Arta Dobroshi possesses the pure, childlike beauty so cherished by the Dardennes in their leads, both male and female. As Lorna, her eyes virtually glisten with innocence, evoking the central spirit that characterises all of the Dardennes' work – that in the most 'adult' of actions (sex, violence, loyalty, betrayal), we are at our most vulnerable.
Dobroshi's story says much about contemporary Europe, with its multiplicity of identities and freedom of attachment. Hailing originally from Kosova, she witnessed first-hand the fracturing of old European boundaries. After capturing the Dardennes' eye she was cast to play Lorna, an Albanian immigrant in a tri-cultural area of Belgium. Her immediate career aspirations are now in France.
When she enters the room, it's a shock that she is so attractive – not the frail beauty of Lorna but more glamorous and, well, sexy. So successfully has she portrayed Lorna that the immediate impulse is to want to protect her. It's confusing. Disturbing. Ridiculous. But Dobroshi is supremely confident; sailing on the crest of a breaking wave, critical acclaim and a brilliant future.
LWLies: Tell us how you got involved in The Silence of Lorna.
Dobroshi: Well, I am from Pristina but at that time I was doing a play in Bosnia and then the casting agent from Paris called me because they saw other movies that I did in Albania that were co-productions. So they told me, ‘They [the Dardenne brothers] want to film you, can you be in Pristina?’ I went there and the audition lasted for five minutes. I just had to say ‘My name is Arta’ and where I live. I couldn’t speak French at all.
LWLies: Nothing at all except days of the week?
Dobroshi: I just knew the days of the week and that was it. And then after two weeks he called me, the casting agent, and said they want to come and see you, where are you? I was in Sarajevo so they came to Sarajevo and we filmed for one day and that was the first time we met. And after that they asked me if I could come to Liège to do two more scenes with Fabrizio and the other actors but in French, so I had to learn two scenes by heart, two big scenes from the movie, and I learned them by heart with the teacher. I tried to understand the story more than the words. I tried to feel the story because when you don’t speak the language its better not to try to say perfectly the words but to understand the meaning of the scene. So I came here and after two days of shooting they said, ‘Congratulations you are Lorna; we would like to work with you.’ And I had to learn French, so I went to a course for two weeks which was a fantastic course, eight hours a day, and then after eight hours I went to the hotel and did the work that my professor gave me because I really wanted to learn it. I also speak three other languages, so it was easier.
LWLies: And do you know why the Dardennes were attracted to you, why they wanted to work with you?
Dobroshi: No, that is a question for them, but the first time that we met I think we felt like we knew each other before. Sometimes you meet people and you feel like you have known them forever so I felt very relaxed and I think they also felt very relaxed. I just love the way they work because that is the way I work – I love doing rehearsals eight hours a day, just to do the scene as best as possible, and they do the same thing.
LWLies: Can you tell us a bit about their working methods?
Dobroshi: It’s great how they work because they always do one-and-a-half-months of rehearsal, always. And always we have three months of shooting chronologically and always one hour before shooting we have another rehearsal so in one-and-a-half-months of rehearsal we rehearse almost all of the scenes and then, for example, we have the scene and they said, ‘We think you should do it this way,’ and then they ask your opinion – ‘What do you think’ – so they are really very open and they leave you to do your own research and to give your own possibilities and what you think about the scene.
We tried everything and then after one-and-a-half-months I had time to think and they had time to think also for the scenes because every scene was filmed and then just one hour before shooting we talked and sometimes changed it completely and sometimes it stayed the same. In the end there weren’t any improvisations except one or two scenes. They give importance to the actions and that’s very good because then you are concentrating, and you don’t think about the future or the past and you are very concrete and that’s very good.
You don’t begin to intellectualise those things. You can really concentrate on the moment, plus, for me, I think it was much easier because I was in the movie all the time, since I woke up in the morning or at night because dependent on whether we shot morning or night, I was continuous and chronologically in the movie all the time. I woke up and I was in Lorna’s life and it was my life because I chose to live like her, I tried to be alone as much as possible. I mean, I didn’t go party at all. Saturday and Sundays when I was free I went only to the pool to swim and that was it. After a scene, if it was very emotional what happened to Lorna, it’s my body, my emotions, I just went to walk in street. Sometimes I would cry but I tried to stay alone. I really spent five months being Lorna.
I mean, we had fun during the shooting because they are very agreeable, nice and friendly and plus the whole crew are like a family; they’ve worked together for 10 or 12 years, I am not sure, but you feel like you are at home. We laughed a lot although sometimes the scenes were serious – I think when you laugh you feel more relaxed and then when you begin to act you can start to change more easily. And they give you this confidence and I had confidence in them 100 per cent. And I love them because when you don’t doubt then you don’t think, ‘Should I do it this way or that way?’, you just do it. So it is very great.
LWLies: How much actual influence did you have? Were they completely open to your views if you said, ‘I want to do it this way’? Would they listen?
Dobroshi: Yeah, if I suggested something if I was in the scene and said I don’t feel it, they said, ‘Okay try it. How do you feel?’ But we had to rehearse it and that’s good because we can speak all day long, but when you do it in the scene and act it, it could be totally different, sometimes it does not work at all. It works while we are speaking but when in action it’s not good. But, yes, they let you do stuff, I mean if you have an idea if you want to do it you can try it and even… I mean, when we’re shooting a scene, because sometimes we shot a scene five times, 10 times and the most it was 47 times, the scenes as you saw the movie were scenes of three minutes or two minutes so you have to do it all, the actors have to be good, the camera, the sound, it’s a little bit like the theatre.
