Interview with Sanja Danilović the newest arrival in our Duart Professionals database

Born in Našice, Croatia, Sanja is internationally known TV and Theatre actress best known for her roles in Law&Order and Orange Is the New Black

Born in Našice, Croatia, Sanja Danilović is internationally known TV and Theatre actress. She started studying acting as a student in Munich and then in New York, where she lived for years. In her professional career, she had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest TV production houses as Netflix on world-known shows as Law&Order and Orange Is the New Black. As of her recent return to Croatia and her future wishes to continue her career in Europe with a bit more of a focus on Croatia, we decided to sit down with Sanja and talk about her life and achievements so far.

So Sanja, for the beginning we are interested in the early days of your career. How does someone from Našice go to Munich to study art (in Japanese) and get to New York and a role in world theatre and TV?

Growing up in Našice, we didn’t have much exposure to acting. There was no theatre in our town or drama programs in elementary and high school. I remember we had a movie theatre in the city centre and it’s still there. Luckily, there were other avenues to explore, different kinds of performing arts, from playing in a city brass orchestra to dancing folk, rhythmics and singing in a school choir. I took to all like a duck to water, some of it I chose and for some of it we were just plucked and thrown into, but it wasn’t until I was a student in Munich that I discovered acting. After watching an acquaintance perform in Brecht’s “Mother Courage”, I felt an enormous pull and knew that that was something I wanted to do.

As for Japanese, I was intrigued by it as a kid watching old black and white Japanese horror movies. You will probably remember a TV program called “Karika koja nedostaje” (The Missing Link). Those were the most terrifying stories I have ever seen in my life and, at the same time, I was intrigued by the language and by the script, and I wanted to learn it.

I joined acting classes in Munich and soon after, had my first public performance, Shakespeare’s “Twelft Night” or “Was Ihr Wollt”, in German. After that I applied to a few acting schools in New York and got accepted to The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, where I completed the full program and after that, joined a two-year program at The William Esper Studio, to complete my Meisner training. I have also been exposed to the British training, by studying Yat Malmgren and Rudolf Laban’s movement psychology and character analysis with Giles Foreman of the Giles Foreman Centre for Acting.


What’s it like to work on TV sets in the world? I understand that you do not have much experience in working on local comparison sets, but what are some general features of high-ranking world TV series.

That’s right. I haven’t done TV in Europe, only theatre in Germany. I worked on TV sets in New York and outside New York and they have all been pretty similar, network or cable.


What is the process of finding roles, casting, preparation for the role outside and what is the attitude of the actors towards that?

Your agent or a manager has access to Breakdown Express, where new projects are posted on a daily basis. She or he then submits you for a role online and if you are chosen or if your agent or manager has a great working relationship with a casting director, provided you are right for the part, then you have a higher chance of getting an appointment for an audition. There are sometimes around 2000 submissions for one role and maybe 25 open time slots between 10am and 6 pm for one day. So, math is brutal. If you have an in-person audition, you will read with a reader or a casting director and be put on a tape, which will be sent to a producer, director, writer, maybe the whole show running team. Sometimes they are in the room, too. They make a decision in the end, but they often trust the casting director’s opinion and their suggestions and decisions are often aligned. It’s important to build a lasting relationship with casting directors, so it’s more important to book a room than to have a pressure of booking a job. If they like you, they will keep calling you in for other projects.

Netflix production, something that everyone in the industry has been craving for years and that we are all interested in what it looks like on the other side. Can you share some general recording features on their set and is it different from other professional sets in the USA?

The Netflix show I had a recurring role on, Orange is the New Black, had its base at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios, which is four blocks away from my apartment. The actors I was in a scene with were kind and generous. Great human beings. I had a series regular walk into my room and ask if we could run our lines together in Russian, with our mutual dialect coach. As neither of us was a Russian speaker, we needed extra prep time and I thought that was kind and mutually beneficial. A few days later I got a part on Law & Order: Special Victim Unit, and they're also a series regular asked me if we could run lines before rehearsal, which was equally helpful. So, to answer your question, I didn’t see much difference between a Netflix and a network show, but that’s my experience only.


Do colleagues from these areas in the world (in the USA) help each other and what is the relationship between colleagues otherwise?

I admire people who bring their friends together, who connect and introduce them to each other, who see possibilities everywhere. It’s also always great to run into someone you know in an audition room or on the set. I would love to create my own work and to collaborate with people I know and admire.


Do they support other people's success, do they want to work on smaller projects if they work with someone they appreciate/know?

I would say so, most people whom I know do and get excited at a prospect or creating something smaller and choosing the people and friends they want to work with.

So, in addition to all these global roles, you have a desire to do European and regional projects. Where does the need to work outside the USA come from when everyone longs to work in the USA, and where did your desire to work in Croatia and the region come from?

I love languages, different cultures and travel, so the prospect of combining my two loves, acting and languages, is very appealing, as well as working on both continents. Even as a teen, I had a curiosity about different countries and I remember my first pen pal I wrote to in broken English. Her name was Pamela and she was from Wichita, Kansas. The excitement of getting that airmail envelope with red, blue and white stripes in the corner was priceless.

I would love to act in my own language, Croatian, because there is nothing like it, acting in your own language and feeling it in your body instinctively. I would love to act as well in the languages I speak, from German to French or Italian. I have finally found the time during isolation to add a new passion project, Scottish Gaelic, something that has been on my mind for years and now I finally committed to it. I recently saw Vicky Krieps in a TV show “Das Boot”, acting in German and French, and that’s exactly what I would like to do and the international types of roles I am interested in, in addition to Croatian roles.

Actors are curios. We want to explore people and places. European actors want to explore the US and US actors want to explore Europe. With Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, it’s shown us we are all connected, we are global and we are all in this together. And not just US and Europe - I have recently “discovered” phenomenal stories and acting from Israel, through shows and movies like “Shtisel”, “Where Heroes Fly” or “Out in the Dark”, which has made me very interested in their language and the culture.


What additional knowledge/skillsets is it desirable for an actor/actress to have? How to opt for some of these accompanying acting content (such as dancing for example) Do you think it is more important to specialize in one skill or have more?  

I would say, in order to portray life, you have to live it and experience as much as possible, in all its rawness and gory details. Get kicked around from time to time. Get out of yourself. Help someone. Read everything, go to a museum and stand in front of your favourite painting for hours. Develop a strong sense of the other. Develop self-awareness. And read, read and read. Get together with your favourite people and read Shakespeare or other plays in your living room on Sundays or create something together. Dancing is fantastic, it’s all about the body, it’s all in the body. The more skills, the better, in my opinion.

© Sanja Danilović