In the war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, which marks the writing and directorial debut of Angelina Jolie, Danijel (Goran Kostic) is a Bosnian Serb police officer and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) is a Bosnian Muslim artist. Together before the Bosnian War that tore the Balkan region apart in the 1990’s, their relationship quickly changes, as violence engulfs the country. When Ajla is taken from the apartment that she shares with her sister, Lejla (Vanesa Glodjo) and Lejla’s infant child, she comes face-to-face with Danijel and his troops, under the command of Danijel’s father, General Nebojsa Vukojevish (Rade Serbedzija). As the conflict takes hold, their connection to one another grows uncertain, and the war takes a physical and emotional toll that neither of them will ever recover from.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Goran Kostic and Zana Marjanovic talked about revisiting this war for the experience of making the film, the difficulty of getting through some of the more emotionally intense scenes, the experience of shooting in both Bosnian and English, and the importance of having somebody like Angelina Jolie bring this particular chapter of history to the world’s attention. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
ZANA MARJANOVIC: It was, in a way, especially the very beginning of the film. That’s my childhood and that’s what I remember, and that’s the period of my life where everything was perfect and happy and lovely. My parents were happy, and we had a home and friends. It’s where I come from, and that’s how I remember it. All of that was taken away from us, in just one night. With the first shotgun, everything changed. I had to grow up fast and realize what was happening. So, that innocence was lost for me. Revisiting it was very difficult, for me, personally. As an actress, of course, there were other scenes that were very demanding.
Goran, how did your lineage impact your performance in this film?
GORAN KOSTIC: My father is an army officer in the Serbian army, but that’s where the similarities end. His record is clean and he’s retired. At the same time, coming from Sarajevo in Bosnia and being there for the first 20 years of my life, and having a father that was a very dominant, strong figure in our family, it was easy to tap into that experience from the first 20 years of my life and transfer some of that emotional landscape to my performance of Danijel. My concern was the fact that we get to see him pure and light, and then we see him as something completely different. It was easy to jump from one box to another. What was more difficult was to show the different colors that Danijel goes through, from white to black. That was my greatest concern. I did my best, and Angelina [Jolie] was really good about it. The rest of the cast helped each other, to come up with a believable character.
Zana, how did you go about developing the sister relationship with Vanesa Glodjo?
MARJANOVIC: She kept touching me and hugging me. I don’t have siblings. I’m not that person. The intimacy thing is just too far for me. The whole borrowing clothes thing is very unnatural for me. I don’t feel comfortable with that. If you like something, I’d just give it to you rather than sharing it. When we started working, Vanesa brought up a very good point when she said, “We don’t have that much time where we represent them as happy sisters, living a normal life. We have to use that time to really feel the bond between the two.” It’s so important for later. It’s one of the biggest motivations for what happens.
KOSTIC: I knew of Rade for a long time, but we’d never worked together. When we met, it literally took three minutes for me to realize that that guy really is like my dad, and Angelina believed it. In the scene where Danijel gets slapped a few times by his dad, we were not really pretending or acting. It was a proper hand touch. I knew that the first take, it was going to be light, the second time was going to be stronger, the third time was going to be even stronger and, by the fourth time, he was going to give me a proper one. I knew that we should not go over four takes. And then, in the fourth one, he just slapped me, full-on, and the reaction was pure. Angelina ran over and was worried, and I said, “Don’t worry, girl. This is how we do it back home.”
How difficult was it for you to actually get through some of the more emotional scenes?
MARJANOVIC: Yes, of course, it was very difficult, but I tried not to think about it, in that way, because whenever I felt that I wouldn’t be able to handle it all, or that I wouldn’t be strong enough, I would just think that I’m only acting it and people have gone through it, and there’s no place for me to be spoiled and say, “This is too hard.”
Goran and Zana, you have some very emotionally powerful and physically violent scenes together. How did you and he develop a chemistry and prepare for that?
MARJANOVIC: Well, we always rehearsed. If we had a chance, we would rehearse the day before with Angelina, and then we would have our little theater. The three of us would rehearse, and then we would invite the crew, and they would stand and watch the scene and know how to prepare it, while we just sat and talked about it, during that time. That was one way. I just had to stay away from him. I’m a rational person, and I’m not a method actor. You don’t need to call me by my character’s name while I’m not shooting. But, it does affect you. Of course, it does. You’re very vulnerable and you’re very fragile, and that is where Angelina was such a big support and guidance. She knew exactly what we were going through, as actors, and knew the right thing to say, or sometimes knew that she shouldn’t say anything. Goran is such a gentleman and such a wonderful actor. I remember the first day, we shot one of the most difficult scenes, in the concentration camp when the women were just getting off the bus, and he had to hold me over the table. He was a meter away from me, and we kept repeating the take. I said, “Are you going to get closer?,” and he said, “Oh, can I?” I said, “Yes, you needed to.” He said, “I just needed you to tell me that it’s okay.” He really couldn’t do it, until I said, “Go for it.” That made me feel very comfortable because I knew he’d watch out for me.
