Yana Novikova is one of the many breakout stars of the entirely deaf cast of The Tribe. She speaks to us about her first film, why Blue is the Warmest Color spurred her to pursue an acting career, and how being deaf has helped her craft.
What other acting experience do you have?
I have no acting experience other than The Tribe. Growing up I never ad any experience in acting, but when I got to school I became involved in dancing. I grew up in, Gomel, Belarus, where there were no arts programs for the deaf. I found out that there was a theater school in Kiev, Ukraine. I auditioned for the program, but was not accepted. However, I found out later that Miroslav was scouting for the film and saw my theater audition. He called me in to audition for the film and cast me at that point.
I read that after seeing Blue is the Warmest Color, you decided you needed to be an actress. Why did that film have such an effect on you?
When I watched the film, Adele Exarchopoulos’s character was so free and so brave. She really inspired me and empowered me as an actress and as a deaf woman, to express myself and to be that free and that brave.
How did you react when you found out you had gotten the part?
I was overjoyed. I couldn’t believe it! I was nearly speechless, because I never dreamed I would get the part with no acting experience.
You play a prostitute in the film–did the idea of that intimidate you at all?
Obviously in my real life, I know nothing about being a prostitute, so it was a huge challenge for me. The character was so powerful and dark, and I had to work very hard to become that kind of character.
In what way do you think being deaf has helped your acting skills?
Growing up deaf, I had heavy emphasis on facial expressions, body language and other gestures to communicate, which helped immensely in my acting. The film itself was looking for people with experience in acting, but I felt like relying on alternate forms of expression gave me an advantage. After my experience working in THE TRIBE, I had to analyze within myself whether or not I can become a deaf actress as a career. I decided that yes, I can take this path–there are many other deaf actors out there, and nothing is going to stop me from pursuing this new passion.
Since there’s no scripted dialogue did you and your cast-mates improvise everything you signed?
I had no specific dialogue to go on, but Myroslav would give me instructions on what I needed to do in any given scene. It was all improvised based on a brief summary of the action and the emotions I needed to convey. After I got the role, I was given an outline of what the film was about, but when we started filming, the filmmaker would just tell us what to do, so there were definitely elements–being a prostitute, the sex scenes, etc.–that I definitely was not prepared for.
What’s next for you?
I’m hoping to be offered more roles in film. I’m planning to attend college in London or the U.S. to study acting.