Mihai SmarandacheFrom: Iași Born on: 8 February 1982 Occupation: Actor
Mihai Smarandache is Adrian in the movie Parking directed by Tudor Giurgiu. Although he has worked more in theater than cinema, having 12 years of contractual agreements with Odeon Theater and two more with the Constanța National Theater, the cinema camera treats him as a good old friend.
After five weeks of shooting in Cordoba and one in Seville, after editing and fine tuning, this complex character makes his appearance also on the classic cinema screens in Bucharest, following the official release during the Transilvania International Film Festival 2019. Adrian is silent, but Mihai succeeds due to context, gestures, but especially due to his own way of acting, to give him depth in every frame and to say something about the inner universe of the character. “He owns the entire scene, he is an actor who imposes, an actor who has an extraordinary magnetism.“, says the director as justifying his decision to give Mihai the role of a writer who went Spain in order to find a meaning of his existence.
Even if, looking superficially, his profile had nothing to do with the theatre world, Smarandache found in this job some sort of freedom. He ran away from the mathematics of the Faculty of Automatic Control and Computers and tried his luck in acting. “I went to see an actor in Iaşi and after he asked me to read a text, so he could see if it is worthwhile going this way, he said: << I will not do this, but I know someone who will. >> “, Mihai remembers amused. “The next experience also started with a text, but this time the answer was different, because the new actor to whom I had asked for guidance said: << Yes, we will give it a try, we will succeed somehow. >>, he explained further.
Then followed a month of monologues and poetry learning, breathing, speaking and improvisation exercises or natural expression of text and attitude. “My feeling is that those who have helped me prepare have seen me as a feral being that left the forest, and wants to become an artist.
– You – let’s see – drop that stick from your hand! Can you leave it on the ground?
– Look, he let go of the stick. Maybe he actually has a chance!”, Mihai imagines the replies of that time with a perfect mimic and self-irony fueled by the natural enthusiasm of the human born to tell stories.
In fact, initially his teachers didn’t believe he stood a chance. The confession came at the end of the training, along with the congratulations for a well made progress. In 2001, Mihai began his first year of acting classes at the George Enescu University of Arts.
He doesn’t necessarily like Bucharest, because he says it is crowded and that “people seem to be angry by default”, but it is also the place where he started to grow roots after a seashore stop in the city Constanța. It’s the path chose to take, and “looking back is pointless.”
A hard practice when the present coincides with the moment when his father decides to sell the apartment in Iaşi, where he spent his entire life. The lightness in his tone of voice leaves him as he becomes serious, saying: “I don’t even know how I will feel. I didn’t think so much about this. He said he will selling, I said ok. I got carried away working, but I think it’s going to be pretty difficult when I will go back home, only now there will be no more home to go back to. Now, there’s someone else living there. It’s a weird feeling.”
He leaves his thoughts be and while playing with the bandana that’s wrapped around his left wrist, confesses to always being somewhat of a stranger.” I think my family suffered a lot because of how little I’ve spoken to them. I’ve been somewhat of a wandering son.”, he says, trying to restore the humour that characterises him.
I ask him how is he before his shows and he tells me that he is not at all relaxed when he knows he has work to do and he most certainly needs to be left to his own inner world or rhythm. Somehow, all of his body and mind are preparing for what needs to be done, like an initiation. He knows there are people who act in a more detached manner, as he knows very well that he is not one of them. “It doesn’t seem right to act slightly detached. Although, the spectator will never know that I wasn’t there 100% on stage, I will always know. Gradually, you deprofessionalize yourself, you alienate yourself from your craft, and you end up feeling sorry about it. I don’t want to let this happen to me, and for that, I end up sacrificing the people that are close to me. “
Photo: Mihai Smarandache, Parking
MS: In a 2012 interview, you said, “I would like to be allowed to do more and then to be asked questions… It’s not easy to talk about what I do in the theater, because I act instinctively…”. How do you act now?