LWLies: Tell us about Lorna. Do you see her as a victim in the situation she finds herself in or is she the protagonist who creates the situation?
Dobroshi: Well, she is everything. In the movie she is everything. First you see her as a woman who is very strong who has her goal and then little by little she starts changing and becomes more soft. So, a victim? Yes sometimes she is a victim and sometimes she creates the things herself, so she creates the situation but I cannot say Lorna is a victim because… It’s sad: she has a goal so she accepted something that is not so good, but life took her there, I mean she had a goal, she said I’m going to live as best as possibly.
I think she didn’t even realise that Claudy is going to die. Little by little she started getting into a life with Claudy, then she said, ‘No, its not working, I want to change something,’ and while she wanted to change something in her life she didn’t say to her boyfriend she couldn’t do those things because of Fabio. She was put in a very difficult situation. In general, how I see her is as a human being who is trying to survive. And it’s very difficult to say after you work five months, six months as a character because you live with her everyday and then to speak objectively is like speaking objectively of my life.
LWLies: Does she fall in love with Claudy?
AD: Yes I think so because it’s a love story also, that’s what I think. And that first scene that the audience sees that there is something going on between them is where she is in the hospital and she opens the door, he’s sleeping and she watches him. Things are going on in her heart but at the same time she thinks something – it’s not love at first because she cannot fall in love at once because she has a boyfriend, she is dans la merde, not in a good situation, but yes she feels something. And then at the end she offers herself, she gets naked with him, it’s more naked inside than the clothes, I mean that’s how I feel.
LWLies: And how was that scene? It’s quite a difficult scene, quite exposing, literally exposing, did you find it difficult?
Dobroshi: No, not difficult but very emotional because it is a very emotional scene. I mean, it’s the first time that we see Lorna really frightened, that she gives us a little bit of emotion because until that moment she is really strong and trying to keep all her emotions inside, but inside she wants to expose. That’s how I felt while I was working. And when it came to that scene I remember I opened the window and threw the key and closed it and then I started to take my clothes off, it wasn’t hard to take my clothes because it’s nothing – it’s not being naked that is hard – and then just the idea that I would offer myself to Claudy, like Lorna offers, just to say, ‘Stop it! Don’t take drugs – I mean for both of us…’
LWLies: Was she offering herself or is she dominating? Like you say, when she takes her clothes off it’s like she is unburdening herself, it’s unsexual. It’s difficult to know what is going to happen.
Dobroshi: Yes definitely. Yet at the same time, for me, she wants to tell him because she is so emotional and she cannot continue seeing him because she did so much for him and she says, ‘Stop it!’ And it comes in such a way that you cannot judge it, you think, ‘What is she doing?’ It was the same for me when I acted. I mean, I took off my clothes and then I had to walk, I got really emotional because for the first time they have contact. She says to her dream, ‘Goodbye, I don’t accept this, doing the things in the wrong way.’ Even now when I am speaking I am getting goose bumps because the scene was so strong. And it doesn’t mean that after, when we cut the scene, we didn’t laugh, but for the moment Lorna and Claudy… It’s a very intense scene. I mean, you look at each other and you don’t know, in that position you kiss before the kiss, it was very busting, the emotions – whack! – that’s how it felt. And we were very prepared, that’s why I am saying it was so hard. I was in the movie all the time, 10-15 hours per day and then went home and five months you were in the movie and then things come very natural and then before a scene I take my time, I am in my room, I don’t even watch the director they say, ‘Okay, go!’ And I… Because I try to keep the emotions near.
LWLies: Do you think coming from Bosnia, gave you an insight into Lorna as an immigrant in Belgium?
Dobroshi: I don’t know. Maybe. I never thought about it that way. What I did, always when I work in another character, and the character of Lorna, is I began from zero because it doesn’t really matter that she’s from Albania: she could be from anywhere else, she could even be Belgian or from America. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to begin from zero, she’s a human being, she does this, she has this goal, that goal,’ and then I put her in the situation, and then I see the whole, like her. I mean, like you’re saying, it was more or less the same situation, and I tried to live more like Lorna. I was lucky that I was in Liège, the same town as she was, and I could walk the same streets as she did.
LWLies: Do you think you would like to work more in social realism or would you like to make a classic Hollywood film?
Dobroshi: Everything. When I started acting and I did theatre and film, I always did both. I didn’t even have time to divide, and when I got a project I read it completely and if the screenplay hit me I liked it. It’s not that I said, ‘Now I want this kind of movie.’ It doesn’t mean that I would love to do a commercial movie or Hollywood movie or an art scene movie – if the story is good, it doesn’t mean that it’s commercial; if the story is good it is worth doing 100 per cent, then I think it works always, that’s my feeling. Even when I did the short movies, it was years ago, I was 100 per cent inside. People didn’t understand, they were all student movies. It doesn’t matter if you’re paid more or less or if you work with big directors or small ones.
LWLies: You haven’t got a planned career trajectory?
Dobroshi: No. I got an idea I always wanted to work everything, and now I feel I want to work more. Because I think the world is very small and we are all citizens of this world. I cannot be stuck in one place. I never thought this way, even when we had the war, I never even thought of the war, I thought I loved acting, I’m going to do it. It wasn’t so easy – I mean now it comes very naturally – but when you’re inside you try and you want to believe in your own opinion. You say, ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ Now what I have in mind is to work as much as possible, to choose different projects. I mean, I always took the time choosing the projects.