Made in Ukraine: Actress Natasha Yarovenko
Meet Natasha Yarovenko, the Ukrainian born model-cum-actress who has carved out a successful film career in her adopted Spain, joining the new crop of Ibiza creatives destined for global stardom.
TURN away now if you’re a struggling actor. Natasha Yarovenko’s film career virtually fell into her lap.
“I never wanted to be an actress actually, I wanted to do business. I was very good at maths. I have a very logical mind.”
Her speedy ascent up the showbiz ladder bypassed the gruelling initiations endured by most mortal thespians: the countless castings and disheartening rejections, striving to keep the dream alive. Instead, a series of fortuitous events seemingly sealed her fairytale fate after a chance encounter on a Barcelona street shot her straight into the spotlight.
It was in 2000, aged 20, that the Ukraine native relocated with her family to Spain’s second city (its multicultural melting pot and beachside charm bearing semblance to Odesa, her hometown). Barely had her toes touched the Barcelona tarmac when a photographer invited her to enter a modelling contest, which, with some trepidation, she entered and in turn won.
“The next day I was in the magazines, and I said to my friends, ‘Wow, Spain is great’.”
This opportune plucking from obscurity saw her seamlessly land lucrative modelling and acting contracts as her profile steadily rose. Five feature films and three TV movies later it’s no surprise, when you see her, how she side-stepped the stumbling blocks on her promising path to silver screen success. Statuesque with a megawatt smile, her undeniable sex appeal has seen her grace the covers of countless Spanish glossies, often raking in €30,000 per advertising campaign.
At the Pacha magazine photoshoot, she teeters around Es Vive’s Experience Bar in towering heels, sashaying across the room with an assured demeanour. Afterwards, on a yacht, she’s the consummate professional; flirtatiously flaunting every modelling pose in the book.
When we rendezvous later that week at Sa Punta in Talamanca, she’s sipping coffee with ice. Her Spanish is fluent, her English purrs with a Ukrainian lilt. In the flesh her fair and flawless features reflect an angelic innocence that defies her 31 years. But her rise to success wasn’t met without some resistance. A life in front of the lens hadn’t been in her greater plan. It was an appearance in El País magazine that got her noticed by a film director.
“She called and she asked me to come to a casting for her film,” she says. “I was like ‘No, I’m not an actress’. I’m a perfectionist and very demanding with myself. If I’m not sure I can do something perfect I will never try it. So it has closed a lot of doors.”
Despite her initial reluctance the director persevered and, after a month of persuasion, Yarovenka finally caved in. At her first casting she “wanted to die”, proceeded to win the lead (in TV movie La Dona de Gel) and, within a few days of putting that project to bed, was approached to appear in Youth, a feature film that toured the festival circuit.
Her big break came with the most auspicious phone call of them all – from maverick filmmaker Julio Medem about “a very, very difficult role” – the touchstone of her career to date. “When he called me, I was at a point in my life when I finished one TV serial and I had two months where I didn’t get any calls. I was like, ‘I need an answer, please God give me an answer’.”
That answer was Room In Rome, a steamy and unfettered romance with rich visuals and a folk-y score about a lesbian love-in within four walls. “I read the script and I was shocked. I was like ‘Oh, I’m not sure I can do that’, not just because of the nudity, because there were just two people. How do you keep the attention of people for two hours? It’s like theatre, but on the screen.”
Established Spanish actress Elena Anaya was cast opposite her, which alone proved an intimidating prospect. “She’s
just an unbelievable actress and she’d done 35 films and I was like ‘My god, we have to be on the same level’ and I was just really, really scared.” But through Medem and the “unbelievable, beautiful, sensitive, absolutely amazing universe” of his mind, she envisaged the project’s exciting potential.
The role earned her a Goya Cinema Awards nomination for best new actress. Observing her in action, you can see why. More than a pretty face, her portrayal reveals intriguing complexities, curiously marrying vulnerability and feistiness; she is at times steely and other times shy. On screen she shifts from smouldering to sweet, frosty to fragile, whether nakedly entwined with Anaya or engaged in post-coitus tête-à-tête.
It’s hard to believe, watching her uninhibited performance, that she was once painfully shy. How does it now feel to be so completely exposed? “I think the most difficult thing in this film was the soul nudity, because you have to open yourself completely, but you don’t even have the clothes to escape. The sex scenes were not as difficult as hard dialogue. You just have the choreography; you just do a dance. And then it was a very small team so it was absolute
respect and we couldn’t even see the camera so close, you know.”
The ultimate challenge was at the film’s Malaga premiere with a full house that included her mother – perhaps the most important spectator of them all. “Champagne helped! But she liked it a lot. And after the screening was finished everyone stood up and we had applause for 15 minutes and it was just amazing.”
Her latest movie, Captain Thunder – based on the ‘50s Spanish comic book – is due for release in October. So with an ambitious project in the pipeline, a Goya nomination and a cluster of indie flicks under her belt, does Hollywood finally beckon? “I’m not in a hurry. The career is not the most important thing in my life. I would love to do some international projects but I don’t really want to change… because I think in Spain we have a very good quality of life.”
First published in Pacha Magazine, Ibiza, September 2011.
© Abbey Stirling