When an actress discloses that she has an affinity for knives, the safer bet would be that she’d welcome taking a stab at playing it bad – very, very bad – on screen.
So it is with one Amila Terzimehic, the young woman who gives life to the role of a contract killer named Alexa in the film The November Man.
The title – for those who haven’t seen the Roger Donaldson-directed thriller starring Pierce Brosnan – refers to an ex-CIA agent named Peter Devereaux. The one-time spy left the agency only to find himself pulled back into a messy situation involving Russia, Chechnya, the CIA and certain dangerous individuals intent on ending his efforts to figure it all out.
That’s where the deadly Alexa comes in – with her knives, guns, and silencers that would make a grown man blush. And a particular scene using a knife? Amila may have enjoyed that bit of action the most.
“I just love knives, I find them beautiful, and I collect them. When I travel, I always buy a knife as a souvenir,” the Sarajevo-born actress admits.
Anyone who’s seen her performance as the dispassionate Alexa likely would find little reason to doubt the veracity of that statement.
But knowing a thing or two about pointed objects pales in comparison with the other talents this multi-talented performer brings to the table.
The first time movie audiences meet Amila – as Alexa – the actress turns up in a still black-and-white photo, an ironic introduction considering precious little about Amila Terzihemic seems either still or colorless.
Before this twenty-something young woman turned her attention to theater and film, she was a national champion in dance – ballet – and the sport of rhythmic gymnastics. That’s the discipline that requires athletes to tumble and spin – she was an Olympian in 2004 – but with an added component: Each routine includes some kind of object, for instance a rope, ribbon, ball or other piece of equipment.
Think gymnast meets juggler, but with some very specific skills – like keeping the object in the air and executing some jaw-dropping moves at the same time. As a child, she’d witnessed a rhythmic gymnast in action and knew that this was a sport she could master. Gymnastics and dance consumed any time she could spare from school and sleep for the larger part of her young life – 13 years – from the age of seven until she reached 20.
“I didn’t find any of it hard while I trained. With time, I got used to the pain and bruises, and everything was a challenge for me. To be honest, I didn’t like the competitions, because I was so afraid and nervous, but I loved the audience around when I was practicing,” Amila considers. “My coach used to tell me all the time that I will be an actress.”
Still, the hard work needed to succeed in the sport – as most disciplined world-class athletes can attest – meant Amila developed a discipline that severely limited her participation in many of the activities most young people take for granted.
“Maybe the most difficult time and the biggest doubt I had was at the period when I was in high school. My friends went out after school or gathered before classes, and I couldn’t do that because I had to run from gym to school and then go back and train some more. But now I do not regret that, and If I could turn back time I’d do it all the same.”
The story never addresses the fact that her character is a dancer – the script doesn’t include any mention of it – but Amila, as Alexa, carries a large duffel bag on her shoulder through much of the film. It’s the sort of accessory an athlete or a dancer would bring along to rehearsal, a workout or dance class on a daily basis. She looks the part, no doubt, but just for good measure, she throws in something extra that only a trained dancer could execute: a couple of tell-tale tricks while she’s waiting in a motel room to go after her next victim.
“One day director Roger Donaldson came and told me that I had one new scene, another shooting day. He just told me that I am in a hotel room. I asked him what was I going to do,” she recalls.
The director told her he’d leave that up to her: What would her character do while she was getting ready?
“We all arrived there, the set was ready… He just asked me, ‘How does Alexa prepare for her job? How does she relax?’ So, that was improvisation. I was suggesting things. and the stunt coordinators and director liked it.”
So do audiences. Some who’ve seen the picture think she steals every scene she’s in. And if anyone doesn’t like that, don’t mention it to Amila. The woman, after all, has an enviable collection of knives.
The November Man runs 108 minutes and is rated R.
THB found Amila through her agent, Anila Gajevic. The busy actress is preparing for another film role. Following is an additional Q & A with Amila Terzimehic on her film, her life and her hometown, Sarajevo.
THB: Tell us about your hometown and what life there has been like.
AMILA: I was born in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was four years old when the war in Bosnia has started. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People’s Army besieged Sarajevo, from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. Interesting, I was kid but I remember a lot of things from that period and that experience definitely made to love my city even more and to become stronger personally.
Apart of that, what I find most interesting about Sarajevo now is the charming atmosphere that can be felt upon entering the city, and I’m convinced that the dark and rather silly humor of Sarajevo people is sure to captivate visitors immediately.
People from Sarajevo are ready to share whatever they have with a stranger. Small city with such a rich cultural and historical heritage. The main reason I love Sarajevo is that one can never feel lonely here. While Sarajevo has its share of minuses, like any other city in the world, it’s those very imperfections that give the city the unique charm that has made it famous.
THB: Who were you role models growing up?
My mother. But I became aware of that only after I finished high school. She fascinates me day to day by how simple and normal she is on the outside, still holding so much within… so many layers and colors inside her.
THB: How did you wind up in gymnastics? What was your training like? Competitions?
