The Youth (And Experience) Of Alexandra Maria Lara

Alexandra Maria Lara, just 29 years old, has amassed almost two-dozen big screen roles in a mere ten years.  Pictured above playing Veronica, one of three characters she portrays in Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth", the legendary director's first film in 10 years, which opens in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles this Friday, and expanding across the U.S. and Canada on December 21.  (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

By Omar P.L. Moore/

December 11, 2007


Over the telephone Alexandra Maria Lara profusely apologized to her interviewer -- she had been busy on numerous other calls to promote "Youth Without Youth", Francis Ford Coppola's epic mediation on time, age, existence and regeneration.  For Mr. Coppola it has been a full ten years since his last film "The Rainmaker" in 1997, with Matt Damon.  For Ms. Lara, who speaks four different languages (German, Romanian, French and English) over that same decade, she (now just 29) has amassed a resume of performances on film that most her tender age and much older would envy.  "Youth" opens in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Friday, December 14 before expanding on the 21st to other cities across North America.
Ms. Lara spoke from her hotel room in New York City, a city she had never visited prior to this moment ("a tremendously wonderful city") and later that evening she would be part of the Big Apple premiere of the film (at the Paris Theater off Fifth Avenue on 58th Street), which stars Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz, whom Lara worked with in the 2004 film "Der Underang" ("The Downfall") playing the secretary to Mr. Ganz's Hitler, a performance for which she won acclaim. 

At the time Alexandra Maria Lara spoke to The Popcorn Reel last week she revealed that playing the part of Rupini, one of the three characters she plays in "Youth Without Youth", was "the part that terrified me most, because of her going back in time and going through these crazy experiences . . . ".  Ms. Lara has just two scenes as Laura, her initial character, who has fallen in love with Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), the man has the existential journey of regeneration, rejuvenation, dream and fantasy that anchors Mr. Coppola's film, which is set in the late 1930's in Romania and spans some 30 years in several other countries and is based on Romanian author Mircea Eliade's classic novella.  Ms. Lara cited Laura as a challenge for a different reason, in that she had to convey the feelings of that character in such condensed time.  "She's a young teacher as well, she's sharing the same passions and interests like main character Dominic Matei, but still has the sense of the real life and the real pleasures of life.  I thought, 'you know, that's a real challenge to tell something about a character in only two scenes,' but then knowing that this woman, in a different time and a different country under a different identity would come back (as Veronica, Lara's second character) -- I thought from the very beginning that this was a superb idea," Lara said. 

Veronica has her own transformation into Rupini and the Romanian-born actress summarized her feelings about executing these three distinct incarnations.  "I don't know if I can really explain it in English, but it was like circle, you know ... it was an amazing challenge to do these things ... an amazing feeling to have Francis by my side, who always from the very first moment gave me the feeling I can come every second, I can ask questions.  Such a dedicated and passionate person.  As an actress I had the best time of my life -- and playing something that is not that easy to play.  I think every actor, every actress is looking for a challenge ... you know, and to finally get to have a possibility like I had during the shooting of "Youth Without Youth" -- it was the best experience I've ever had, really."

photo of Youth Without Youth,  Alexandra Maria Lara, Francis Ford Coppola
"I learned from Francis how easy and wonderful work can be," says Lara.  The legendary director and the actress are pictured here at the New York City premiere of "Youth Without Youth", on December 5, 2007.  (This photo and the one below courtesy WireImage)

"Youth Without Youth" is quite an experience.  At the time of the date of this feature, the film, which screened for the press locally in San Francisco a couple of weeks prior to its release date, still leaves a certain film critic thinking about the imagery and journey that flickered on the screen for two-plus hours.  "Youth" tackles themes of perception, existence, time, rejuvenation, meditation and love.  The film is a love story at heart, but more so a tribute to the complexity of life, and love of life, a stimulating journey through one man's subconscious, and one woman's haunting transformation and alternate dimensions.  (Lara used the term "primordial ecstasies".)  "One of the questions I had as an actress was, 'how is the connection between body and language (achieved through the sudden transformations in Veronica into Rupini)?'"  When she had time off during the film, she said she consulted her former drama teachers for a little extra guidance. 

Ms. Lara added that despite the intense rehearsal time with Mr. Coppola and the challenging process in her journey to cultivate the most challenging of her three roles, "I wanted to maybe also surprise him a little bit, and wanted to get different possibilities."  Despite playing such diverse roles, Lara had no problem breaking character when her scenes were finished.  "I went to bed, it was very easy.  I went to smoke a cigarette.  I had a glass of wine.  And I was more than happy that I survived the day.  And I have to tell you," she confesses, "that I am not a method actress -- it's not very difficult for me -- I love to concentrate, and I love -- and I'm a passionate actress -- I love the time on set.  I love being in front of the camera.  But as soon as the day is over it's not difficult for me to relax and be Alexandra again."

Alexandra Maria Lara has spent most of her life living in Germany, where she has appeared in several films.  She lives in Berlin with her boyfriend Sam Riley (who was memorable as the tragic Ian Curtis of the rock band Joy Division in the film "Control" earlier this year, a film in which Ms. Lara also appeared.)  She has also filmed a few English-language motion pictures, including "The City of Your Final Destination", with Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney, directed by James Ivory, a film which will arrive in North America next year.  Of her growth as an actress Lara cites that "I feel more confident as an actress now than I felt five years ago."  Still, there were days on the set of "Youth" where she wasn't so sure she could pull off the acting feat of Rupini that Mr. Coppola's film required.  Recalled Lara: "I wasn't so confident at that moment -- how to approach the whole situation -- and he (Coppola) made me feel so good and so free.  This and millions of other things make Francis the incredible director and person he is . . . and at the same time he's one of the most loveliest and warmest people I've ever met.  He's not intimidating, although he's a very demanding director at the same time."

Lara is also unafraid to grade herself on her own job.  "I am critical with myself (as an actress), but on the other side I am also very, very grateful.  I know that for myself . . . that on every movie set I have ever been on, I tried to give my best.  If it works or not, of course that's for people who are watching the movies."  Lara has had her share of bad experiences on movie sets, with some directors that weren't so great on set, but like most other performers she has learned from the great experiences and the not-so great ones, reflecting that all the interactions on the movies she has worked on have helped make her a better actor.

Throughout the time spent with her, you can hear the sunshine in Lara's voice as she speaks.  Alexandra Maria Lara is an acting veteran at just 29, and she's like a kid in a never-ending candy store.  She speaks about acting with such genuine joy and enthusiasm that her energy describing it is infectious.

"I'm the luckiest girl on earth," she says.

Click here to listen to the telephone interview with Alexandra Maria Lara

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