Mira Furlan was an acclaimed actress in her native Croatia, winning the equivalent of an Oscar, before emigrating to the United States in the early ‘90s. She is best known to American audiences, however, as Ambassador Delenn from Babylon 5 and Danielle Rousseau from LOST. She took a few minutes Saturday morning to talk with the Daily Dragon.
Daily Dragon (DD): You had an extensive career in your home country before you came to the United States. What were some of the challenges for you? Was it like starting over?
Mira Furlan (MF): It was completely like starting over, as if someone had taken a big eraser and erased my life. It was a strange feeling. But at the same time, we came to New York. I’ve always loved New York, and I’ve always thought that it’s like living in the world. It’s the world, not just one city, but it’s everything! I was there in the mid-80s, and completely fell in love, and I thought, “I could live there!” So we came. It was one of the coldest winters in America ever recorded, minus 30 degrees Celsius, almost unbelievably cold. Homeless people were dying in the streets, people were warned not to get out of their homes and apartments and so on. We had four suitcases. But then, somehow, there was an agent who wanted to send me—not sign me, but send me just for trial purposes—send me to a couple of auditions. And one of them was Babylon 5. So it was kind of a miracle! The more I live here, the more it’s clear to me what a miracle it was. I didn’t quite understand it in those times.
DD: So was Babylon 5 your first job here in the United States?
MF: Actually, no. My first job in the United States was a theater play. I got my Actors’ Equity card very soon—I had to start. It’s a puzzle, it’s a whole big puzzle that you have to solve. The papers, your legal status, the green card, permission to work, the unions… and it’s all catch-22: Unless you have work, you can’t get those things, and if you don’t get those things, you can’t work. It’s like all these closed circles which you travel and circle and try to find a way out! And somehow it happened. So my first job was a play in Indianapolis by the Spanish author García Lorca, and I played Yerma. It was a challenge, big challenge for me because it was a very hard play—even in my language, it would be hard, but this was English and I had to master this new language and so on and so forth. But the whole experience was, however scary, also very exhilarating, because you had a very clear goal in front of you. You had to solve all those legal, professional obstacles. And I always say to people who come here and think that that’s the biggest deal to solve—to get the green card, to go get work—no, that will come! That will be solved! The rest is the problem. You solve all that, and then what?
DD: So what was it like for you to go back to your home country after being away for so many years and go back to the stage?
MF: It took me ten years—actually, 11 years—to go there, and I never wanted to. When we [husband and director Goran Gajic] emigrated, we said, “Never again. Never, never, never again!” There was so much awfulness and so much—everything that I abhor: Nationalism, fascism, persecution of basic ethnic belonging, and so on and so forth. Things that you would think were kind of solved and taught as a lesson during the Second World War. But they didn’t, and we see it all around the world, it’s all happily alive. Persecutions of every kind. But anyway, I was so hurt that I didn’t want to go back, so I would meet with my father in Austria, in the neighboring country, we would organize these meetings. It seems like a very strange thing, like in a spy novel. Then I finally went home. I came back with the role of Medea. It was all beautiful, and very cathartic for me. But these returns are also questionable, because the question is, can you really return, ever? Or did this change you so much? You can’t step in the same water twice. They moved, I moved in a different direction, so it’s very hard. Now I go back on a regular basis, to all parts of Yugoslavia, and I did a couple of movies there, and TV series, actually something like a miniseries. It’s nice to be able to act in your own language. And there are some people that I love there, and like, and they are my old, old friends. Old friends are irreplaceable, because they know you—what you were before, you know? Nobody here knows who I am. These people know, they’re my witnesses—witnesses of your existence kind of, and that’s beautiful. So… back and forth. Not belonging to any of those places.
DD: Turning to Babylon 5 for a moment, if you could describe your character Delenn in one word, what would that word be?
DD: Delenn is such a pivotal character that goes through both physical and philosophical transformations. What were some of the challenges of playing that long story arc?
MF: This was the first time that I did something like that—that I played the same character for five years. Actors get—I can’t say get bored, but maybe get too comfortable. It becomes like putting your old slippers on your feet. And so you have to keep yourself on your feet, keep yourself challenged and inspired. That’s sometimes a problem. But then, Joe Straczynski always wrote such interesting material, and it was surprising sometimes. And it was never dull. It was never the same. I had great partners, in Bruce [Boxleitner], in Andreas [Katsulas], Peter [Jurasik]—the girls, Claudia [Christian], Pat [Tallman]. It was a good bunch of people. It was a happy place to work.
DD: I’ve read that you’ve said that Ophelia is one of your favorite stage roles. What is it about that character that appeals to you?
MF: I don’t remember that I would say that… It’s a very old, Shakespeare’s characters. It’s very, very limited… Ophelia, as I recall, has only three or four scenes. It’s not developed, really. It’s just a glimpse, it’s a sketch. That’s the problem with female roles. That’s why I always wanted to play Hamlet.
DD: I’d like to see an all-female Hamlet!
MF: Absolutely. It could be done. Because it’s a play not about males—it’s a philosophical play about existential issues that we all share, males and females! So, absolutely. If a play deals directly with sex, sex—which, you know, the relationship with Hamlet and Ophelia does, actually. That’s what it’s all about, repressed sexual energy. And the suffering from not having the commitment from the other side, and so on. Hamlet is so involved in his own issues that he doesn’t even see this woman, and it’s no wonder that she goes crazy! I was lucky in that production to be directed by a Czech director who is an Oscar winner, and he’s a film director. He does theater from time to time, but that’s not his main thing. So he has a film mind. He’s an incredible guy, a genius. He got an Oscar for one of the best films ever, which is Closely Watched Trains. It’s an old Czech film. Beautiful. Every film that he did is literally a masterpiece. So just his working with me was so incredibly important for me. I learned so much. His main advice to me was, “Easy, easy, easy. Light.” Easy and light! Which is great. And I always remember that.
DD: Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you.