PUBLISHED IN ISSUE 19
INTERVIEW BY ASHER PENN
PHOTOS BY DAN ALLEGRETTO
In The Darby Bonarsky Story, Dasha Nekrasova plays a melodramatic, self-destructive actress whose commitment to her craft is only rivalled by her love of alcohol and schoolgirl skirts. It’s one of many canny, close-to-life performances over the past few years that have in many ways made Dasha the crisis actress of the moment. A Russian ex-pat raised in Las Vegas, with a degree in Lacanian Theory, she has since made a name for herself in all forms of contemporary celebrity: model, podcaster, meme icon, aspiring it-girl, and—with the release of Eugene Kotlyarenko‘s Wobble Palace—movie star. Dasha reaches each triumphant milestone with her signature charisma and charm.
What is your first recollection of the concept of “acting”?
I wanted to be a child actor because I was an extremely needy only-child and obsessed with late night television, especially Letterman. I used to fantasize about going on his show and him telling me how precocious and special I was. That was my first impression of what it meant to be an “actor”—to be cherished, regarded universally as gifted. I emigrated to Las Vegas from Belarus with my parents in the 90s—my dad was an acrobat and my mom was a rhythmic gymnast—and I suppose I was always interested in performing. I was in some plays in junior high but in high school I started making little films and went to a magnet school for visual art.
You majored in philosophy?
I wanted to go to film school, but ended up in the humanities. I guess it seemed like a sensible option. I went to a small private women’s college in Oakland called Mills. I was pretty serious and lonely. I studied sociology and 19th century German philosophy and cried all the time. It’s probably kind of corny to say but I think acting, as a craft, is actually very *philosophical*, in that it is concerned with states of being, reality, psychology, etc. I was admitted to a graduate program for “Aesthetics and Politics” and I decided to defer and give acting a shot when I moved to Los Angeles. I don’t think I “decided” to be an actress—to take myself seriously and exist in the world as an actress—until I was 24. Isabelle Huppert said that being an actress was a way of coping with not being able to do anything else. She said, “To say ‘I want to be an actress’ is to say, ‘I can’t do anything else so let’s try and be an actress.'” At a certain point that became true for me, I guess. On a bad day it feels like I ruined my life trying to be an actress.
What would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t an actress. I’ve always been an extremely emotional person and felt so doomed and out of control for most of my life. When I started studying, it was like all of my extremity had a utility. It was powerful to conceive of acting as a creative art rather than an interpretive one, in which one’s experiences and emotions could be applied to a technique—”the Method”—and that this technique could make a performance vital. I suppose the sort of cliché thing happened where I had an acting teacher who changed my life, but I used to think it was criminal what went on in acting classes! I thought it was a cottage industry that preyed on actors, a typically pretty dim and vulnerable demographic, who were trying to make progress in a mysterious and vicious industry. I love and admire the actor’s plight, but it’s definitely one of the more pathetic ventures, especially in LA.
Who are your heroes? What do you admire them for?
I like Huppert, you can tell she’s thoughtful. A lot of great actors are very corporeal, they have a different kind of intelligence. I think I’m too cerebral as an actress, I have to do a lot of work to inhabit my body. I think redheads make wonderful actors because their skin flushes so easily, their bodies reveal emotional states.
What are the most difficult things about being an actor today?
I think the best actresses are masochists. Not only because of the cruelty of the industry, but because acting, insofar as it is concerned with the breadth of human experience, will require one to put themselves in positions no one would ever want to be in. It will require you to live in states of extreme grief and fear and pain and to do it over and over, and to relinquish your agency on a certain level, to a director, who often himself will probably be sadistically inclined. If the ego is a kind of membrane, one of the actor’s jobs is to make that membrane exceptionally thin.
If you could work with one director—other than Eugene—who would it be?
The InfoWars thing—how much of that performance benefited from your training?
In that InfoWars clip, I was so scared I was trembling. The nonchalance was really a defense mechanism, a sublimation of tension, that worked out in my favor. I knew I had a chance to capitalize on the ambush, because I watched a lot of Alex Jones (lol), but I wish I could say it was more of a cunning performance. My favorite part of the video is when I realize I’m being interviewed by InfoWars, because I engage them initially in total good faith, ready to talk about Bernie Sanders. The cool thing about it was that 5 minutes prior I was getting iced coffee with my producer, AJ (who’s in the background of the video) and I made some joke about how I wasn’t stressed about SXSW parties because I believed I would be at the right place at the right time. I was wearing that sailor shirt because I was en route to the Getty Images whatever photo studio to take promotional photos, and so when the “Sailor Socialism” video went viral there were all these photos of me in that outfit eating pizza and smiling or whatever—it was like a media-ready little bundle. I was thrilled when people dressed like me for Halloween, and pretty happy overall with the experience of virality.
What about podcasting? Is there a part of you that is performing in those moments?
Podcasting is performative, but it’s more about generating insights and riffing, which are different creative states of being. I get a lot of pleasure from our live shows, which are more of a talk show format than a “live podcast.”
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