Article by Yafei Li
Can you introduce yourself?
I am a Croat (63). Throughout my life, I have had many different identities such as actress, producer, doctoral candidate, professor, wife, and mother. The common thread is that I am a life-long learner.
I guess you could say my life started when I was 24, I did my first movie and got famous overnight. I was on the front page of all the newspapers and magazines. Money followed easily and for a time that was enough. However, I started to feel that life should be about more than just the spotlight.
When I was 30, I started a theatre with my husband, the concept of a privately-owned theatre was unheard of in the former Yugoslavia (where I was born) at that time. It was going well until the war, when Yugoslavia was dismantled into 6 countries. Suddenly, in Croatia, my country, people had lost their homes and were having to live in refugee camps. There was no need for a theatre. I became a TV talk show host. My job for seven years was to provide emotional support for my nation. Even when there was a bombing, the show had to go on! I didn’t even stop when I was pregnant with my daughter – the whole nation witnessed my belly growing, and then 11 days after I had given birth I was back on the air.
When I was 38, I left the TV and went back to the theatre. Being completely fed up with being the focus of attention, I took on the role of the theatre producer which I adored. I produced and performed in more than 80 productions, for which I received numerous awards.
I started my Ph.D. at 47 and I got my Ph.D. in cultural politics and strategy planning on my 52nd birthday. I once told my husband couldn’t write. I’ve since published 6 books.
What role does your husband play in your life?
The very decisive role, I met him when I was 15, he was 21, it was love from first sight, I knew he was going to be the one from the start. We married after 20 years together, when our daughter was born.
We are very different personalities. I’m passionate and enjoy socializing but he doesn’t want to meet people that much. He loves cooking, I never enter the kitchen. He hates paperwork, I could do it within a few minutes.
We satisfy each other’s needs on different levels and have grown together.
Despite all differences, or probably because of them, we are integrated. We have been together 48 years and are still very much in love. There were ups and downs in our relationship, we once even wanted to divorce, but we have weathered all the storms.
Can you think of anyone who had a significant impact on your life?
My theatre academy professor, actress, Neva Rosic, taught me in my early 20s. It was a very difficult time for me. I was confused about my identity. One day, I showed up at her door at 6 am. She let me in without asking me anything and took care of me for three days. During these three days, she talked and talked… Through that, I discovered who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to fight for. We are still close friends. The last time I was in Croatia we met for a lunch that lasted 5 hours and I came out of it feeling renewed. Even now at 87, she is strong and inspiring.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?
I like to believe that I can do anything, however, my body has other ideas. I am epileptic. Although I had my first seizure when I was 15, my symptoms became more serious when I was 44. For the next two years, I was either in the hospital or at home. I stopped work completely. I couldn’t even read. My husband was reading aloud to me about (pre)menopause because I was experiencing it at the same time.
At that time in Croatia, epilepsy was perceived by a lot of people as a mental illness. As I recovered, I started my public work to promote the problems of people who are epileptic. This meant that I had to overcome my fear of being judged, and openly tell people about my epilepsy. This became my calling of that time, I attended international conferences about epilepsy, we raised money to buy new machines to treat it, and I talked about the difficulties women with epilepsy at my age face.
My life is a story about change. When I was not satisfied with myself, I changed. Life is not a rehearsal, every day we are on the stage, every day is the opening night. Some people do not understand we must change all the time. How to be open to change, how to accept change, to create change, that’s what I teach my students at Eurasia university, Xi’an. When we create change, we create our life.
Last year, I wrote a book. This year, my goal is to direct a play about the identity problems that young people face, it’s called ‘Holidays in Xi’an’, It’s a story translated from Croatian to English, then English to Chinese. That’s my challenge for this year.