A Slovenian Physicist in Hollywood
Branden Garrett may not sound like a particularly Slovenian name, but it belongs to one of Slovenia’s most promising actors. Borut Grosicar is new to acting, but has made impressive strides, and a big impression, in just a few film roles—enough to get signed by a Hollywood agency, which now regularly sends him to auditions for international films. Trained as a physicist, he still teaches physics and math, but is following his passion in a striking, mid-life career move. We met Borut, stage name Branden, at an intriguing moment in his fledgling career. He has the agent. He has a small but memorable part in a new Slovenian gangster film, Suplje price (Tall Tales), in which he gets to deliver a perfectly-timed joke: he is obliged to entertain a two-year-old and is at a loss, so he offers to show him a gift from his mother, which turns out to be an enormous gun. What happens next is both gruesome and funny, and that scene, however brief, is a standout in the film. Having signed with an American agency, he is currently in the midst of the mountain of paperwork required for a non-American artist/performer to get a permit to work in the US. He is on the cusp, and therefore has good insight into life as an actor in Slovenia, and just how a foreigner might break into Hollywood. He lives there half the year and works there with regularity--that's the biggest hurdle already cleared. He certainly looks the part: with long blond hair and a laid-back, Southern California vibe, he is someone to keep an eye out for.
Noah Charney (NC): When did you realize you wanted to become an actor?
Borut Grosicar (BG): The trigger for everything was my good friend from Germany, who told me “I think you should become an actor.” I didn't take that seriously, still working as a physicist at the Jozef Stefan institute in Ljubljana. This idea of performing was always inside of me, but I was not courageous enough. After going through some changes in my personal life, I became more extroverted, and also started to do things I really love. I felt like I needed to use the second half of my brain.
NC: Tell me about your first major role.
BG: My first major role was in my short film, Hills Like White Elephants. I was producer and an actor at the same time. It is a film based on a short story written by Ernest Hemingway. It centers on a couple’s verbal duel, over whether the girl will have an abortion of her partner’s child. Hemingway’s feat in this story is to accomplish full, fleshed-out characterizations of the couple, and a clear and complete exposition of their dilemma, using almost nothing but dialogue. As a method actor, I was trying to be authentic, credible and real in this film. The filming took place at the main railway station in Ljubljana. Let me also recall the film, Suplje price (Tall Tales) that recently came out at the cinema. In that film, I play the role of a professional burglar.
NC: What is the lifestyle like for an actor in Slovenia? How does one become a full-time actor, when it seems that there is a very limited number of positions available?
BG: It depends how you look at it. We can be considered very lucky, having two great teachers of method acting, namely Janez and Andrej Vajevec. They are both coming from Lee Strasberg's school of acting. A method that was established in previous century in US and lately spread worldwide. But, on the other hand, it is not exactly a nice situation, from a financial point of view, since we live in a very small country, which means we have a very limited market, consequently there are not enough “customers” for films. Most of the film projects are subsidized by the government. So, unless you are coming from certain circles, the chance to get cast for a role is insignificantly small, even though you may be a trained actor. You can be an extra, and that's it. Yet, one can always be creative and do one’s own stuff, one’s own indie projects.
NC: At what point did you decide to pursue a career acting in the US?
BG: After few years of working as an actor in Slovenia, and being part of some films and commercials, a strong desire came to my mind to trying it overseas. There is much bigger market, many more chances.
NC: How did you get an agent? I understand that this is practically impossible and a major feat!
BG: It was a combination of right circumstances, and me being prepared to accept that position. I went to an agency with my friend. When they saw me and my work, my acting resume, they have offered me a representation.
NC: Tell me about the audition process and your visit to Hollywood.
BG: There was a nice incident while preparing myself at famous Stella Adler Academy on Hollywood Boulevard, with very-well known acting coach, Laura Levya. The last few words in my monologue were “jebat ću ti majku” which means “I will f..k your mother,” which is not very nice but was certainly in character, as I was playing a role of Serbian mafia boss. I remember, she told me “that was really substantial, although I didn’t understand a word.”
NC: What is the process like to get the paperwork sorted, in order to be allowed to work in the US, as a Slovenian actor?
BG: It is a troublesome process. You have to prove to the State Department people that you have made extraordinary achievements in the arts. So basically, you need a lot of press articles and recommendation letters that prove your excellence.
NC: How did you choose your American stage name, and how has taking a stage name helped you?
BG: It took me some time. I checked the book of the names, with the intention to have the same initials as in my original name. When I stumbled upon the “Branden Garrett,” I liked it immediately. After sleeping on it, I decided to keep it. The fact that many actors and artists use a stage name speaks for itself. I think this is an important aspect that can help you in breaking through. Of course, this is not enough. You certainly have to make a good first impression while meeting key people, and I think this is very important for public personae, like actors. Besides, my surname is very difficult to pronounce!
NC: Which other Slovenian actors have achieved success abroad?
BG: Definitely the most successful actor is Željko Ivanek. He has very impressive Hollywood acting resume. He had a role in films like Argo, The Bourne Legacy, Live Free or Die Hard, Hannibal, etc. After him comes Katarina Čas, with films like The Guard, The Wolf of Wall Street and Danny Collins.
NC: Why do you think it is that Slovenes seem particularly obsessed with success (or failure) abroad--as if success in Slovenia "doesn't count?"
BG: I think that it is because, in our psyche as well as in fact, people become recognized in Slovenia only after getting recognition abroad. It happens in the fields of science, art, design. Let me recall examples, like designer Robert Lešnik, or the businessman and owner of Pipistrel, Ivo Boscarol, and the aforementioned Katarina Čas.
NC: What is actor training like here in Slovenia? The general level of actors on television seems quite basic, when compared to actors in other countries, and I'm wondering if that is a problem with the way acting is taught?
BG: I agree with you. Shelley Winters, a widely respected actress who won two Oscars once said that, in Europe, we are too burdened with ideas, philosophy, theoretical knowledge. Consequently, it is difficult to create an organic experience that is credible and authentic. Actors here seem to imitate too much through facial expressions. The first thing that they taught me in Hollywood is not to pretend, but to live.
An earlier version of this interview was published in print in SInfo magazine.