Did that trust make it any easier to have him strap you to a bed?
Do you think that, under these circumstances, Ajla had love for Danijel?
MARJANOVIC: Under these circumstances, I don’t think there could have been love. Before the war, at the beginning of the film, she was in love, but she wasn’t in love with her enemy. She was in love with a guy who was a cop and who she had a few dates with. And then, that guy becomes her enemy and she tries to survive. It’s very simple. You fall in love with someone and, as you’re falling in love, someone tells you that it can’t happen because you’re on different sides, whether it’s race, religion or ethnic background. They’re divided by the conflict. It’s about how that love is destroyed. It’s about the love that never really developed fully because they didn’t have time. It’s about the love that could have been, but didn’t happen. He is a soldier and she is a prisoner in the camp. For me, it’s very emotional.
How important is it to see somebody like Angelina Jolie showcase this particular chapter of your homeland and bring it to the world’s attention?
KOSTIC: To me, it was important that it was a female voice and a female director, as opposed to a male director. Also, what I’m really grateful to Angelina for is the intensity and seriousness with which she embraced the story. She spent a huge amount of energy on it, trying to understand and learn about it. She was very smart about it, and gave us time and space to give our input into what was being said. I’m grateful, in all those ways. She approached the subject matter with a great tenacity and a great cautiousness, while at the same time, giving us, who are people from the region, the space and time we needed.
MARJANOVIC: What I really appreciated, and it’s also something that was already clear, just reading the script, is that she knows exactly what she’s doing. She gave the victims the strength they actually had, which is why they’re survivors. Bosnians, as people, are not only victims. We’re actually survivors. And, it’s so important to know that. The most amazing thing in Angelina’s film is that she went through this intimate, personal perspective and, through that, she really engaged the audience to watch the film as if it could be them. It’s not some people, somewhere, at the end of Europe, that’s maybe not even Europe, and they’re Muslim. She gave Bosnians dignity, and I really appreciate that.
KOSTIC: She glides between the problems. She never does it abruptly. I’m sure she’s processing, but when it comes to her expressing herself, she’s always very nice, structured and thoughtful. She truly is a lady, in every meaning of that word. Even when she directs, she does it with such a gentleness, which puts you in a good place, as an actor. That relaxes you. Often, when you start filming, people say, “I’m going to take care of your ideas,” but those are just words. With Angelina, the process is truly about incorporation, learning, and giving space and time to one another. The environment that she creates, you forget that she’s there. At the same time, at the end of the day, she would draw the line and say, “This is my decision,” and do what she had to do.
MARJANOVIC: No. Maybe she did a film before, secretly somewhere. It’s really unbelievable. It’s all the experience she has, for so many years. She’s such a fantastic actress, and she keeps doing it. In the first week of shooting, we had the two languages and it was low-budget already, and they said, “We’re going to try to do it, but if we run behind the schedule, we’re going to have to just stick with one.” So, they asked us just to have the concentration to do it because it would be really nice to have it in both languages. But, within the first week, doing two languages, we actually saved a day and we were ahead of schedule.
What was it like to also shoot this film in English?
MARJANOVIC: For me, I grew up in New York, so I’m fine with both versions. But, what I was amazed at was the other actors. I had no idea they spoke English so well, and act in both languages. I really believe their performances are exactly the same. It really helped, doing it in both languages. I’m a different person, in each language. Since the character comes from Bosnia, whatever language we chose to play it in, it had to have the root of the language and the dynamic and the gestures. It was very helpful to me.
KOSTIC: The English version was longer than the Croatian version, but everything was being said. There’s the technical problem of where the length is.
Do you know what happened to the war criminals?
MARJANOVIC: It’s because of the strength and how courageous these women were, that went through horrible things during the war, and their testimonies that a lot of these war criminals were prosecuted and convicted, eventually. On the other hand, you hear stories of people, because of how Bosnia is divided, where a Muslim woman goes back to her land and it brings up memories and she sees the person who did her wrong.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY opens in theaters on December 23rd