At 24 years old, Ana Golja has accomplished a lot and don’t think she isn’t grateful. She acted and was a producer on the award-winning movie, “The Cuban”. She just won the “Best Actress” award at ICFF Canada’s Lavazza Film Festival. She’s been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for 2015’s Full Out: The Ariana Berlin Movie. She is a Degrassi alum appearing in both “Degrassi: The Next Generation” and “Desgrassi: Next Class.” Golja has two more movies that are set to release in 2020. Teen musical “Drama Drama” and “I Do or Die”. Did we mention that she is also developing and producing another feature about a young basketball prodigy dealing with his grief after mother and little brother in a tragic car accident? Add working on her sophomore EP into the mix, and Golja is one busy woman.
Ana Golja is smart, an artist on the rise and our latest #WomenInspiringWomen.
You have enjoyed success in the USA, something that often eludes many Canadian actors. Why do you think that you have been able to find this cross-border success?
I would credit most of that success to Degrassi. We were on Nickelodeon and MTV. From there, we went to Netflix and I think that switchover is really what took me to the US and international markets. I also appeared on Full Out: The Ariana Berlin Movie which was another Netflix film that I did about a gymnast that was born and raised in San Diego. They are what really catapulted me into the US Market.
You not only starred in “The Cuban”, you also produced the movie. A lot of people don’t know what a producer does on a movie. Tell us about your role as the producer and why it was so important to you to produce this particular project?
As far as the role of a producer goes, they do everything! I have a newfound respect for producers. They do everything from raising the money and applying for the tax credits to getting the cast and crew together to negotiating contracts. And of course, being a Canadian Indie, we occasionally did transport and craft services; whatever we had to do to get to the end of the day. That’s pretty much everything that I did as a producer, and still continue to do because the work isn’t quite done yet.
It was important to me to do this particular film because it was coming from a very personal and honest place. The inspiration for me came from my great-grandmother who has Alzheimer’s and dementia. I saw, first hand, the effects of music on her social engagement and how her cognitive skills were improved because of music. That was the core of why I wanted to make this movie. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better project for my first credit as a producer than “The Cuban.”
What life lessons do you hope that people take away from “The Cuban”?
At the core of it, I really do think it’s about trusting our elders, valuing them and listening to their stories. They were young once too and sometimes we forget about that. They lived these incredible lives that the younger generation can learn a lot from. I think, ultimately, we can value the fact that we have them here with us. We’re all not going to be here forever, so we need to enjoy every moment that we get with them.
You have had the opportunity to work with Oscar winner Louis Gossett, Jr., Oscar nominee, Shohreh Aghdashloo and Oscar Nominee John Travolta. What did you learn about your own craft from working with these actors and why was the role of Luis written with Gossett, Jr. in mind?
What I learned about my own craft from these actors is that you have to do the prep work when you are among actors of this caliber. Be there and be present in the moment with whoever you have across from you. Obviously, I was incredibly nervous working alongside John Travolta, Lou [Gossett Jr.] and Shohreh [Aghdashloo]. I think that what got me through it was that I knew that I had done the work. I put in the hours and I did everything possible to be as prepared as I could be. Once I was there, it wasn’t about “Oh, what’s my next line, “ it was more me genuinely reacting and being in that moment with them.
Our director, Sergio Navarretta, had grown up watching Lou, as we all did, in “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Roots”. With the role of Luis in “The Cuban”, we had a very specific set of requirements and boxes that needed to be ticked. We needed somebody that could pass as Cuban and had a background in music. Being a Canadian indie, we needed somebody that had that weight in the industry, who could help us break through all of the noise in the film industry, both in Canada and internationally. Lou was the end all and be all. He literally ticked off every box. He’s absolutely incredible and an icon. There aren’t that many actors of that generation left. Once my director decided that’s who he wanted, we did anything and everything to get him on board.
In addition to acting and producing, you are also working on your sophomore EP and you love dance. How did the arts become so important to you?
I grew up in a very artistic household. The arts were really encouraged and supported. I grew watching a lot of watching everything that ended up playing on TCM [Turner Classic Movies]. It was in my blood. I would go to bed with music playing, otherwise I couldn’t fall asleep. It was everywhere in my life and shaped my childhood and how I saw the world. I got into dance when I was five years old, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. I got into acting when I was nine and then into music when I was sixteen. I couldn’t imagine my life without the arts and without being a creative person.
2020 has brought a lot of challenges and awareness to people around the world. How has 2020 changed you?
I realize how lucky I am to be in the country that I’m in, surrounded by an incredibly supportive and loving family. The fact that I have an amazing healthcare system is something I appreciate. I’ve become a lot more aware and a lot more grateful for the things that I perhaps would have not have been as aware of before COVID-19. That would be my takeaway and what has changed the most in me for 2020.
Luis is inspirational to Mina in ‘The Cuban’. Who inspires you?
My mom inspires me. She’s an immigrant. She came to Canada in 1991. She was pregnant with no money, without knowing the language or having an education. She’s now in a very senior position in one of the top banks here in Canada. She’s an incredible leader with a zest for life, an incredible cook and an incredible mother. She’s everything that I aspire to be.
“The Cuban” is now open at select theatres and drive-in movie theatres across North America.