(Photo : ToughDance)
Actor Ben Cura is slated to make his directorial debut in coming months with an adaptation of August Strindberg's "Creditors." The actor-director recently spoke with Latinos Post about his upcoming project as well as his rise in the world of theater and film.
The Argentine-born, plurinational actor is the son of the renowned singing actor and director Jose Cura and grew up with a wealth of cultural background. He was born in Buenos Aires in 1988 but lived in Italy from 1990 until 1995; in 1995 France became his next home and six years later, the family moved to Spain. Living in these different countries allowed Cura the opportunity to learn a total of four languages; he is a fluent speaker in Spanish, Italian, French, and English.
His artistic experiences also developed early on in his life as he revealed that he often enjoyed making outdoor films with his friends and his dog.
"I used to go into the local forest with my friends and my dog which I turned into a superhero of sorts," he said. "We would start and stop the camera and put on live music on a sound system."
During that time period, the youngster got his first chance to be on stage. According to Cura, his father was doing a production of Verdi's "La Forza del Destino" in Marseille and got the director to include a non-speaking part for a child. Jose Cura offered his son the opportunity to be on stage and the young boy, at nine years of age, made his stage debut.
"At that age you have no idea what you're in for. It was my first experience on stage - I was 9 years old," he noted. "It was fun. I remember being nervous but once I got over my nerves I enjoyed it. I will never forget that."
During his time living in France, his parents enrolled in him in the conservatory in Paris to learn the piano and solfege. However, it seemed that the youngster was not interested in following in his father's musical footsteps.
"I hated it because the way that music was taught there was very old fashioned. It took the life out of such a beautiful art form like music. They are still teaching like it was taught in the 1700s," he explained. "I would tell my father, 'Take me out of this school. I just want to play video games.'"
He eventually took up the guitar and taught himself some piano, but his artistic development would take a different path.
"At age 15 the desire [of becoming an actor] came back to me and I started looking for a school to train at. I went to New York to visit the Tisch [School of the Arts] and Julliard to see if it was the right place for me to study," he added before revealing an ironic twist. "I spoke with the head of drama at Julliard and he asked me whether I wanted to study in New York or London.
"I told him I was considering London too and he told me, 'Don't come here. Schools in London have been doing this for over 150 years. And what we are doing here is copying what they are doing in London. Don't come here.'"
"This is a person that - in theory - should be selling me the school but I am grateful for his advice because it was the best decision I made in my life," he said with a smile.
In 2007, he made the move to London and enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA). Cura noted that he was fascinated not only by the theatrical tradition of LAMDA, but also the forward-thinking education he received.
"London has its theatrical tradition and when it is joined with new movements, professors, talent, and an open perspective it can be very powerful," he stated. "I found a mix of tradition and modernity, which allowed you the chance to find your path, your own interpretation and, most importantly, your own way of expressing yourself."
Cura has since appeared in a number of plays including the premiere of Judy Craymer-produced "Viva Forever!", written by Jennifer Saunders, at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End of London in 2012. He has also gotten the chance to appear in a number of films including "Comes a Bright Day, the upcoming "Dream On" and the TV series "Threesome." Cura was also slated to appear in Danny Boyle's recent film "Trance" alongside James McAvoy, but his scene was ultimately left out.
At only 24, the actor realized that he did not simply want to study one aspect of acting and drama. Like his father, who is an international opera performer, director, composer and conductor, Cura revealed that he wants to take a profound artistic journey that touches upon different facets of his vocation, which he says is being an actor.
"For me there is another world around what is called acting and drama. What we, as story-tellers want to do is tell stories about ourselves, about others," he explained. "In order to tell a story we can be behind the camera or in front of it.
"In the case of [his film "Creditors"], I want to be behind the camera as well as being in front of it. If this was another story, another script, I might not see it happen. I might write it, I might want to be in it too, but I might not feel able to direct it. In the case of this particular story, it's always been very personal and I finally made up my mind and decided I'd direct it."
