By Aram Arkun
LOS ANGELES — The movie 1915 is premiering in the Boston area on August 27 and September 10. The Mirror-Spectator and Tekeyan Cultural Association are sponsors of the latter showing. In order to help people learn more about various aspects of the film, the Mirror will be publishing several articles based on interviews with the writers/directors and stars of 1915. This week, the spotlight is on Angela Sarafyan. Sarafyan is an increasingly popular actress who has appeared in a number of feature films, and became widely known as the vampire Tia in a 2012 film of the Twilight Saga series. She has appeared as a guest in television shows like the “Mentalist,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “CSI: NY,” “Criminal Minds,” and “Nikita.”
Sarafyan said that the film 1915 may not be the movie people are expecting. She explained that “it is a film that is very complicated…exploring the psychological effects on us as a people that lives with the denial of the past.” It looks at how the Armenian Genocide has affected our lives today, and “how we continue to carry those ghosts of the past with us.” In particular, she continued, “this movie explores the relationship between a husband and a wife, creative individuals who have to live with each other and the complexity of the Genocide.”
The presentation of the play within the movie allows viewers to also see inside an Armenian home in 1915, at the moment when a Turkish soldier comes to take the husband away. Through such a scene, Sarafyan said, “You can see what these moments are that our ancestors had to live through.” What individuals might do at such moments can be unexpected and very complex.
Sarafyan felt a personal connection with this. She said, “I have a sadness within me, as an Armenian woman, and I know a great part of it is connected to what has happened to my family in the past.” This sadness is in Armenian music, in Komitas and Aram Khachaturian, and it is in us, she finds. In order to prepare further for her role, Sarafyan asked her grandparents and many others about what their own parents had lived through.
Sarafyan was born in Soviet Armenia, but came to the US as a 4-year-old. She grew up in the Los Feliz-Hollywood Hills area, so though the influence of Armenian culture was important for her, as she pointed out, “I am very much an LA girl.” For her, “there is no compartmentalizing those two elements,” the Armenian and the American.
She went to public school, and as her family wanted her to be a doctor, she went to a medical magnet public high school. She also studied classical ballet and went to music school, and in all these schools she had the opportunity to interact with Armenians.
Interestingly, her father Grigor Sarafyan was an actor when he was younger in Armenia. Angela felt “his work was incredibly astute for somebody who was just starting out.” Perhaps because he understood the difficulties of a life in this profession, he did not want his daughter to act. It was not until Angela had graduated high school and had her first audition — and got the job (a role on the television show “Judging Amy”) — that he accepted that she had the talent to make it as an actress.
Angela’s mother is also a creative person by nature who designs clothing. According to Angela, “she sees everything as beauty, as art, and every moment as an opportunity to seize and make beautiful.” Her approach to life greatly affected Angela.
The artistic and creative Sarafyan family background also must have influenced Angela’s younger brother Karbis, who just got his first acting job as an adult. He did act as a child but instead chose to work behind the camera until recently as a filmmaker and editor. Angela considers Karbis to have “a natural gift” for acting.
Angela previously only worked on one other film connected with Armenians, Lost and Found in Armenia (2012). In this comedy, she played a college student named Ani who helped Bill (played by Jamie Kennedy), a US senator’s son who accidentally parasailed into Armenia from Turkey, and was thought to be a Turkish spy. Sarafyan said that she had great respect for the tradition of Armenian comedy in films, and wanted to try to do it too at least once. She said about the film that “I love the characters, the energy, the humor that comes from it.”
Lost and Found in Armenia led to Sarafyan meeting Garin Hovannisian, who would soon become one of the two writers of 1915, and this eventually led to her role in the film. Her playing a character named Angela was not a coincidence, as Hovannisian and cowriter Alec Mouhibian created the role with Sarafyan in mind. She did not know this, but when given the script fortunately connected with it and the role. She trusted Hovannisian, and the clincher was being able to work with French-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian on the set.
The role was an interesting one for Sarafyan. She explained that “Angela in the film is a very different person than I am but I got to explore things with her that changed the way that I see the world. I am really grateful for that opportunity. And they are gifts—these roles that we get to play will change us forever.”
Moreover, Abkarian, Sarafyan exclaimed, “is an incredibly gifted, generous and talented actor. It is a rare thing — a generous actor. Most people only act for the sake of their own ‘angle.’” Aside from this, Abkarian (together with Hovannisian and Mouhibian) made sure all the actors on the set shared one space as a dressing room, and “it became like a big family living together. We were offering each other things. It was bringing the best out in the other person.” As a result, “we had these cathartic moments. Hopefully that comes across.”
Sarafyan attempts to perform in a variety of genres, though there are always attempts to typecast her as an actor. At this stage of her career, she is trying to find a balance. She said, “They see you can do one thing, and they want you to do it 15 times over…but I’m constantly looking at how I can evolve. I say no to a lot of work that would be great to do. I’m not interested in doing things only for money. If the material moves me, then I am in.”
Sarafyan has done comedic, tragic and other types of dramatic roles. Among a number of new projects, Sarafyan is starring as Clementine Pennyfeather in Jonathan Nolan’s HBO series “Westworld,” based on the eponymous science fiction 1973 film set at a theme park run by life-like androids. “Westworld” will premiere in 2016. She is currently looking at a Noel Coward play and the Greek tragedy “Elektra.”
Sarafyan feels that she can draw on the heritage of the work of a long series of actors and creative figures of the world. Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale, or the Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, for example, are as much a part of her history as the actors of Armenia and the US. She said, “I only hope that I can live up to what they have accomplished.”
Sarafyan continues to perfect her skills with Tony Greco, an acting coach who has been her teacher for a very long time. Greco teaches method acting, and himself trained with the famous Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Sarafyan feels that “you have to practice every day, like ballet.” She takes a class on plays with Greco. She also writes every day in a journal, just for herself.
Armenians will be happy to learn that Sarafyan’s cinematic involvement with Armenian themes has not ended. The latest news is that she has agreed to play a major role in a love story called the Promise, a film set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the events of the Armenian Genocide. Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon will also star in this movie with a script written by Oscar-winning filmmaker Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) together with Robin Swicord (Memoirs of a Geisha).
For the September 10 Cambridge, MA showing of 1915 at the Landmark Theater, tickets may be purchased at www.tugg.com/events/25686, and the deadline is August 30. For the August 27 showing at the Landmark Theater in Waltham, the deadline is August 16, and the link is www.tugg.com/events/30585. Each show must have at least 112 tickets purchased for the theater to agree to sponsor the showing. If you have any difficulties in purchasing your tickets online, or have further questions, you may contact Aram Arkun at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Mirror-Spectator office at 617 924 4420.