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Anna-Maria Sieklucka: Ama Means Love

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A girl from a good family, who pierced her tongue as a teenager and kept it secret from her parents. Independent, ambitious, meticulous… cutting school. She almost followed in her dad’s footsteps and became a lawyer, but just before the entrance exam to university, her inner voice told her to follow her heart. That moment changed the life of Anna-Maria Sieklucka forever. Ama was born – an artist, puppeteer, performer. And a star. After the huge international success of the film adaptation of Blanka Lipińska’s book 365 Days, in which she played Laura Biel, Sieklucka hit the headlines of magazines in Indie and shot to worldwide fame. Today, she has almost three million followers on Instagram, who can’t wait for the sequel of the erotic hit. Meanwhile, Ama makes the best of her good fortune. Apart from the cinema, she is also involved in successful theatre collaborations, including projects carried out with her partner, director Łukasz Witt‑Michałowski. She pursues her dreams of singing in the new season of Your Face Sounds Familiar. She doesn’t want to be famous just for being famous. She avoids being in the spotlight and prefers drinking wine with friends to big parties. She dreams of a dog, a house, and – someday – children. ‘I don’t want to be pigeonholed as Laura from 365 Days,’ she declares in her interview for Anywhere.pl. ‘I want to do things that will show me from a completely different perspective.’ Ama, we keep our fingers crossed and can’t wait for your future projects!

You entered the Polish film stratosphere like a meteor, with a bang. But it seems to me that in all the excitement, we don’t know very much about you. I’m curious about what can’t be seen from the outside. Let’s start from the beginning. I’m trying to imagine you as a seven-, or nine-year-old girl, in your hometown, Lublin, walking in the park, hanging out with school friends. How do you remember that time?

Already when I was in primary school, me and my parents made it a point of honour that I should develop various skills, so I had a lot of extracurricular activities. English courses, ballet, later German courses. Math and Polish Clubs. I soon became independent. I spent a lot of time commuting by bus. I remember my curiosity about people – I loved watching others, observing how they talk, what they wear, what faces they make. This tendency may affect my current profession because as an actress, I observe all the time. I catch myself thinking that people might think I’m a freak because if I find someone interesting, I can watch them very intently. I went to Primary School No. 6 on Czwartaków Street. I had English lessons twice a week. My teacher lived near my school. I remember that ritual very well: I would buy a bun, admire nature, the world, cars passing by, people walking their pets. Not only dogs! It’s more common nowadays, but it was unusual at that time. 

Okay, now I’m curious. What were they walking? Geckos?

Cats. I was always surprised at people walking cats on a leash, positively surprised, of course. Now, I live in Warsaw, and it’s more natural here. But coming back to Lublin: in my childhood and teenage years, I would attend a ballet club. I danced since pre-school. I was a ladybird, a toadstool – already at that time, I enjoyed playing characters. I associate Lublin mostly with the Cultural Centre. It was restored a few years ago and now is a nice, large, eye-catching building. It looked different those days. I remember the car park, which was always crowded. My mum always had a hard time finding a space when she drove me to the centre.

Not like you. I’ve heard you can always find a space, even in the crowded capital. Is it magic?

It is! I remember talking to my friend during the shooting of 365 Days. At some point, the conversation became about parking in Warsaw, and she was like, ‘I always say to myself, Dear Parking Fairy, show me a space!’ And I started to do the same. Tongue-in-cheek, of course (chuckles). But I do find a space easily every time!

Perhaps fate is making it up to you for your mum’s parking problems. Or perhaps the capital wants to give you a warm welcome? You had a lot of extracurricular activities, but did you have any time for the teenage rebellion? Or perhaps you had a good conduct mark and were an exemplary student?

My rebellion started in high school, or in the third grade of junior high, to be more precise. I pierced my tongue. My parents didn’t know about it for several months. I felt so free, grown‑up and mature. It was my manifesto; I wanted to show how strong and tough I am. The real rebellion began in the first grade of high school. I started cutting school, putting books aside. At that time, I worried about my outfit for the following day, my make-up, what to do after school. I had problems at school – not because I was rude or talked back to teachers but because of my absence. At some point, my mum intervened – she would come to school and check whether I was there.

You went to Zamoyski High School No 2. It’s a reputable school; a school where you send your children to if you want them to study the ‘right’ subjects, such as law or medicine. I imagine it was hard for you. Did you have a group of friends or were you an outsider?

In the beginning, I had friends, but I became an outsider over time. I was very outgoing. At high school, I was the life and soul of the party, very popular and always surrounded by people. But later, when I got to the Academy of Theatre Arts, I was fed up with it – I didn’t feel the need to be around people all the time. I still feel that way. I prefer focusing on my friends, family, partner, and people who are really important to me.

