Desi Ivanova is an actress, writer, and producer living in Los Angeles. She spent her childhood in Georgia, Bulgaria, Russia, Libya, and Dubai, UAE, before moving to Australia to study acting at the University of Tasmania, and eventually coming to Los Angeles to study Film at the New York Film Academy. Her multi-cultural and always-on-the-go childhood has fostered in her an ability to adapt and put herself in others’ shoes, and how it strengthened her character and resolve. For artists, especially artists who must create and embody many different people, Desi’s background offers a goldmine of experiences and insight. This is the second part of my interview with her. Click here to read Libya to LaLaLand: Part 1.
DESI:We did lots of research about marketing and press. It was all done through online sources. We did that while the series was being edited. Once we found the right press/websites we begun emailing them asking them to review us. One of them finally said yes. It’s all about hustling. Don’t be afraid to email them or make that phone call. The only thing they can say is “NO.” And then you move on.
The review itself was great. Fantastic constructive criticism which gave us many ideas, confirmed our worries, and inspired us to hopefully film a second season without making the same mistakes.
DESI:My love for acting was born at a young age and it was inspired by the books I read. After reading a book, I would take my toys and re-enact a chapter/moment from the story. Then I thought “I should do this myself”( I was 8 years old). So I gathered all my neighborhood friends and made up a Christmas show. It all took place in the courtyard of our apartment building. We invited our parents to be the audience. It was awesome fun! That became a tradition, so for every holiday or a birthday the parents demanded that we put on a show. And I kept on doing it. I was their director, “writer” (I never actually wrote those “plays” on paper) and I acted in them. I’m laughing as I’m remembering this.
When I found out that this is an actual job I thought “Hell yea! I’m going to be an actress”. My parents of course didn’t take it too seriously. They never even fathomed that acting could be a career option for me. I come from a family of doctors (pretty much every single one of my family members is some sort of doctor) and they wanted me to have a “real” job.
When I left Libya and moved to Bulgaria I started taking piano lessons, as well as singing and dancing classes. My mother was encouraging of those, but didn’t really let me do any acting. Half way through high-school we moved to Dubai and all that stopped. My mother wanted me to focus on school and made me take the commerce curriculum. I did love those subjects; however, the desire of being an actress was growing stronger inside of me by the minute. I didn’t even want to think of any other career choices. I just loving the thought of being different people, portraying different lives and all that with no consequences.
Once I graduated I was determined I would go off to study acting. It wasn’t easy to convince my mother. My father, on the other hand, was supportive of it and wanted me to do whatever made me happy. In the end, I convinced them that there is no changing my mind. So I went off – to AUSTRALIA. Australia was known to have good acting training and, more importantly, my best friend had moved to South Australia and at 18 I was a little scared to go live in a far away country where I didn’t know anybody.
So I flew to South Australia and auditioned for the Adelaide College of The Arts, and got in. I remember we toured the building during orientation and when we got to the theatre and I stepped on the stage, I knew I had arrived.
DESI:My greatest inspiration has to be LIFE. I think it’s so damn interesting. So simple, but we humans make it so complex. And yet it’s in those complexities that I find inspiration. All these little magical moments we have in life that are born from the unknown, from spontaneity, from strange, inexplicable desires deep within our soul/mind/heart. All these fascinating people. When I meet those people I want to become them for a split second, just so I can try to feel what they feel and see the world through their eyes.
Of course, great actors inspire me too. The likes of Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Gary Oldman, Heath Ledger (RIP). I aspire to be like them. And the actors that I don’t like, but are famous, inspire me as well because they are proof that art is subjective and people have different tastes. All artists have a voice, they just need to find the right audience.
Many of my doubts stream from uncertainty: me not being sure if I can capture all this well enough. Will I be able to put it in writing and manage to translate that magical experience? Or is it going to turn to shit? Can I become that person and be believable? Will I ever be able to earn enough money doing this?
But then I think back at all the times that I was able to successfully capture those characters and tell those stories and I get my hopes up. I keep reminding myself that these stories are from the heart and they will inevitably reach other hearts.The whole creative business is so subjective and unpredictable, that we as artists have to blindly go with the flow and hope that our art will be recognized. I’ve realized that as long as it comes from a pure and real place, people will relate, like it, and want to see more.
DESI:Like I mentioned before I moved around a lot. I was born in Georgia (the country, not Atlanta). My mother is Georgian and my dad is Bulgarian. we moved between Georgia, Bulgaria, and Russia up until I was around seven years old. At the time, the Balkan countries paid laughable salaries to all doctors and my parents were desperately looking for better opportunities, so in 1994 we moved to Libya. They found a hospital that was offering decent pay in a small Libyan town. Once we arrived in Libya the conditions weren’t that great either. I recall we had car seats as couches and two mattresses as a sofa. My dad found some scraps and built most of our furniture himself.
We shared our apartment with another family. They had two kids and I shared a room with them. So even though I’m an only child, I kind of grew up with a brother and a sister. Regardless of the poor conditions we always had good food and a clean house. I didn’t know what a microwave was and I hadn’t set foot in a cinema. It was a great childhood. I mingled with kids from all over the world, whose parents were also doctors, and so I learned to speak Polish, Serbian, Russian and some Arabic. We all played outside, digging holes in the sand, building cubby houses, climbing olive trees, playing tennis, chase, hide and seek – just being kids.