My life in the theater was somehow conditioned by others, if they needed me, they’d call for me and I’d be there. In a way I was guided by the opinions of others. For a long time, I didn’t do this job for me, in the meaning that I, Mihai, I wanted to express this or that feeling on stage.
Now, I act in the same way, instinctively, but little by little I think I have gained confidence. Working a lot in the theater, you learn and people can appreciate that you have an opinion about something. When I was younger I was afraid of statements, because I wouldn’t have been able to justify any of my choices.
“Why so and not otherwise?”
Back then my only answer would have been: “Sure, yes, it can be any number of ways.”
Today, I would reply, because being “old” (at 37 years old, you don’t have any more 15) gives me a certain degree of impertinence, “Because this is how I want it things to be.”
It’s strange with how much conviction people say “is how I want things to be”. We do this a lot, and it’s scary, because such a selfish motivation can cause conflict. And then, there always must be other people that say: “Okay, if that’s how you want it.” Perhaps I’ve lived a while like this. First of all to avoid any kind of conflict, and then because I can also exist under any conditions. My personality doesn’t change because I’agreeing to you. I don’t do the things how you want them, but maybe I will do the things that you want. In the end, everything I do, I will do my own way. I am me.
It’s tricky; you start a conversation like this and you end up forgetting where it all started. (he laughs)
MS: Is it natural for a theater actor to make movies?
I don’t know. Depends on what you learned at school or how you are like as human being. No, the other way around. How are you as human being or what you have learned in school, it depends on why you like to do this job and how much you love doing it.
There is a huge difference between theater and film. And the example that everybody gives about how to use the means is that: on the stage, everything needs to be a little exaggerated for people to be able to see you, while in the cinema, that magnitude decreases.
Look, on a stage scene, if I make this move like this (he takes the phone from the table and move it slightly to right), there’s a chance you’ll miss it, because you’ve been focusing on something else during this time. And because of that, all the gestures are done in a more declared way. Like an announcement. The film’s the other way around. Everything needs to be smaller, subtler, finer. The camera captures absolutely everything, especially if it’s only your face on a 20-meter screen. You have no reason to exaggerate with the mimic.
In theatre you have more time and if you for example haven’t been able to express something in this second, you have the next 10 to fall back and do it. The spectator is there with you and doesn’t judge you right away, while in a movie that’s the frame, shot, cut, and that’s the only thing the spectator will ever get.
So, no, I don’t think it’s the next step, one doesn’t derive from the other. It’s the same craft that works with feelings, states, but the editing is different. It’s the same job, one can do both at the same time.
MS: What did you feel after being in the spectator’s seat and watching Parking?
I was expecting to be more critical with myself, but I wasn’t.
About the movie as a whole, I think that they did a really good job with the music and the editing. It was an inspired way of choosing what to cut from the material and how they edited the sequences. These choices have helped the profile of the character. For example, I think editing out certain lines of dialogue gave the feeling that I think more than I actually do.
Photo: Belén Cuesta & Mihai Smarandache, Parking
MS: Adrian left it all behind, the parents, a wife, all of this to be able to read Roberto Bolaño in original. Is he selfish?
Somehow. You just leave like a mad man … On the other hand, the people around him were the same. Perhaps behind the gesture of his wife, to come and help, lies a selfish feeling – the way she wanted life to be. It’s like saying: “I help you because I want you to be better”. But, no. You help me because you want the life to be in a certain way. You know, has happened to me many times that someone has invasively interfered with all the good intentions and “offered” me unsolicited help. That’s what I think is also happening in his case.
It’s selfishness on both sides.
(The last sentence reminds him of a piece of text that he seeks and identifies as part of a future project, a short movie Emlék – the word comes from the Hungarian language and means “memory”, quoting the book Letters to a young poet of Rainer Maria Rilke.
Everyone is selfish in his own way, in fact, they are as “two solitudes protect and border and greet each other”.
Two selfish people that happen to live together. That’s how we all are. It just happens that what I do matches what you want, in a relationship, for example, and the one that suits you more will be the one you choose. Encompassing all the complexity of the human being, obviously.