So now, you’d pick drinking wine with friends at home over a big party?

Exactly. Especially since I’ve become a public person, become recognisable. This balance gives you peace of heart, peace of mind. It’s good when you really want to go out, spend time productively with people with whom you want to hang out despite a busy schedule. Then, you don’t need anyone else.

When you’re a public person, especially an actress playing popular roles, the world has a lot to say about you, and you need to be sure of who you are. When you were going away for school, moving from Lublin to Wrocław, how did you imagine it?

I was very determined to go. The more so because I was supposed to study law at first. I was supposed to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I passed all the subjects required to get in, but I changed my mind at the last second. I said no; I wanted to follow my heart. I picked acting.

Did your parents support your decision?

Yes, but my family is very close-knit. We support and help each other. My mum was very supportive, while dad was reluctant at first; he was worried about what I’ll live on after school.

He was worried that the path is uncertain and it might not give you stability in life.

Yes, he wasn’t sure how it’ll work out. I don’t have children, but I want to be a mum one day and I hope I will. And I suppose that parental love is unconditional. This fear for another person whom you love. Coming back to Wrocław, as I’ve said, I was very determined. I finally succeeded on my third attempt and was admitted to the Faculty of Puppetry. At that time, when I didn’t know a thing about it, I was like, ‘Gosh, puppetry, it’s not what I wanted, but I struck gold because I got in.’ I planned to try again in the following year; I dreamed of Łódź Film School. But during the first year of studies, when I saw the power of puppets, how they inspire and awaken your imagination, I changed my mind and stayed. We were taught the importance of teamwork – learned to feel a part of the group, not to put ourselves first but work with your partner and for the team. This made me feel the purpose of life. Because of that I didn’t apply to the Faculty of Acting or Łódź Film School and stayed at Puppetry. Besides, Wrocław is a magical city, truly European.

Did you attend the New Horizons Film Festival?

Yes, of course. I still think highly of the New Horizons Festival and niche films it promotes. I remember that tickets to the New Horizons Cinema were cheaper on Mondays. When my classes didn’t finish late, I could go there and watch a new film. I think Wrocław is a wonderful place to live in. People’s mindset is different: they’re positive, friendly, smiling. Although I love Lublin with all my heart, and the city is thriving now, moving to Warsaw made me think of Wrocław. Here, in the capital, I know that I can be 100% myself because there is this space of freedom. Lublin is a smaller city where everyone knows your name, and it’s a bit different there.

It’s more difficult to get lost. And it’s sometimes good to get lost in the crowd, isn’t it? You’ve mentioned teamwork. How did your experience with the Chorus of Women affect you? I associate this ensemble with inner power and alternative, intriguing forms of expression. Did it help you find your inner voice, the primal voice?

Marta Górnicka, the founder of the Chorus of Women, really cares about the sense of community of the group. I remember my audition to the chorus. I got into the cast of Magnificat. Later, I had to face the challenge of standing in the first row. I replaced one of the actresses. Before the first performance in the Powszechny Theatre, we only had two or three rehearsals. I was like, ‘Gosh, if I mess it up, I’m in the front row, everyone will see that.’ It works this way – if you mess up, do it wrong, people can immediately see it. And I did mess up, of course (chuckles). I comforted myself that it was supposed to be like that. But indeed, you have to keep your feet on the ground there. A chorus composed exclusively of women, that performance (Magnificat), the issues it touches upon – femininity, church, woman as a mother, references to Virgin Mary – taught me that you should always be yourself, fight for yourself and speak up.

So, we have Ama almost-lawyer, puppeteer, performer, artist, performing in an artistic theatre. How does it happen that such a person finds herself auditioning for an adaptation of Blanka Lipińska’s book?

I performed in two short films, which were released on YouTube. One day, Tomek Mandes, the co-director of 365 Days, called me and said, ‘Hello, Anna-Maria, my name is so and so, I saw your short film and thought you’d be perfect for the role of Laura Biel.’

At that time, did you know who Laura Biel was?

Yes, because I read Blanka Lipińska’s book last July. So I said, ‘You know, I know this kind of literature, I’m aware of what it involves and I’m not sure that I should play such a character, especially because it’d be my film debut. I said I had to think about it. And I was thinking for a long time. Finally, I was like, ‘Gosh, why not give it a shot? Why am I stopping myself? That call doesn’t necessarily mean I’d get the role. There are plenty of wonderful, young, talented actresses, and who knows what comes out of it.’ And I went to the audition. In the end, as luck would have it, I got the role.

It wasn’t luck but your talent.