After six years in Libya, we moved back to Bulgaria for another three years, and then moved to Dubai. Dubai at the time wasn’t as glamorous as it is nowadays. It had strict rules (no holding hands or hugging in public, no sleeveless tops or skirts and shorts above the knee, etc.) so for a hormonal teenager it wasn’t the best place. I once had to go to the local police station for kissing my boyfriend at Starbucks.The officers just scolded us for about four hours and let us go.
Once I finished high school in Dubai, I moved to Australia to follow my dream, and I feel that is where I truly found myself. I grew as an individual and I became my own person, away from parental guidance. That is why I will always call Australia home.
After four years of theatre school, I moved back to Dubai and felt ready to make the final big move for my career: HOLLYWOOD.
During all of this, I also got to travel and visit many more countries. I’m so grateful and blessed to have had that opportunity. All my travels and migrations taught me to let go easier, to admire more and complain less, to adapt to different conditions, to love and appreciate every culture, to understand everyone’s point of view, and to be more accepting of people. It showed me how different and yet similar we all are and, in the end, it’s one’s heart that matters. It’s really about the beautiful moments and all the laughter you’ve shared. I’m sure you can see how all this influenced my career and inspired my art. I now have that many more stories to tell and that many more interesting humans to portray.
DESI: Acting-wise, I can still remember this one scene in class, at the end of my first year in acting school in Australia. I had to have a big emotional breakdown but I was stuck in my head, thinking about the breakdown, instead of being in the scene: “ok now I have to cry, I have to cry! Here it comes, ok …cry! Cry! CRY DAMN IT!” And of course nothing happened. I did that scene several more times with the same results. I was so embarrassed in front of all my classmates and so disappointed in myself. I’m a bit of a control freak, so naturally I wanted to be perfect, I didn’t want to be wrong or fail – everything that art is NOT.
Later, of course, I learned the basics of acting which is “just be in the moment, think and breathe as the character.” And I learned that your biggest mistakes help you grow tremendously. In art, fucking up is crucial. It took me a while but I got it in the end.
your biggest mistakes help you grow tremendously
Another example was probably getting fired from the first play I did here in L.A. It’s too long to explain, but I can say that I failed to establish a connection with the director and kind of gave up on it half way. I also felt that I failed to stand up for myself and quit when I should have quit. Instead, I lingered in this weird, indefinite space, not yielding yet not giving up, which wasn’t pleasant for anyone. That experience taught me that I can’t always please everybody and that I have to take a stand and walk away when I feel belittled or unappreciated. It taught me to be more cautious with whom I trust and most of all, to grow a thicker skin.
As far as my successes, I’d say playing Clov from Beckett’s Endgame would have to be one of my proudest moments in acting. I’m usually critical of my acting and always walk away thinking I could have done some things better. But with this character, I felt that I nailed it. Well, I did also have an amazing director who was demanding and very particular and I had to give 100% at every rehearsal. The play was very well received. We toured it around the northern parts of South Australia and every audience seemed to love my performance.
Most of all, my lecturers loved it. And their opinion meant the world to me because they were very harsh judges. That’s how I knew it was a pretty big leap in my development as an actor.
I’d say a big credit for this success I’d have to give to my director but also me, for taking the time to create this character and thoroughly explore it inside and out.
Another success I’m proud of, was winning the Rising Star Award in South Australia for best emerging actress. These are awards given to all outstanding females in the arts in South Australia. It was very unexpected and to be honest at first I was a little worried because I didn’t agree that I was the best. I knew so many other incredibly talented actresses and I imagined how they would feel not getting the award. I somehow didn’t feel I deserve it.
But my perspective quickly changed when I went to the award ceremony. The judges kept saying all these wonderful things about me, which I wasn’t even aware of. They had been watching me all this time and not only did they like Desi the actress but they were truly fond of Desi, the person. Besides anything, they appreciated my continued hard work and dedication.
The lady who handed me the award said how she never missed any of my performances because no matter how small my part was I always managed to touch her. That speech really moved me and for the first time I realized what being an artist is all about. It’s your job, as an artist, to affect people, to touch their hearts and in turn, they will reward you for it , not because you are the best (it’s not a competition) but because at that given time and space they connected with YOU and your creation.
DESI:I believe that every piece of art must have a message. We, as artists (especially if we are well-known) have the power to influence people and make a change in the world. I want to create, write and act in films and plays that have a strong message, whether it is to touch, inspire, educate, raise awareness, or to ease people’s hearts by making them laugh. Like my dad says, “You actors are doctors too, Desi; doctors of the soul.”
My dream is to eventually create a film production company that will tell stories based on true events from all over the world. I’m a huge fan of international cinema because it’s a great way to explore elements of foreign cultures. I want to show people how we all live, laugh, cry, and love by focusing on the little details that make us different and the ones that make us alike. I want my art will to open people’s minds and in a way, unite them.
I’d like to tell all artists out there: If you’re a creator of art, a storyteller, don’t hopelessly give up on your dreams! Trust that your art is recognized somewhere by someone and has touched the one who most needed it. You will never please everyone with every creation or story, but each will make its way into the right person’s heart. You never know who you’re inspiring. Many artists become so self absorbed and susceptible to criticism that eventually they self-destruct.
Definition of art: “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, producing works to be appreciated BY OTHERS primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” So there, you aren’t doing it JUST for yourself, you are doing it for the people.