MS: You said that in theater you find your comfort in improvisation. Where did you found it in movie?
I was in a scene with the actor Luis Bermejo, the Rafa character, and after having the talk related to women – “the woman lifts you up, the woman gets you down” – when they then sit quietly and smoke, thinking about life – at the end of the scene, because in the scene there is a line about a bug (I don’t remember the details) I took a hit from the joint and started the La Cucaracha song. They didn’t stop rolling and in that atmosphere, Rafa immediately caught on and he continued the song. It turned out really cool.
I think this was the only moment of improvisation. However, everything is somehow improvisation, only that the second time you’ll have to do the same. You have to pay attention to a lot of things: you look at something, you turn around, then the camera comes towards you, you move, and as long as you moved, you moved that thing … There are dozens of things in a second. It’s a pressure inversely proportional to your experience, because after a while you get used to all this synchronization and things stop seeming so out of the ordinary. At first you just execute and only after, with time, you manage to create along with everyone, you begin to know where is the appropriate time to act, to intervene with a certain look or a certain gesture.
Photo: Luis Bermejo & Mihai Smarandache, Parking
MS: When you sit, like Adrian – when he smokes (although you don’t smoke any more) or looks through the window, what are you thinking? Where does your mind go?
I am fascinated by the fact that we are so many people. I look out the window at how a people walk and I think at what would justify a walk like that. I want to understand from how he’s/she’s walking something about his/her purpose, he’s/she’s walking as if he’s/she’s going to … I don’t know. Or how people sit. I’m thinking about how they were as kids. Because we were all kids at one point.
And now you see him as an adult, how he got big, and he chose that shirt and how easy, from that child doing things that kids do, he now has a pen, a bag and goes to meet a friend of his, who now also has a pen, a bag and a shirt. It seems sad and interesting at the same time.
Sad, because we are born in an already established structure. The input we can have in this world order is minimal. You have to struggle a lot to shake the importance that is already here. We’ve created this importance and it’s normal, because they teach you how to survive ultimately. But, it’s still sad. Maybe I don’t want a bag, although now I need it – because in the meantime I did something that requires me to have the bag. And it makes sense to have a bag, and it’s useful, but that doesn’t prevent me from wondering why.
I often go to the subway and there I have time to study faces, to see what life does to people. I see traces. And I think about which of the things people wear they do so of their own volition and which of those things they wear because someone taught them to do so.
Those socks? If you ask the person: “Do you really want those socks?”
I think how these things are built and where do they come from.
Photo: Flashbacks from Parking trailer
MS: In the movie there are some scenes that are shot differently, the memories, the flashbacks. If you had to select and shoot now in the same style from one of your own memories, what scenes would you chose?
Hmm … it would be the evenings when I was watching slides of old photos with my family. We had this habit where from time to time we would use a projector to put my father’s pictures on the wall. Now I realize that there are the same colors, those of the wall slides and those of the 8mm film sequences. It happened when I was little, we liked to remember what we were doing last year or at certain events so sometimes my parents used to say: “Let’s look at some pictures.”
There is a picture with my father holding me in one hand, up in the air. I think we were crossing a bridge over a river, somewhere in the mountains or home in Iaşi, I was small, blond and fat, and my dad is as tall as I am now, holding me with one hand. This bridge was made of big stones, and because some of them had fallen off, they left behind some empty spaces, and he thought it was interesting to put the baby there. So now we have this picture with my father holding me up inside that hole. It was exactly the size of a child.
Another memory is from when my mother let me go into the water of a lake. I was still small. She kept me by the back of my bath of pants, because she didn’t know what I was going to do. She holds me very lightly, and you can see the pants a bit pulled back. The child wanted to explore, but it was a semi-dangerous situation.
Mihai is silent. (And I’m trying to imagine this 1.9-meter tall man in front of me, as a kid.)
Then he bursts into a short laugh, as if he had discovered something valuable – his own memories.