I always say it’s luck and I’ve only helped it a little. I don’t regret it all went so fast in that direction. I believe an actor should take up challenges and always strive for more. I’m self‑critical. In one of my recent interviews, I was joking that I don’t like watching myself because I immediately see my shortcomings. ‘Gosh, what a face, how I said that, what I’m doing.’ So that film was a valuable lesson for me. My first experience with such a large film set, a lead role. I was thrown into the deep end. The hardest part was to deal with the female matters in my head. I may seem confident, but in reality, I’m very sensitive and I see myself differently than other people do. But I believe it’s good.

Everyone feels like that, but not everyone admits it.

I don’t have a problem with it. This film made me stronger as a woman.

This film took you to different places in the world, gave you popularity, I believe it opened up lots of opportunities. What were the drawbacks? What surprised you in a negative way?

There is one thing in show business that many people warned me about. When you’re in the limelight, everyone feels entitled to speak about you. The thing that struck me was how mean some women could be. I was surprised at the hatred that some women could feel towards other women. I find it sad that instead of supporting each other, women look for a moment when they can make a bitter remark and say, ‘Oh, you did this or that wrong.’ It’s easy to judge others while sitting on the couch and doing different things, and unfortunately, most of this criticism comes from people who don’t know a thing about acting. It may sound arrogant, but I won’t apologise for it because that’s what I think – I believe that if someone shouts so loud, they have a problem, not me.

Headlines pigeonhole people. If we were to believe the headlines, your film partner Michele Morrone is now a star, pursuing a glittering career after the film – which has achieved phenomenal world success and is also available on Netflix – and you took a back seat. Is it true?

It isn’t true at all! In my view, because I’ve chosen the acting profession, first of all, I must focus on being an actress. I want my projects to be valuable. I know that scandal is the best marketing, but I always say with a sneer that I’d rather speak when I have something to say. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as Laura from 365 Days. I want to do other things that will show me from a different perspective. Recently, during International Theatre Festival Confrontations in October, was a premiere of Margules. Absence, a play directed by Łukasz Witt-Michałowski, in which I played Death. I regret that we can’t continue to play it due to the restrictions, but it’s such a time and we have to accept it. Why am I talking about it? Because I don’t need to be in the spotlight all the time. I believe that I’m using my fifteen minutes of fame to the fullest but in a responsible and mature way. I don’t want to be a star that bursts, blinks and disappears. I don’t want my career to be chaotic.

You’ve mentioned Margules… It’s directed by your partner; you do a lot of projects together actually. What is your professional relationship like?

It’s great! It’s no accident my partner is older than me. He’s a well-balanced person and he knows what he wants. I need someone who is emotionally mature. We have a lot of plans together, including a miniseries, which we want to release on VOD platforms in the nearest future. Things are developing and everything is on the right track because we’re looking in the same direction. Of course, Łukasz, as a theatre director, has a much wider experience than me, and I sometimes feel really small. But I’m glad to be with a person I can learn from. He teaches me wisdom, while I teach him some other things.

Recently, you decided to take part in the show Your Face Sounds Familiar. Why?

Because I love singing.

I hoped you’d mention money!

(Chuckles) Well, no, I love singing, and an opportunity to make several premiers, play world icons or totally crazy people is an amazing acting challenge. I need to step into someone’s shoes to some extent, I mean to modulate my voice in such a way to be as near the original as possible. It brings me childlike happiness and allows me to discover myself. I like to go higher and higher, and such mini and micro premiers are a challenge, too – I must handle the stress and check myself in various situations. And my fans say, Ama, you can sing, we’d like to see you on stage.’ It happens, and I’m happy as a child. It’s an incredible experience.

Now, you want to be called Ama. The abbreviation comes from the first letters of your names, but does it have any other meaning? Does it have anything to do with love?

In the past, when I introduced myself as Anna-Maria, people would think these are two names and later call me Ania. That’s why already when I was a student, I had an idea to make it simpler, avoid awkwardness and call myself ‘Ama’. At that time, I didn’t associate it with ama meaning love. Now, it has set in, and I think nothing happens without a reason. Perhaps it’s a good omen.

In 11 years’ time, you’ll be celebrating your 40th birthday. In our culture, it’s a symbolic age for a woman. Where and how do you see yourself then? Sicily, the beach, or Lublin? Five children or one?

I don’t want to make such far-reaching plans because I like it when life surprises me. I go with the flow. But I dream of a house in the forest or in the mountains, with a man I love and a child or children. I’d also like to have a German shepherd, who will always be by my side, with whom I could run and walk, my good soul. I think dogs are amazing – they brighten up all of your days, are happy to see you, and you know there is always someone waiting for you. I love animals. And as regards less mundane things, I hope that on the day of my fortieth birthday, I’ll just be a happy, fulfilled person, with her own ‘microclimate’, surrounded by valuable people; that I’ll be exactly where I should be.

I wish you all that and more.

Thank you very much.

 

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