One of Bojana Novakovic’s most terrifying yet acclaimed recent shows was opposite real life partner and fellow actor Chris Ryan. It was during the Melbourne season of The Blind Date Project, an entirely unscripted, unrehearsed two-hander based around two complete strangers and their first date, in which Novakovic is literally on a blind date: each night her date is different and she has no idea who will appear on stage until they make their entrance. So you can imagine her surprise when Ryan sauntered in. The couple had recently had a bingle after Novakovic complained they weren’t seeing enough of each other, so their on-stage chemistry was a bit skewed that night. The situation quickly deteriorated when Ryan misread one of the director’s cues sent to him via a text message and he began destroying things.
“He trashed the set in the first 10 minutes,” Novakovic says of Ryan, who has a lead role in the upcoming mega-budget theatre production King Kong. “But he was so good that [director] Mark Winter decided to leave him alone. We each thought the other knew what was going on, but no one did. That was a really out-of-control show, [but] it was a really great show, people loved it. I hated it, hated every minute.”
The nature of The Blind Date Project, and Novakovic’s role in it, says a lot about the film and theatre actress, who graduated from NIDA in 2003. A feisty, bold, intelligent woman, she would rather stage her own shows than sit around and wait to be cast. The show itself was conceived by Novakovic in order to get back on stage ahead of The True Story of Mary MacLane by Herself, an intense show she had written and was performing for Malthouse and Griffin Theatre produced by her own company, Ride On Theatre. The show is essentially a monologue, save for some banter shared with musician Tim Rogers (her former partner). “The idea came out of desperate necessity – mine – because I realised I would have to go onstage for the first time in two and a half years. And there had to be songs because I had to sing in Mary MacLane, so we set it in a karaoke bar,” she says.
The dialogue is entirely ad-lib, save for the opening line “Sorry I’m late”. Ride On co-founder Tanya Goldberg is directing for the Sydney season and will be sitting among the 100-strong audience at the Karaoke Klub, a custom-made theatre in the bar at the Seymour Centre.
Goldberg directs the two actors via phone calls and text messages and it’s anyone’s guess where and what form the action will take each night. The only known factor is there will never be two shows alike. “I’ve been violent, there’s been lots of tears, from both parties, real tears. I’ve been directed to take my underwear off – and I didn’t question it – there’s been sucking face, lots of falling and debauchery,” says Novakovic, whose guest performers included Xavier Samuel, Toby Truslove and Jeremy Sims in the interstate seasons and will find herself performing with Toby Schmitz, Ewan Leslie and Kate Mulvany in Sydney (but don’t tell her that). “It’s terrifying. I have to relinquish that desire to be in control, knowing the only way to make it work is to relinquish that control. It’s really freeing,” she says.
The flipside to Novakovic’s independent theatre is an impressive film career, which includes a diverse range of roles opposite Keanu Reeves in the upcoming Generation Um, Mel Gibson in Edge of Darkness, Ryan Kwanten in Not Suitable for Children and Matthew Goode in Burning Man, which recently earned 10 nominations at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts awards.
“I love doing roles I don’t think I can do, things that scare me,” she says. “That’s how I keep growing as a performer.”
The AFI award-winning actress moves with the work, be it Sydney, Los Angeles or her homeland of Serbia and while she has a television script in development with an Australian production company, she envisages spending most of 2013 in LA. “I missed out on some film and TV jobs in the US last year that fell through for reasons that were beyond my control. That’s tough, because there’s no silver medal in our jobs, it’s yes or no, there’s no runner up,” she says.
“I’m interested in the US because that’s where I can earn a proper buck. I want to earn millions of dollars so I can fly back and visit Chris. Every weekend, business class, because then you don’t get jetlag. That’s my plan. Do you like it?”
The Blind Date Project runs at The Seymour Centre from January 8 to 20.