Rhiannon D’Averc sat down with Serena Marija to talk about life, acting, modelling, writing, and everything else Serena has been up to since they shot together as part of a graduate project years ago.
Let’s start from the beginning. We worked together a while ago – I think it was 2010? How have you been developing since then?
Doing a multitude of things, really. I’ve gone more into acting now and writing, so they’re my main focus. Obviously, I haven’t completely left modelling behind, but I’m doing less of it these days. Sometimes you just need something that’s really mentally stimulating, and that’s what performing does for me. So long as I’m creating.
There’s quite a lot of similarities between acting and modelling, in a way.
There is. Acting has a lot more background work that goes into it. But you’re right, there’s a lot of similarities – a lot of the same kind of requirements.
Do you feel like your early experience in modelling helped with pushing your acting forwards?
Definitely! The first time I shot with you, I was so nervous back then. It took me ages to get out of that nervous state, and I found that really helped with my confidence to go ahead with everything else. And just with dealing with people in the industry, because you have to network so much. You have to be so good with face to face contact and all of that, which I wasn’t at first. I learned so much. There was one designer I worked with once that was really theatrical, and she taught us that the more a pose hurts, the better it looks for the finished product. That goes for a lot of things, I think, in terms of strengthening yourself. Not just physically, you know? It’s a good example to take with you, and apply to other areas.
I’m sure with the acting, as well – if you’re feeling it, the audience is feeling it, so you have to put yourself through that pain.
You do. Everybody thinks you have to go back in time to experience something that made you really sad, or past emotions to bring them back up to the surface, but I don’t think it’s as complex as that. There’s one technique I’ve heard about, the Perdekamp technique, where you’re literally engaging certain organs to bring the emotions to the surface, so there’s so many ways to do that.
Tell me about your acting career.
It’s been one hell of a journey so far, to be honest. I’ve still got a long way to go, but there’s so many amazing experiences. I’ve had the chance to travel quite a lot. Back in 2014, one project that sticks out to me the most, I was in Serbia and then we travelled out to Bosnia. We were doing a feature film on the refugee crisis, and that really stands out to me because anything where we’re allowing stories to be told of the people that are silenced and that need to be heard, those matters are really close to my heart. To be part of that was amazing.
Then obviously there’s been a lot of shorts that I’ve worked on, a lot of my own shorts that I’m writing and performing in as well right now. We just finished one called ‘Dark Souls and Dollar Bills’, which is just hitting the festival circuit at the moment. It’s a big waiting game right now. That focuses on the differences of classes, and the primary character is homeless and vulnerable in many ways. I won’t go too far into the story right now, until everything’s out there! But it’s a very deep story.
It’s been a real mix. Short films, music videos, commercials, and feature films. I’ve given some very heartfelt performances. I have to be real. It’s what I do best. I believe it’s essential to be vulnerable when performing, show them the truth, tell that story to perfection. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve landed a lot of great job opportunities for myself, by myself from working incredibly hard and promoting myself effectively.
Would you say you find a lot of inspiration from political and social causes?
Yes, but I like to try and stay away from anything that’s going to spark outrage, in a political or a religious sense. I like to stay quite neutral on everything. That’s just for me personally. But whatever I’m working on, whether it’s a personal project or for someone else, I don’t like the kind of projects that are going to make the audience feel comfortable. It has to be real, it has to bring out real emotion in them. That’s what matters to me the most.
You have a really strong identity – you’re all about inner strength. That comes through on your social media profiles a lot.
You’re right. I’m very much about empowering yourself, keeping yourself strong, healthy, active.
I think in all honesty, most of the time the industry really takes away from that, because you’re facing constant rejection. Being told you’re not good enough, you’re not right for this job, you’re not right for that job – and obviously it takes its toll over time. It’s taken me a long time, but I went through a big change, and that kind of sparked the whole healthy eating, getting back into fitness, spirituality. It’s really changed everything and really centred me. I found that I blocked everything out for so long, just how much everything affects you within the industry.
I stopped myself from feeling for some time, and that wasn’t good. I feel stronger now, that I can take on so much more now than I could back then. I feel like I have the confidence and I’ve built myself up through engaging in everything that you’re seeing out there. That’s what’s really helped. I just want to inspire, as well, I think that’s really important because there’s so many people going through the same thing. I’m not sure how everyone else deals with it, but it’s checking in with yourself and embarking on a journey – whether that’s into fitness, or spirituality, or whatever makes you tick – I think that all good can come of it.
On a personal level, I’ve learnt that it’s vital to push beyond limitations that the world may hold against you. It’s important to protect your mental and emotional well-being, by accepting yourself and loving yourself regardless of whatever is thrown at you. I want to share healthy inspiration with the world because we are so much more than our age, gender, social class, race, job, et cetera. I firmly believe that we deserve to be the best version of ourselves! Affirm until you can truthfully portray a stronger, healthier, happier version of yourself.
