and the behaviour of people, and if you’re interested in that then you’re naturally going to be observational. I don’t know where it came from, I just think that some people are and some people aren’t.
What was it like directing and acting in RUN?
It was hard because I was in most of it. I don’t like watching myself when I’m on set because you’re telling the stories in different ways so I don’t like looking at myself and then trying to change based on what I’m seeing, because that’s not how you act. It’s not about what you look like, it’s about what you’re feeling and how that’s being portrayed and the truth in the moment and how you’re living through that, it’s not about if your head is at a weird angle. But if you’re watching yourself you always think that. That’s difficult. I think I’ll get to a place where I can…well I don’t know I might not…but to a place where I can just switch on and off between the two, so it is kind of hard but it’s good having a goof assistant director that you trust, who can direct you when you can’t direct yourself.
You’ve said theatre is an actors true home. Why do you think that is as opposed to film?
Because you…that’s where it started…you have a whole rehearsal process and you discover this character with the other cast members over months and months and months, and then you do it for a month, or however long the run is, three times a week, four times a week and you’re there, you know what I mean? You don’t have to come out of character for an hour. With film it’s like stop, start, stop, start, you can do it again. I just did a play last week in Hammersmith and I don’t get nervous for about ten minutes before I go on stage, then I can’t keep still, I’m just pacing up and down up and down and I don’t get that with film, that pure adrenaline and fear that makes you, great when you’re on stage. You’re in control, once you’re up there nobody is going to stop you, where as in a film you might do something that you think is right but the director doesn’t like it, where as on stage no one can do that, no one can stop you. It’s the fun of it, if anything goes wrong, the show must go on. It’s the immediacy of it.
I once heard someone say theatre is like ‘building a statue out of snow,’ because of its impermanence. Is that what you were getting at?
Yeah exactly. It’s like a love affair, it’s like interludes on an album, it’s only a minute and 20 seconds but you wish it was a full song, you wish there was another verse because you love it so much but it wouldn’t be what it was if it was a full song. It’s like moments in life when you’re like ‘I wish I saw that person again,’ but you never see them again. Maybe that’s just what it was meant to be, that beautiful moment, in an interlude, in a play, that’s what’s beautiful about it. It’s only happening now and that’s it, if you miss it, you miss it, the moment is actually gone.
How do you cope with the uncertainty of being an artist? Especially in the early stages.
I think greatness is born from that, I think putting yourself in a place where everything is uncertain, puts you in a very different mind state from someone who works 9-5. You could be broke tomorrow, but I don’t want to work 9-5. Sometimes I’m like ‘I might be broke but I’m not sitting in an office at a computer.’ I deal with it by creating something, but also, artists need to understand that art is there work, watching the entire filmography of Quentin Tarantino or Stanley Kubrick is work.
It just doesn’t feel like work because you enjoy it so much, but it is. Just because it’s fun, doesn’t meant that it’s not work, it doesn’t mean that you’re not learning from it, and I think that’s how you deal with it. In your times when you’re not getting paid work you just do those things and you learn from that and it then creates whatever you do next. I have to remind myself of that instead of sitting there being frustrated waiting for your phone to ring.
We’ve grown up with this idea that work can’t be something you but do you enjoy the uncertainty?
I enjoy it, I kind of enjoy it. Sometimes everything happens at once. I’ll be crazy busy and I’ll think ‘I just want one day where I don’t have to do anything.’ Then that day comes and then you start worrying like ‘oh my God nothing’s going to come.’ But then I know at some point in the next three months, something is going to happen again, and I enjoy that. I enjoy not having to work every single day in the sense of going to do a job, having to do something. I don’t want to do that, why not just enjoy it?
What has acting taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me how to let go of self-consciousness and that’s really helpful. When I started acting I was a teenager. I remember in college our drama teacher said, ‘you cannot be self-conscious if you’re an actor, you’re going to have to dress up as these crazy things and you’re going to have to be naked and one thing you cannot be is self-conscious.’ It’s really helped me with letting go and not getting caught up too much in what people think. I really took from that. That was when I was 16 and I still think about it.
I can’t even…unless you’ve been in like a drama class, I can’t describe the feeling of freedom you get from it, because no one cares. You can come in with the shittest trainers or whatever and no one cares, no one cares about their feet, no one cares about if you smell, do you know what I mean? It’s just a really free space where self-consciousness doesn’t exist; it can’t, and knowing that that can exist in a group of people lets you know that it can exist in other aspects of your life. If I can feel like this in here, why can’t I feel like this wherever? Not about personal hygiene obviously [laughs].
What mark do you hope to leave?
I want to be the person I google when I look for blogs or when I look for advice or a role model, from my background, what I believe in and whatever I do. I want to leave that for other people and just know that for all young women and for everyone that you can do it despite what you think is in your way, and just enjoy and just have fun with it and laugh man.