So what drew the young actor to Strindberg's 1889 play that features a complex love triangle with, as he describes, a young artist, his middle-aged wife, and her vengeful ex-husband?
"In 2008, I went to see a revival in London, which was directed by my friend Alan Rickman," Cura explained. "It truly moved me, but I didn't decide to turn it into a movie right away. It would take me two years before eventually deciding to write the script. Even during all that time, it stuck with me.
He continued, "I was still training at LAMDA during that time, but I could not stop thinking about the play. I could not stop thinking about the painter, the character I most identified with. I re-read it multiple times and even learned parts of some of the main monologues in the play.
"Then in 2011, I decided to start writing the screenplay. And then began the difficult task of adapting a play to another media that has nothing to do with theater."
He revealed that the process took him two years because he realized that he needed to alter his perspective on the play as a whole.
"I took me a year and a half to realize that I needed to distance myself from Strindberg's original work," he revealed. "It was one of those cases where I had to take a break from it for a few months and when I re-read it I realized that Strindberg's original play was already finished - and it's a masterpiece. If you want to revive that particular work, then do it in the theater. I firmly believe the original must be performed in the theater."
"But the story is so strong and it is so well written and so well structured that it enabled me to make a film adaptation that is not exact," he added. "The characters, their names, their nationalities, the location, and other aspects are all changed. The skeleton of the play still stands but it's explored in a different light. In this case, what I'm I doing is jumping on Strindberg's back and saying, 'Today I want to go in that direction because I want to explore this part of your story.'"
The original play takes place in one room for its entire duration. The first part of the play features a scene between Adolf, a painter, and Gustav, a mysterious stranger that Adolf has recently met. During their conversation, Gustav gets Adolf to reveal his marriage problems with his new wife Tekla and starts to generate a tremendous amount of insecurity in the young artist about his wife. In the second part of the work, Strindberg pits Tekla and Adolf against one another before clinching the work with a final scene between Gustav and Tekla that reveals a tremendous amount about all three of the characters. While the original Strindberg play features an older Tekla that is "seemingly like the devil," Cura aims to express a more modern perspective on the female character.
"In the original work, she is an older woman but I made a last-minute decision to make the cast younger in my film," he stated. "I was more interested in moving away from a woman who is going through a mid-life crisis and trying to retrieve her youth through her relationship with a younger man and exploring instead what a woman who needs validate and identify herself through a man would do.
"She is not self-sufficient. She needs someone else to help her develop and mature as a human being. But she does not realize the damage she is causing, and has caused, in taking what she needs."
He also noted that Strindberg wrote the play after divorcing his wife, actress Siri von Essen, and that it was filled with "a lot of anger toward women. There's been a few who have called the play misogynistic."
"And while it may be true in a way, what I have been trying to exctract throughout this process is also this woman's innocence," he noted. "In the original work, at first glance, she seems to almost be like the devil himself; it's almost like she's at fault for everything that goes wrong between the characters.
"But it's not true. Everyone is at fault in this triangle. And there is never a moment where one is completely at fault or completely innocent..." Cura asserted. "In my version I wanted to add a modern perspective in which the woman is free to do as she wants and the historically-dependent social placement of women, which is very present in Strindberg's work, does not weigh so heavily on the character in this version."
"If we were to describe the characters as archetypes, Chloe is like a phoenix after her first marriage," he elaborated. "She revives herself after her ruptured relationship, scarred and hurt, but still: she moves on."
Regarding the other two main characters, in particular the artist Adolf, Cura noted: "It is the first time he is experiencing a profound and passionate love, like the one with Chloe, and this has created a sort of Romeo-and-Juliet effect that leads him to utter infatuation and the feeling that to live life without your other half is practically medically impossible."
Regarding the character of Gustav he noted, "The third character is in deep pain. So much pain that he is never able to continue living without having his revenge."
However, ultimately he sees the trio as one inseparable "monster."
"You can talk about an individual character but all three form a three-headed monster," Cura stated. "Strindberg wrote this with an anger and violence that came from a place of tremendous suffering. I think anyone can identify with that because they have - or may experience the same thing - at some point in their lives."
