Natalie Guslistaya: «I admire those who are not afraid of going forward»

When I was younger, I was very much impressed by Mikhail Baryshnikov. I admire such people, who set a target and work hard to achieve it, always ready to move forward. He went to America, opened his ballet school there and became a world-renowned dancer.

I moved to London together with my Mom and brother. I spent two years in a student hostel, in a tiny room that I shared with a Japanese girl. There, I had to put up with the fact that every morning my roommate would cook herself some incredibly smelly fish. Besides, the hostel administrator was a hateful woman who would yell at us threatening to lock all the doors so that we wouldn’t go out. Later on, I was lucky to get my own room all to myself. Yet, every cloud has a silver lining: living there, I could associate with my peers who shared my interests.

I have always found unfair the fact that an actor can take lessons of singing, dancing or any other discipline, while a professional ballet dancer cannot engage in any other dance style except for ballet. This is why I decided to learn different types of dance and with that idea in mind I enrolled in the best dance school in London. They told me that it would take them 6 months alone to correct my too erect body posture. I said that it would not be a problem. This was the beginning of study. I learned many different dance styles, among which was capoeira. I got acquainted with the best capoeira dancers from Brazil who were on tour in London. When I passed on to Latin dances, I discovered that I hardly knew how to move my hips, they were too rigid. While learning, I gradually came to understand how each part of my body should work.

In Pineapple Dance Studios I took lessons of hip-hop, jazz and break-dance. They put me in the beginner group, but I kept coming to the classes for advanced students. They try to send me away to my group, but I refused to go. I was convinced that the harder I work, the more I would achieve. Soon afterwards I got many new acquaintances, among which were The Black Eyed Peas. I was 17 when we became friends and a year later they came to my 18th birthday party. Then I became their choreographer. They told me that I had to come to LA and work there as a choreographer or an actress. I also worked with Kylie Minogue, Beyonce and Jay-Z.

When I came to America, I did all my best to work out standard American English, otherwise I could hardly hope to get any other role except for those of a prostitute or a gangster. I had some time to reflect on what they wanted from me and what I could offer. What I had and others did not. I entered Strasberg Theater & Film Institute to learn various actor techniques and stagecraft. I realized that to outdo American actresses, I had to work ten times harder that they did.

Then I enrolled in Al Pacino’s Actor’s Studio. I have been his great fan since my childhood but when I met him, I did not recognize him at once. I came for an audition to the Studio without knowing that he was on the jury. Only when his voice from the darkness said “Who are you and why do you need all this?”, I realized that I was taking to Al Pacino. I was on the top of the world! This was yet another proof that you should only do the things you really like.

Russian actors are very different from their American colleagues. In the US famous actors will willingly talk to you, they are very supportive to novices. No matter, whether you are a star or not, they would converse with you as if you know each other for ages. For instance, my teacher Sally Kirkland helped me to get my first film roles. She also gave me some stagecraft tips, like how to cry on cue in a couple of seconds. I would not tell you how to do it, it is a professional secret. Actually, most actors there are very kind, while in Russia things look much different. If you try to join the professional community, you get under enormous pressure, and no help would be offered. Russian actors seem to lack self-confidence. This is what I encounter very often here. Once I met Serguei Bezrukov in a fitness center and he gave me such a look that I did not even dare to approach him and ask a couple of questions about his career.

My first meeting with Mickey Rourke was rather odd. He had been working out for his Wrestler movie and came for an audition to the film producer, Darren Aronofsky. Screen Actors Guild members are allowed to attend such auditions, and I, too, was invited to it. I was 30 minutes late and when I came, Mickey was already on the stage and the room was full of people. I started groping my way in the darkness, searching for a vacant place, when Mickey saw me. He broke off his performance, called me and asked to take a place on the stage, by his side. We had not been acquainted, it was for the first time that he saw me. I came up to him and he asked who I was and where I was from. I do not know, maybe he wanted to embarrass me by his direct manners. But I walked up onto the stage and sat there with him till the end of the audition. We met afterwards on several occasions, he invited me for a cup of tea. Maybe he wanted me to become his girlfriend, he has always liked Russians. However, when I told him that I was a member of the Actor’s Studio and Al Pacino’s student, he began treating with much more respect. We talked about art, he told me his life story, about his rapid rise to glory and even swifter fall to ruin. He also spoke a lot about his own actor school.

As for Sean Penn, I also met him quite by chance. I came to San Francisco at the time, when he was filming for Harvey Milk movie there. I met him in the street. He stood there with his cap on, unshaved and nobody noticed him. Or, maybe, they noticed but did not dare to come up to him. Well, I did dare. He asked me what I wanted. An autograph? I replied that I did not need any autograph but just wanted to ask him a couple of questions about his studies in the Actor’s Studio. I also told him that I was acquainted with his mother, actress Eileen Ryan. She was also one of the Studio members and I even played a scene with her. He brightened up and even rang up his mother to ask about me. She said: “Yeah, we have there a crazy Russian girl, just like the one you describe.” After that we met with Sean several times, he told me about the time he had spent in the Studio.

Most Americans struggle with pronunciation of my Russian name – Guslistaya. This is why I decided to use a pseudonym, Natalie Burn. When I came back to Russia to work there, I first hesitated about whether to use my real name or not. But then I said to myself, why not, I am Russian after all! Yet English word “burn” perfectly matches my emotional nature and hot temper.

In my American home I have two pet pythons. I bought them when I was studying an actor technique, which focuses on imitation of animal nature. To play a role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof play, I had to become soft, supple, sexy and lethal as a snake. So I had to watch snakes and learn from them. This is why I bought my first python. However, very soon he escaped and I could not find him. After two weeks of fruitless search I even wanted to put up a notice in the elevator offering to anyone who found a python to contact the apartment xxx. But then I gave up the idea, afraid of scaring my neighbors, and simply bought another python. Soon afterwards the runaway python came back and now I have two of them, a boy and a girl. I call them Escape and Eternity.

I want to open a dance school in Russia and to teach my own dance style. There those who want to learn dancing will have to imitate animals. For example, a hip-hop dancer will copy movements of a monkey. So, some of my lessons will take place in the zoo.

I do not think that filming in Russia after Hollywood is a step backwards, but rather a sidestep. Now I play a role in the Russian film “Shashlyk” directed by Marius Vaysberg. My partner in the film is Dolph Lundgren, whom I first met several years ago in LA. He is a unique actor and fantastic athlete, he is incredibly tall.

Marriage and children are not yet on my agenda, I have too much on my plate with all that work and traveling. Being my boyfriend is not easy. I never smoked or drank alcohol, even champagne, I do not do drugs. I want my partner to lead a healthy life. He does not have to be a dancer, but strong will and self-confidence are an absolute must.

I have almost no contact with the Russian community in Hollywood. When I came to America, I hang out with locals as much as possible to get rid of the accent. Most of my friends are foreigners. Will.I.Am. from The Black Eyed Peas, I can call him at any moment, even now. My teacher, Martin Landau, is the person I can always rely upon in the hour of need. And my best friend is Rob Schneider. No matter if I am happy or upset, he is always ready to talk to me, to meet me. He often calls me, tells me what he has been doing lately or where he has been. Some of American friends are of Russian origin. However, I have never had a chance to meet Baryshnikov.

Andrey Zakhariev, special for