Mental health is such an important thing both in fashion and in the acting world.
Totally, because I think sometimes they forget that you’re human. When I was doing shows, I was about 18 at the time, and sometimes you’d be wondering when lunchtime was coming. Although I wouldn’t ask myself, I would hear other people asking, and I remember one person saying “Oh, they’re models, they don’t need to eat”. Really, they do forget that you’re human and that you’re having to do really long days, having to give a lot of energy, a lot of focus, a lot of passion, a lot of professionalism for that whole day. They forget that you need to be fuelled properly to do that to maintain that energy, and to maintain a good mood. It’s important when it comes to your mental state as well.
How do you handle work/life balance?
Again, supporting my system with real good food. When I was starting out, as soon as an opportunity comes up, and you get that good news, you get that huge adrenaline rush. I found that over time, I was doing three days that were really busy and a few days where everything started to settle down again. Those couple of days I had free, I used to just have a massive dip. I’d feel really tired, and I’d feel like I’d need to recover from something, and it would confuse me, because I thought, ‘this has brought so much joy, so why am I feeling tired?’ I found that keeping active, meditating, and eating really well is so important. I have to be strict with myself, because to be at your best and to perform well, you need to feel good. You need to have plenty of energy. Eating really well has helped with that.
Especially in your own work, would you say your heritage has influenced you? You know, coming from Malta, it’s a tiny island where the industry in fashion and film is growing really slowly. Much slower than here. The approach out there on such a tiny island is they’re so positive towards everything, whatever you’re doing. I think that’s what really keeps you going, is having the support from home. Not so much the culture itself.
I’ve noticed over the years you can play lots of different nationalities and backgrounds.
I’m really lucky to be able to do that. I feel it’s a gift within me. Being able to portray a range of nationalities is always amusing, and jumping into the mind of another and somebody from a different country and a different walk of life in general is just something that I enjoy so much. To break into the mind of another and experience the world through her views, her culture, her religious beliefs is truly exhilarating. You become equipped with so much more acceptance and understanding of people from all walks of life.
I truly love a challenge when it comes to performing. It’s important to be versatile and push yourself beyond the stereotypes out there. By playing different characters, whether I’m wearing a designer’s garment or creating a character from a script, it’s my duty to bring that to life and make it believable.
Do you have anything big coming up?
I’ve just started a production company with my partner, which is mainly to specialise in film. So, the project that I mentioned before which is something that I’ve written myself, that was one of the first projects for the company. There’s a lot coming up, but I don’t like to speak on it until it’s coming to fruition. I think, naturally, you want to go and scream to the hills when there’s any good news, big news. I’ve got to stop myself from doing that until it’s time.
How do you decide on the titles for your screenplays?
I end up brainstorming and writing a load down, and I have to be very visual with it. As long as I know the outline, what I’m writing about, the title comes later, would you believe? I think of it a lot later, after finishing the whole screenplay. I’m kind of doing everything backwards.
What’s your creative process, how do you sit down and write?
What I need is the kind of day when I’ve woken up, done some meditation, had a lovely fresh juice that’s going to boost energy, boost focus and everything, and then I burn citrusy oils. Breathe it all in, become energised, and I’ll journal for a bit. I’ll just freewrite whatever I’m feeling. Some days you wake up and you’re feeling a bit cloudy, which is probably most of the time, and I sit down and free-write. I have my journal for that. Then I go through things I’ve got to get done for the day. At the moment I’m on the second screenplay, in between going to castings and auditions.
In order to write, I need images in front of me. Not necessarily to go and watch a film, but just to have an image or to see something inspires me. Sometimes if I’m quite blocked, I’ll go out and just… you could hear a bird singing or you could see a quirky person and somewhere, inspiration will come from that. I find that’s what really helps when nothing is coming to you and you just need something extra.
What do you hope, if we were to meet up again in 2025, you’ll have to tell me then?
I think, for me, being well-established. I feel like I’ve fought violently for the past eight years, just to get to the place I’m at now. I just feel like there’s so much more to come, there’s so much more to do, there’s so many places to go. I feel like I’ll have a lot more to tell you then!
How would you describe your personal style?
It’s very varied. I’m not really a jeans person, and I would like to be, but it’s just about finding the right pair and I never have. I always like to feel my best. I always prefer to perhaps overdress a little bit rather than come in underdressed. I like colour, and I like nice tailoring. Some days you might want to rock leather and lace, and some days you’ll opt for something a bit safer. I don’t stick to one particular style, really.
F ollow Serena’s journey at Instagram.com/serenamarija or twitter.com/serenabellaaaaa, and find her portfolio at starnow.co.uk/serenamarija