By chance. I was seven, playing soccer all the time with my two brothers. But every day I watched those girls in colorful costumes with props, rope, ribbon, hoop… I wanted to do the same, I wanted to play and look like them. I went to gymnastic hall all by myself and told Aida Hadžić, who became my coach for the next 13 years and she is like my second mother, ‘I want to practice this.’ A few days later, she told my mother I was very talented and that I should take rhythmic gymnastics seriously. From that moment, I started practicing rhythmic gymnastics for eight hours a day. Every day, for 13 years. Since I was seven and until I turned 20, I was national champion in each category. Rhythmic gymnastics was a second school for me. Actually, now when I think about it I realize it was the most important thing in my life. What happened was that sometimes I did not go to school because I was sick or something, but that same day I went to the training…
What was your biggest competition?
It was a national championship, or international or European…: I was scared and a bit nervous about each equally. But maybe the most important competitions for me were ones happening in my country. Maybe it was because I felt because of the international exposure the biggest pressure and responsibility…
What was the biggest reward to you from all that gymnastics and ballet work?
Hm. I find rhythmic gymnastics to be a most powerful part of my life. For me, there was no difference between getting up in the morning – brushing my teeth – putting my shoes on… and the training time. It was my life. I don’t think I made any sacrifice for that. That would mean that I want to do something else instead. And in addition, I never wanted to disappoint my coach.
I loved travelling with other girls, hanging out with them with no parents around, I loved it when we hid from Aida and secretly ate sweets… In my opinion I had a magical childhood. True, that included a lot of bruises, pain, crying and sweat. But things that hurt, instruct.
During these 13 years, beside rhythmic gymnastics I also danced ballet, went to latino dances, jazz ballet, hip-hop. I just love dance. It is the largest sense of freedom I felt so far. I believe I feel the bravest when I dance. I wanted to become a dancer and play in physical theatre… I heard that one of the classes at the Academy of Performing Arts was also Dance. So again, by chance I found my new love and a new way of living: acting.
Who were your role models as a performer?
I admire the work of Beatrice Dalle and Asia Argento.
How did you get the part in The November Man? Tell us about the audition process.
First, I did a video with few gymnastic movements, because they asked for a trained actress who is able to do some of it. I also did acting scenes with a knife in my hand. So, after tapes that I sent, Mr. Roger Donaldson invited me on a call back in Belgrade. Few days later, my agent Anila Gajevic told me that I was going to play Alexa, and I was very happy.
There is a scene toward the end of the movie involving a shovel. You get whacked in the face? Was that scary?
Not at all. These are great professionals in their work, and I trusted them and everything was easy. Even though it maybe looks dangerous, it wasn’t. I laughed every time when Olga struck me with the shovel. That scene was really fun…
What was it like on the set for you? How was Pierce?
I had wonderful time on the set. All the crew, including guys from Belgrade, were amazing. We had so much fun during the shooting. And also they all helped me a lot. I don’t have so much experience with the cameras, because I worked more in the theatre. Mr. Pierce Brosnan also helped me a lot. Every time after I finished my scene, he came and told how great it was, or gave me a suggestion… In my opinion, the greatest people are the simplest. And Pierce is like that. Simple, modest, and he should be a role model for all actors. He and Mr. Donaldson were very interested in my background, artists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, my work…
What did you learn on this first film experience with such talented professionals?
I watched other actors play, prepare for their work, as I was learning about the big set and what was the job of each person. About cameras, costumes, make up design… I learned a lot of beautiful and important things and I brought them as great memories with me back in Sarajevo.
What was most fun about this film and playing a character such as Alexa?
The most fun part about this role was the process, before I went to Belgrade and than again during the shooting. Since I was 12, I dreamt of playing a character like this one, and being in an action movie. I had lessons on how to use weapons, kickboxing, riding a motorcycle…
When I read the book There Are No Spies. I just fell in love with Alexa. That character deserves a movie on her own. She is so complex and at the same time seems so simple and cold. Alexa means ‘the helper’ and ‘noble one.’ And that she was for me. I find it quite easy to understand and justify her. Love is her motive. I know probably that sounds strange and weird, but in my fairy tale, Alexa is a good witch.
What did you think of the movie and of your performance?
I will tell you in a few days. I didn’t see the movie yet. I am afraid of that. I will probably tell you how awful I am and that I didn’t make character of Alexa good enough… I mean bad enough.
What has been the reaction of people to you since this film has come out and is in theaters?
The other day a colleague of mine approached me , congratulated and told me how happy he is for me, because of the November Man and than he said, ‘When I saw your role everything was much clearer for me, I mean that is totally you, that’s a perfect role for you. You are Alexa.’ I’m not sure if this is a compliment. 🙂
So what’s up for you now professionally? What can we expect?
In these days I have rehearsals for two new plays in the theater. One is a play called Finger and the other is my new solo project. The perfomance, physical theater play about the body as an object, about the female body, of beastly strength of the female body – the driving force of her will, opportunities and constant struggle. Throughout the solo performance, the greatest emphasis and space is given to the aggression that is being inflicted on bodies, and uniform, which denies the body’s feelings and emotions.
And after that I will be a shooting a new movie here in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What did I not ask that I should have? Anything?
I can’t remember when was the last time, I spoke so much about myself. How are you Andy? 🙂
THB: lol…I’m fine, thank you. So long as you keep your knives to yourself. 🙂