By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the extraordinarily talented Czech actress and self-proclaimed ‘little weirdo’ Petra Bučková.
As we sit down for a friendly chat in the beautiful Café Nona attached to the Czech National Theatre in Prague, the Brno-born and bred actress admits that she’s had a busy week touring the country with the LiStOVáNí play Závěrka, so we order a glass of Merlot and discuss her diverse national and now international acting career, playing Czech film legend Pavel Juráček, speaking Shakespeare’s bard, working with Orlando Bloom, and that element of crazy that’s missing from modern female characters.
Have you always been into acting?
Actually, I call myself an actress now but in Czech it has more of an ironic connotation like ‘ohhh, you’re a hérečka’. It’s not nice. It kind of gives off the idea that you’re sleeping with lots of people and kind of a bitch.
That’s interesting and why do you think that is?
I think it’s something that we Czech people have. This kind of cynicism. It’s our way of dealing with emotions. Why do we like to put people down with black humour? We do it a bit too much I think. Sometimes I think ‘can’t you just be a gentleman’ (laughs). That’s why I like to meet foreigners too.
Were there any movies or plays that you watched when you were younger which made a real impact on you?
Not really because where I lived in communism we didn’t have much. We had Fantomas with Louis De Funes and the series Angelika on tape and passed around from person to person (laughs). I actually made my own movies and plays and this is what brought me to acting. It was something very personal – I spoke to people that did not exist. I created the stories according to what was exciting for me at the time.
What kind of stories were they?
For example, an abandoned girl growing up in a brothel (laughs). I’ve always really liked period dramas and medieval tales, even stuff like Game of Thrones, and I’ve also always liked themes that are taboo – things that are kind of on the edge. So when my parents went to sleep, I would get out of bed and wrap a blanket around me like a corset. I would play both the man and the woman.
Now you play one of the versions of Czech screenwriter and film director Pavel Juráček in ‘The Golden Sixties’, a production based on his personal and political struggles. Very good play and now with English subtitles!
Yes! Honestly, I didn’t know that much of his stuff before this performance and I thought to myself ‘wow’. His diaries and his whole world was just so intense. Case for a Rookie Hangman is a very interesting movie of his to watch. It’s very Kafka.
You also told me that his story is still relevant today. Why do you think that is?
Well, Juráček said himself that artists would be chased by the workers. It feels like that’s happening again now. In the play he also talks about elections and not wanting to vote, which also just happened here with the presidential election.
Now, you also performed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Othello. Othello even in English. What did you think of his Bard speak?
I love it. I totally fell in love with it. Othello was my first play in English and I played Emelia. Bard’s rhythm really leads you in English, but in Czech you really have to learn it. I still have her Emelia’s monologue in my head and I’m planning to shoot it again in a very strange place. One that doesn’t belong to Shakespeare – maybe when I’m skiing or something crazy like that (laughs). It’s just so powerful.
Then I played Lady Macbeth which was in Czech, and it was very odd. I was too young to play her and I really got scared with what was happening. THEN I heard stories about the bad things that happen around Macbeth.
And did something happen?
Yes, for example, once I was walking through a park and lots of ravens started to fly around me. It was really strange. She (Lady Macbeth) really raises demons. It was interesting.
A lot of film actors say that their heart is in theatre. Is that the same case for you?
I was in theatre for 12 years and I will say that it’s not exactly where my heart is, but I do have love for it. Before I was performing in big roles every day. When my father died one day, I had to act in a comedy that same evening. There are 200 people watching so if you don’t perform then you really pay for it. Theatre kind of became a routine which is not me. I’m someone that likes to put everything into something and then cut it, so movies are perfect for that.
You’ve also been in some international films and other big productions recently, like WWII drama The Zookeeper’s Wife, for example.
It was great to be a part of that, even if it was just a small part. It was one of my first big productions and I’d get goosebumps on set with all the costumes and seeing all the kids. I’ve tried to sort of make a transit into movies lately. In theatre I only played very big roles. In movies, it’s been the opposite. I’ve had to start from the very beginning again. You know, at my age sometimes Czech people say ‘oh, it’s too late’, especially for a woman, but everything’s just getting bigger and bigger now. I’m trying to be very humble, and I’m grateful for the people who trust in me and invite me to castings, like Maya Kvetny, who gives great opportunities to Czech actors who can speak English or German. In Hollywood, you probably wouldn’t even hear about a project like this. Prague has great potential.
It’s very inspiring to hear that.
I have to fight my ego a lot (laughs). My ambitions are really about improving myself now. You need to do that for movies.
You were also in the new Amazon fantasy series Carnival Row recently. Now that’s a HUGE Prague based project. How much can you tell me about that?
I was a female centaur! There were four or five movement rehearsals and it was just wow. I couldn’t believe it was even possible to do in just one day. I worked with a choreographer and it was a lot which made me wonder what it would be like for the people in main roles. I was wearing horse hooves and was just walking around. I looked so scary with all the make-up. People sit together when you eat on set but no one wanted to sit next to me (laughs). There’s just so much going on there. Then you get to do a scene with Orlando Bloom and find out that these big stars are just so normal. They say hello to everyone – so humble.
What kind of roles do you prefer to play?
I usually like male characters, so from that perspective probably Sarah Kane who was a lesbian, I was in her play ‘4.48 Psychosis’. She wrote a play about killing herself, which is exactly what she did. It’s probably been my favourite part so far. Three of us girls played her and I was the most cynical, and also the most vulnerable, version of her. In the future I would love to play someone like the Joker, Heath Ledger’s Joker. I don’t know if someone would ever write a part like that for a woman but that’s my goal in this crazy world.
So would you like to have more of these roles for women?
Yes, even Lady Macbeth is still just taking care of her husband’s business. I’m more interested in Macbeth himself. I’d like to be the one under that pressure. The world is changing.
Do you think the Czech film industry is changing with it? Will there be more opportunities for women?
No, not yet. They always cast me as the nice-looking ‘lady’. Even if you’re cast as a detective, you’re for sure an attractive one, and your heart is torn between two men. I’d like to play someone like Saga, the detective from The Bridge. You know, she has scars and she’s just very strange. Very interesting. I’m quite fascinated by how they do it in Scandinavia.
Now that you mention it, I could see you making a great Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Yes! Oh god, but the point is no one here can imagine me in a role like that…. yet!
And finally, you were also a red nose hospital clown. What a rewarding experience! Tell me about that.
Yes, I did a lot of years of practice to be able to do it. You’ve got to learn a lot because you go to some really tough places. It was a good balance for me with the theatre work because you’re using your talents in different surroundings, and you could see some big changes. You’d make people laugh and sometimes even make them angry. For example, a lady with dementia could tell you to shove your costume up your ass, so you’d actually try to do that, and then she’d laugh and could FINALLY get something out.
Photos: Petra Bučková