„I’m Not That Pushy” – Interview with Alexandra Borbély, the Leading Actress of On Body and Soul

Since the premiere of On Body and Soul in March, it has gained immense popularity worldwide. The film won the Golden Bear of Berlin International Film Festival, whereas Alexandra Borbély won the European Film Awards’ best actress prize. A few days before the ceremony, I talked to her about the success of the film and the road that led to it.

Alexandra is in a few minute late and she has not much time for us: due to the success of On Body and Soul, her schedule is quite packed. She answers my questions in the café of Katona József Theatre, Kantin where director Ildikó Enyedi urged her to go for the main role of the film. She originally applied for the support character of the psychologist.

credit: Krisztina Németh

You mentioned in a previous interview of yours that you’re not descendant of an artist family. How come that you became an actress then?

On one hand, it is because of my experience at reciting competitions. I took part in these contests during my school years with great success. On the other hand, when I was a kid, my mother couldn’t stop telling me about actors, actresses, films and that she wanted to be a singer when she was younger. When we went to Győr to see Grease on stage, I was amazed.

Your mother must be really proud of you now.

I met her and one of her childhood friends recently. She told my mum that everything she had ever longed for was realized by me. But I have to tell, my mother never wanted me to become an actress.

Since you enjoyed reciting, I suppose you must have loved being in the focus of attention as a child.

Very much. In the family, my younger sister was the one who drew more attention. I wanted to prove my parents that I was not as boring as I believed they thought I was.

Was it a teenage rebellion?

Part of it, yes. In the evenings, I started to mimic the Besenyő family in front of the TV, because my parents enjoyed it a lot. I felt I was able to entertain people and that I was someone who is worth the attention.

credit: Krisztina Németh

You’re from Slovakia, originally. How so that you applied for the University of Theatre and Film Arts of Budapest?

If I hadn’t gone to Győr to see Grease but to a Slovakian city, it might have happened otherwise. Although I also speak Slovakian, Hungarian is my mother tongue and Hungary is where my heart is.

You were supposed to play the character of the psychologist in the On Body and Soul, but you took Ildikó Enyedi’s advice and went for the main role of Maria. What were you thinking about her character?

When I was about to go to the casting for the psychologist role, I told my partner, Ervin (Ervin Nagy, Hungarian actor – the ed.) about it and he asked me why I didn’t try to get the main role. I had heard before that Maria was a quirky character with unconventional traits. I felt a bit offended by Ervin’s comment, thinking ‘Why should I play this strange character?’ – I didn’t even know back then what kind of role it was. Finally, I was happy to take the opportunity when Ildikó offered me the chance to take part in the casting of Maria. I felt like I had to get this role.

credit: Krisztina Németh

Did it scare you that Maria is in fact a quirky character? Did you enjoy playing her?

Thinking about the characters I formed, I have to tell, I feel good in quaint roles. I have played a toothless woman’s character from Romania who lost her child and a sexually abused prostitute, too. I got to form the first Hungarian serial killer as well who had an orgasm, seeing suffocated dead bodies. I hope it doesn’t sound too confident, but I have never played a good-looking, slender character with blonde hair.

Is there anything, a left-out scene for example that you’re sad not to see in the final version of the film?

No, not at all. During the whole shooting process, I knew it was going in the right direction; however, I have never dreamt about anything like the final outcome.

In your opinion, what made the film so popular?

Love. It was explained in a several ways before, but not like in On Body and Soul. Both leading characters are humane and amiable – the viewers feel empathetic right from the beginning of the film. Maria and Endre are two sensitive people who lack superficiality or malice.

credit: Krisztina Németh

Has this huge success changed something in you?

It is impossible not to change. All that happened to me is that I see things from a different angle now, and that I feel remorse and guilt less. I had to refuse giving an interview a few days ago, and I found myself in the middle of an exchange of unpleasant letters. I don’t have time for everything and I’m trying to learn that I don’t need to explain why it is so. I’m genuinely happy to be given this much attention, but it is hard to meet all the expectations.

I hope you’ve had better experiences too, such as being recognized on the streets and asked for autographs…

I was recognized even when I was on a holiday in Sicily! I’ve never wanted to become an internationally recognized actress, I’m not that pushy.

You put high standards ahead of you. What’s next?

I want to keep working. It was just role, a beautiful one though. When the next one comes, I need to start it all over again for sure.