Russia has an honorable history of women in aviation. Marina Raskova was the first Russian woman pilot in 1933 just behind international pioneers like Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart. The first woman in space was a Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova. Despite these milestones, Russia has only about thirty commercial pilots who are women. Its Air Force had only began admitting women cadets in 2017. It is still a very gender-biased line of work. Bordo’s character and show tries to break these stereotypes and advance the cause of equal opportunities in the country. The TV comedy series had just received a TEFI Award (Russia’s version of The Emmy) for Best Sitcom in 2018. I caught up with Natalia during the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Moscow to find out what’s it like to be one of the Russia’s newest and most fashionable TV stars on a mission to change hearts and minds.
Stephan Rabimov: How did you decide to go into acting?
Natalia Bardo: I was 14 years old and it was a fairytale. [Laughs] One of my mom’s friends was working on a historical drama about Alexander Pushkin. She was telling us about the shoot one night. It sounded so interesting, I asked if I could come hang out on set. Surprisingly, my mom let me skip school the next day! Once we were inside some old country estate, I saw all the corsets and props and lights. It was a parallel reality. Then something happened, the girl playing a servant was not there to bring in a tea tray. The director saw me and… Who is this? Get her in costume! Suddenly, I was not just on set, I was in the movie. I still get goosebumps talking about that moment! By the third take, I felt like a total action star with that tea tray… [Laughs] I never looked back.
I guess, acting found you! Did you get support from family, friends, any mentors?
Natalia Bardo:: I am an Aries. I don’t need support. [Laughs]. Nobody really believed it. I was fighting for first gigs and studying at Moscow Bank Institute. When I got the degree and serious role offers, my mother finally admitted I was in too deep. [Laughs]. Ok, ok, ok, you’re an actress! That was her blessing.
What’s it like being a rising star now?
Natalia Bardo: It’s hard work! We don’t have celebrity culture in Russia. In America stars are produced. There is a stylist, hair and make-up crew, personal assistant, PR manager, social media manager, financial manager, manager of managers… [Laughs]. No Russian actress has a team like that. No one wants to invest money in stardom. Instagram is where it’s possible to somehow control your career, because of direct connection with the audience. Even that usually runs on pure enthusiasm.
Why is that?
Natalia Bardo: Let’s take fashion, for example. Everyone likes beautiful pictures in beautiful clothes. I have my favorites among Russian designers, of course – Alexander Terekhov, Alena Akhmadullina, Viva Vox. Too often, approaching other designers takes weeks or months! Entertainment relies on speed. Almost no brand in Russian fashion has proper infrastructure to deal with celebrity side of the business. How can negotiations for a simple editorial shoot take six months?!
Do you see changes in the Russian entertainment industry with arrival of streaming services?
Natalia Bardo: At the last Kinotavr in Sochi [ed. – Russia’s biggest film festival], it was main topic of conversations. Creative people here really need alternative venues to work. There are no domestic platforms like Netflix. I’ve met Russian producers working on it, but for now actors, writers, directors have just four main TV networks to aim for with limited primetime content. The competition for access is crazy. No Russian actor dreams to be famous anymore. The dream is to find work on one of these few projects. To get there is like… it’s easier to plant a whole potato field by yourself! [Laughs]. So, of course, we hope for new formats, different audiences, bigger budgets, and good stories!
What makes a good story for you?
Natalia Bardo: Something unexpected, engaging. I read the first lines in a script and think: “No one talks like that!” One, two, three pages and I’m sure I have seen this movie already! I don’t care if it is a serious social drama or supercharged action film. I don’t have ambition to be in any type of film. My recent project was a very funny comedy “Night Shift (Ночная Смена)” about two men who become strippers after losing factory jobs. I play a girl who teaches them new work skills. [Laughs]. I laughed so hard reading it! It premiered in Australia and is available for in-flight entertainment, too.
Do you have Hollywood aspirations?
Natalia Bardo: Not as an actress. I spend time in LA, just because I love the vibe. I have Russian friends in the US film business. They work as extras or episode players. There is already one Johnny Depp and the young Johnny Depp and the next Johnny Depp there. [Laughs]. You can do your best work in your own country. Maybe later, I can think about producing abroad. Now I am in the right place at the right time here. Russian cinema is a hit with critics now thanks to directors like Andrey Zvyagintsev, Kirill Serebrennikov, Valeria Gai Germanika. They make engaging films; you may not like them, but they leave an afterthought, an aftertaste, something that keeps you coming back to their ideas.
How is the success of your show challenging gender stereotypes?
Natalia Bardo: I think we work hard on it. Women face prejudice in many professions. This is a sitcom, of course. My character aces all the tests, but all her male peers don’t want to fly with a woman co-pilot. The comedic twist is that one by one they fall in love with her and suddenly everyone refuses to fly without her. [Laughs]. There is no future without powerful women! I am lucky to have amazing scene partners who help me bring this character to real life. People approach me in airports all the time to thank me for inspiring them or their daughters. They usually also double-check if I am a passenger or going to the cockpit. [Laughs].
What advice would you give aspiring actors?
Natalia Bardo: Education! I went back to drama school when I was already a working actress. I remember graduation from Shchukin Theater Institute, drinking Champagne with friends, wondering if I learned anything. Then I got to the next set and suddenly everything clicked. Oh, this is what is required in this scene. This is why something is done this way. I understand now. So education, education, education! An old Russian saying claimed we had only two problems: fools and bad roads. There is a myth that everything is possible nowadays in Russia without education. I always point out that roads built by people without proper engineering education is the reason we still have same both