What It’s Like for an Actress to Play Characters 10 Years Younger Than Herself

I grew up in Communist Russia and started doing gymnastics when I was three, so I was owned by the government. The coach who trained me was government-subsidized. I did rhythmic gymnastics, but it was never about presentation — it was about discipline. That was the value that was instilled in me.

You just train, train, train, train until you become perfect. And in gymnastics, there is no such thing as perfect. There’s a 10. And then there’s a 9.9, which is good, but it’s not as good as 10. Let’s say you’re doing a jump into a split. Are your legs parallel to the ground? That’s good. But if your leg is a little bit higher, that gets extra points.

At five years old, I started going to practice by myself. My mom gave me a ruble, put me on the bus, and said, “Take the bus to this train station. Take the train to another station, and walk from there. I’m going to take you through it once, and then you’re gonna do it on your own.” It’s unthinkable in America, but in Russia, things were different.

Then we moved to America when I was 11, and I started working. I had a single mom who was here illegally, with no English and no money. She has since become a citizen. She had to work all the time, so my brother and I raised ourselves. By 16, people thought I was going on 40. I had lived so many lives by the time I turned 20. So much of my younger life was about being responsible for my family. It’s part of why I went to NYU and studied economics — I felt like I had to prove my mom’s journey was for good reason. I graduated a year early.

Finally, I was like, “Mom, here’s my degree… This might not pan out, but I need to try to go to acting school.” And I did. I really felt like acting school was about unraveling those first 22 years of my life. In acting, there’s no score, no perfection. There’s just your truth. Who wants to be perfect? Trying to attain that is such a sad journey that closes doors to real creativity. At the time, I was like, "Yeah, that’s what you do. You get up and train so you can be perfect. You’re never good enough." That formed so much of my identity and took so many years to undo. That’s why when it comes to beauty or physical identity, I believe that you’re created a certain way because this is the way you’re meant to be.

As I’ve matured and grown as a woman I think I’ve become more comfortable with myself, and I know it sounds corny, but I’ve also learned to appreciate who I am, what I embody, and what I carry. I don’t feel a need to change that in any way. I found a picture of when I was 13, at a gymnastics competition. I wore a lot of makeup back then, and I did until I was around 26, 27. It’s so funny how that’s changed over the years. Sure, maybe some mascara would’ve helped my eyes look a little more awake this morning, but I’m fine with how they are. I might get Botox at some point, but I want to see how far I can take it as naturally as possible.

I do have a beauty routine, though. I hope Biologique Recherche makes me an ambassador one day — I use their Lotion P50W every day, and I use the Crème Masque Vernix and the Masque VIP O2 every other day. They don’t smell good. My friends are always like, “Oh, she’s got the urine on her face again,” but they’re so good.

People ask me constantly about my skin — I don’t think I’ve played a character over 30 yet. Unfortunately, that’s not the Hollywood norm. Especially for women. I constantly hear of so-called “expiration” dates for when someone should have made it and how challenging careers get for women over a “certain age.” There seems to be a fear of allowing women to age gracefully, especially on screen.

I would love to be able to be part of a generation of women in Hollywood who get to say, “Appreciate me as I get older. Watch me as I develop more wrinkles on my face. They’re nothing to be afraid of. They’re just little statements, of my journey, of my wealth of experience, of my wisdom, of all the things that I have been through that make me who I am."

When I show up to anything today, I want to show up as fully as possible. Fully as I am. I’m never going to reach the 10. I’m never going to hit the point where everything is confident and good and perfected. I’m gonna be strong and insecure and brave and vulnerable and joyous and sad. But I’m getting all of it.

As told to Brennan Kilbane.

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