Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/10/20- Anna Just is known for the role of femme fatale Angelica Winterbaum in a short film “Murderer’s Sweet Scent” by Samuel Long and Ronit Pinto. She is often cast as a foreign figure, femme fatale, Russian agent, fighter, alien and a beautiful model type. She is now in the web series, “EXTRADITION” directed by one of her former acting teachers, Anthony Robert Grasso. “My friend and co-creator of EXTRADITION Kristin Samuelson had an idea of a political drama based on real events. We have read a lot of articles on Russian Hackers, corrupt USA politicians, war and Russian occupation in Eastern Ukraine. “Extradition” was born. Anna Just is also running for a cover of JET SET MAGAZINE. The voting starts on January 14th and runs through March 12th. https://jetsetmag.com/model-search/2020/anna-just
Share your upbringing.
I was born in the middle of nowhere in the Ukrainian countryside and grew up dancing and playing piano, growing vegetables on the farm and enjoying those rare happy family moments I could get while my parents weren’t working during the depression of the Post Soviet Era.
How did your upbringing influence your decision to go into the Arts?
My grandparents both were music teachers and so was my aunt. I played the piano as a kid but was more interested and successful in dance since the age of 4. There were concerts where I had 4-7 pieces as a soloist! At 20, after a three-year break, I returned to Ballet in Japan and after 2 years of hard work in training, I performed on one of the Tokyo stages. I was involved in all school theater performances and comedy shows and produced some of them.
Tell us about your successful career as a model in Tokyo, Japan. What did you learn about yourself?
I remember my breakthrough – a booking for a TV Commercial for one of the Japanese biggest food and beverage companies MORINAGA. The audition wasn’t a regular model call – it had involved quite a bit of acting – I had to create a world of a cold winter village with a lonely girl who then warms up getting a cup of hot chocolate. Imagine that in August? And I booked it! The shoot was only two hours but I still don’t drink hot chocolate! I had enough. (Smiles). After that job, the highest paying job I scored, I kept being called in and booked a lot from my photo portfolio only. There were times when I had two or even three jobs lined up a day! I became a face of Ash hairstyle and makeup salon chain, modeled for their shows around Japan and magazine shoots every month! Later I became one of 8 foreign reporters for a TV show COOL JAPAN – discovering Japanese culture from the point of view of a foreigner. I traveled all over Japan looking for unique features and historical details for the video reports.
When did you discover the love for acting?
I remember being 13-years old and getting to be a soloist for the theatrical dance playing a lonely actress. My teacher back then told me that I was chosen because I could jump into a character and become that person. Dancing requires a lot of discipline and training, but the technique is not all – you have to share the story and live the character’s life and let their feelings go through your own heart and mind. I discovered the love in the ability to move people – sometimes I saw tears in the audience. That was my highest reward.
What in particular, moves your soul about acting?
I studied Meisner Technique- we all know his definition of Acting – living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. My Neighborhood Playhouse Acting Master Ron Stetson put it beautifully into words “Everybody can feel. An Actor’s job is – The Doing. Action is the doing. Push your intention through the scene, as you feel your way through it moment by moment. The audience is there to feel”. All kids play “pretend”. Once grown up, we limit ourselves, restrict our expressions and play small. I love that I can be messy, raw, open, spontaneous and absolutely free, while I’m living a life of a human, tell their story in an imaginary world of theirs. I surprise myself a lot. You know, when you have a script, location, partner and you rehearse it all over and over again and then – magic happens, camera and lights go on and the director says “action” – and all you see, and feel, and taste, and hear, and smell around you – is the world you have created. And it is real. And every moment is a new moment. And your heart beats and you lose all your thoughts and COME ALIVE IN EVERY MOVEMENT! YOU ARE LIVING. YOU ARE BREATHING THROUGH EVERY LINE. YOU ARE AFFECTING AND AFFECTED BY YOUR PARTNER! BOOM! Haha. I just got chills. I love the reality of acting! Richard Pinter – another phenomenal teacher I was lucky to study said that an Actor is interesting when he is interested in his partner or something going on. Acting is being fully invested in the world around you and never inward.
You are fluent in English, Japanese and your native Russian and Ukrainian. How has this been an asset in your career?
It has been a necessity really. I was born in the Soviet Union which managed to collapse before I went to school. So I ended up in a very interesting position of going to a Ukrainian school while my family didn’t speak that language using only Russian. I took English since I was a young kid. Then was German in High School and Spanish and Latin in college – which exposed me to different grammar structures and phonetics. I think it helped to pick up the sounds and expressions faster. So since I took off to Japan and realized no one really understood me there – I had to learn the language, working in Tokyo. So I did. Humans are very capable of adapting. I am blessed to have a photographic memory and I’m able to memorize fast and operate my knowledge. Using languages, playing musical instruments or solving math problems as a hobby develops one’s brain to function better in difficult or challenging situations. As for my career – yes, I use these assets. I still do reports for Japanese TV Channel Fujisankei and recently narrated a film about Russian Female Pilots “Night Witches” during World War II in the Russian language.
Do you see film as a force for social change?
Every project I am involved in pulls me in because of its importance. We are what we eat. We are what we digest, including food for the soul and mind. I am convinced that film shapes people’s hearts, helps us grow and love, opens doors to places we never went to, gives us grounds to reach catharsis, release long suppressed emotions in a healthy way. Global change starts with a single mind. Knowing that I influence people’s lives makes me honored, humbled and deeply satisfied!
Tell us about your language training.