For his cast, Cura has brought in renowned actor Christian McKay as Grant (formerly Gustav in the original play) and Andrea Deck as Chloe (Tekla in Strindberg). However, in an attempt to expand the work in all of its dimensions, Cura has also brought in a number of other cast members to join the production including British actor Simon Callow.
"When I wrote it, I was sure that I wanted to play one of the characters. It was the one constant throughout the entire writing process," he revealed. "The other casting choices were the result of both luck and coincidence."
"I met Christian [McKay] on set for a German film and we got along very well as friends, but also intellectually. I gave him a copy of the script one day and he loved it," he noted. "He is a tremendous talent and if he sees something worthwhile he will take the risk."
Regarding Deck he noted, "I have known her as an actress for four or five years and she is perfect for this role."
Production for "Creditors" is slated to take place in the coming months, but first Cura is looking to secure the funds through Kickstarter to get the film made. The actor has already been hard at work on building hype and anticipation via a viral campaign that includes a website for a film and a Facebook Page, Twitter Handle, and Instagram Profile to generate updates for fans. Moreover, Cura has been releasing a series of teaser videos in anticipation of the Kickstarter Campaign that is set to go live on October 12th.
"We will release more teasers of what we have been filming during the last few weeks, a few 'Making of' videos, and other stuff," the actor revealed about the plans to continue building momentum over the next few weeks.
Regarding how he plans to approach the Kickstarter fundraising launch, Cura noted, "We are trying to do something similar to what some studios do, both in the UK and the US. Some film projects will get funding for a test shoot, in which a film crew will film 10 or 20 pages of the script, with actors - the whole nine yards. Once the studio sees the finished test clip, and they deem it to be a viable project, they will decide to fund the rest of the film.
"In this case, we filmed the test shoot with our own money, we call it our 'Kickstarter Preview,'" he added. "We'll then show it to people on Kickstarter so they can see if it is something that they are interested in backing. And with their help, we can make the rest of the film."
While the final project is still months away from completion, Cura has already noted that he hopes to return to the theater.
"I want to do something in the theater," he revealed. "I have been talking to a few people about doing some classical works like Shakespeare or even less known works from Moliere's time period (or even a play by Moliere). Maybe even some Scandinavian theater. The key thing is that it be young, up and coming actors and directors."
He also noted that he has had a few conversations with his father about working together on an opera in future.
"The possibility is definitely there," he stated. "It would be interesting to see what happens in the future. Maybe I will direct an opera, but at this point they are only conversations by the fireplace, holding a glass of whiskey."
Regarding his favorite films and directorial inspirations, Cura noted an affinity for Terrence Malick's work, especially "The Tree of Life." He also revealed a tremendous admiration for Steven Spielberg.
"I saw 'ET' for the hundredth time and there is magic that people like J.J. Abrams are trying to find again," he enthused. "Spielberg made me fall in love with cinema because of films like 'ET,' 'Hook,' and 'Jurassic Park'... They create a powerful effect on you as a child or even man-child. They may not be classical cinema in the strictest sense, but they are a sort of classical magic."
His list of favorite actors was far more extensive, but, as he revealed, far from complete. Among the actors he loves watching are Daniel Day-Lewis, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Hardy. He also revealed his respect for Richard Coyle, who he worked with on in "Dream On."
"I was making a film with Richard Coyle and I never realized how precise an actor he is until I did scenes with him," Cura noted. "He is so obsessed with precision and colors every detail of his acting."
However, his greatest personal inspiration is his own father, who he credits with teaching him about maintaining a healthy and balance between personal and professional development.
"While it is important that he is multi-faceted artistically, what is more important to me is that he is multi-faceted in life in general," Cura marveled. "He is a man who is capable of working as hard as he always has and at the same time he has maintained a family life that is filled with love and presence."
"I admire that tremendously and I am trying to apply it daily to my own life. The big lesson [he has taught me] is to never abandon one thing for another even if it takes double the work to keep them both going. That is the greatest influence that I've ever had from my father - and my mother."