A Dancer’s life is 1% on stage and 99% in training. I believe that actors have to be “in class” working on their craft 99% of the time that they prepare for a role or when they are in between auditions. I know that my strength and niche is in playing a foreigner, but the craft is calling for perfection – so working on a Generic American accent is crucial for any actor breaking into the American market. You must be understood. See, my teachers of English as a second language came from Ukraine, Russia, Great Britain, and even New Zealand; this is where I picked up all sorts of sounds and expressions. Mastery requires 10 thousand hours of practice and perfection – eternity.
Who are some of the teachers that you credit for your success?
My grandmother Nina is my number one teacher and a role model – decency, hard work, total focus, hard work again, kindness and open eyes and heart mindset, hard work again… I would always be grateful to my ballet master Olga Lagun. Teachers in various techniques, who planted seeds of love and humanity are Barbara Woods, Ron Stetson, Richard Pinter, Suzanne Esper, Ted Morin, Gary Ramsey, Christine Cirker, Nancy Mayans, Clyde Baldo, Anthony Robert Grasso to name a few. I have been showered and spoiled by incredible talent and marvelous experience studying with these ATHLETES OF MIRRORING HUMAN BEINGS. Some of my favorite Artists, whose body of work who have influenced me greatly are Mariska Hargitay, Mark Rylance, Ian McKellen, Elizabeth Taylor, Robyn Williams and dear to my heart Meryl Streep.
You are now in the web series, “EXTRADITION” directed by one of your former teachers, Anthony Robert Grasso. Tell us about your role and what is it like working with Anthony Robert Grasso?
Anthony and I met at the screening of one of his short films and I immediately knew that I wanted to learn from this guy and work with this guy. I fell in love with his screen presence, his brave heart, his irresistible humanity. The character he played was a disturbed, broken person hurting someone unapologetically. What a disturbing scene! Yet it looked so effortless.
Shortly after I became his on-camera audition preparation class student. Anthony is a teacher from God. He sees right through you – what you fear and where you struggle. We all learn from watching each other’s work and listening to notes and adjustments. Every class is different and we all grow and learn at our own pace. Often a student brings audition material to work in and surely they rock the room of casting after preparation with Anthony! His students constantly book jobs on TV, film, and commercials.
My friend and co-creator of EXTRADITION Kristin Samuelson had an idea of a political drama based on real events. We have read a lot of articles on Russian Hackers, corrupt USA politicians, war and Russian occupation in Eastern Ukraine. “Extradition” was born. I invited Anthony to direct it because I love the way he works with the character of a powerful woman. He went above and beyond our expectations! Playing a Russian hacker with an accent and all – he managed to direct four strong female characters, creating a beautiful triangle of seduction, betrayal, and covetousness.
This film is running a successful festival circuit internationally, with a screening at the Hell’s Kitchen Film Festival in NYC and the Garden State Film Festival in NJ this year.
On set of EXTRADITION Anna Just with Anthony GrassoTell us about your short, Hearts that Cross Borders. What intrigued you about this project?
HEARTS is a very dear project to me. My idea and vision came alive as a collaborative effort of artists from the Actors Green Room in New York City. It is based on my life story – a Ukrainian immigrant student marrying an American Citizen and getting a green card. There were a lot of opinions about this union and film depicts moments from my friends’ stories and their struggles as foreigners in the US. The film has a female-dominated cast and crew, it is very diverse age and nationality wise. We had a great run in US and international film festivals – won Several awards among which: “Best Actress” at the International Cutting room film festival, “Best Women Filmmakers” in Best Shorts Competition in LA, CA; “Best Picture” at the Grover Film Festival and Jersey City POP up Film Festival.
There is a great story about the boat, director Renee Stork wanted to use for the film. We needed to shoot on a big boat to create an image of a girl arriving the NYC, like millions of immigrants did – arriving at Ellis Island throughout the history of US immigration. As an Executive Producer, I have contacted over 50 companies, doing water taxi and boat excursions around Manhattan, including Staten Island Ferry. It was either too expensive or impossible to have all the crew and equipment on the boat. But since we really dreamed of that shot – we believed we could do it. The universe has magic ways to making our dreams flourish and one day I got a phone call – we got a huge boat from sponsors to shoot on! Boy, were we happy. Hold on, the story goes to the shoot day. It was raining cats and dogs and we were the only ones on the boat. The moment we came to the Statue of Liberty for a scene filming – the sun came out! The moment the Director said “Cut!” It started pouring again!
One lesson I have learned -If there is a will – there is a way. Trust the universal purpose – if you have a dream – there must be a way for it to manifest!
What roles are you looking for in 2020?
I have worked on narrowing down the categories of Film/TV shows of interest and type of roles I am suitable for that carry weight for me personally. I’m very interested in politics lately (laughing). You could have noticed after Extradition. Another fun subject is artificial intelligence VS human mind. I could see myself diving into the world of computer crime, hacking, futuristic scenarios.
I have been supporting an organization called THE SET, which educates children about human trafficking. It runs art exhibits and fashion shows to raise money. I have modeled for those events. It breaks my heart to read stories and comprehend the statistics on how widespread illegal human exploitation is. This violation along many subjects of violence, sexual offenses, and child abuse are covered in one of the top TV shows Law and Order SVU. I see myself being involved in the creation of a Film / TV episode playing either a victim or a violator.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’m running for a cover of JET SET MAGAZINE. The voting starts on January 14th and runs through March 12th. You can vote to support me daily!
Besides auditioning for TV/Film and commercials, I am a stage mom for my 13 months old son, who is a successful model represented by Future Faces NYC.
I’m also working on a production of a Feature DOCUMENTARY about neurological conditions, pain management and ability of the body to self heal.
Hearts That Cross Borders