Film Festival: Girl on film

By Ella Francis

Model Derya Parklak takes a turn as Juliet in a new local film adaptation of the Shakespearean love story

'Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song' is now showing at the NZIFF.
'Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song' is now showing at the NZIFF.

Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"

A proclamation made by the lovesick young Juliet to her beau, Romeo, is timeless in literature. Her tale of romance has become one of the most classic and tragic love stories of all time.

You can imagine her standing there on the balcony; with hair and long gown flowing and fluttering in the light breeze.

But think again: this Juliet is not from 15th-century Verona. She's wearing motorcycle boots, bandanas and a denim jacket and though making the same heartfelt cry, she is singing in a modern-day trailer park.

This Juliet is in award-winning director Tim van Dammen's take on the timeless story with New Zealand model Derya Parlak bringing the modern and edgy Juliet to life on film.

Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song is a musical retelling of the classic Shakespearean love story and is Parlak's debut to acting, a transition that has been a natural development from the world of modelling for the young star.

"There are so many models out there now. You can get good money and travel. It's fun and you can meet awesome people but I really like acting. I think it's a bit more vibrant," she says.

Cast alongside fellow model and actor Christopher Landon, who plays Romeo, both were discovered by van Dammen via their agencies and were selected to help create a stark contrast between the characters in the film. (Van Dammen has, in the past, worked on videos with fashion label Lonely Hearts and several local artists including Kids of 88, the Checks, Shihad and more.)

Both Parlak and Landon's roles are passionate, serious and beautiful, whereas the trailer park and its characters are comedic, raw and gritty.

"I was really happy he [van Dammen] gave us the chance. With modelling, you tell a lot through your eyes and so, with directing, he thought that might help convey the story," Parlak explains.

Though it's Parlak's first acting role, this film holds a lot more significance and meaning for her than just as a debut. From the ages of 8 to 10, she attended Ficino School in Mt Eden and was encouraged to try acting by her late mother - who died earlier this year - who noticed the potential in her daughter.

Parlak went on to play Olivia in Twelfth Night during her time at the school.

"I love Shakespeare so much so this is my ideal first film. I feel like even in musical form the words are so beautiful, it's an honour," she says.

Filming for Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song began early in 2011, where the predominantly New Zealand cast and crew spent three months filming at a Waipu Cove trailer park community.

Cinematographer Tim Flower - who Parlak raves about - and van Dammen created a modern Verona within the trailer park filled with great character, depth and colour, but also relied upon several locations around Auckland to shoot some scenes.

There is the swamp at the bottom of Grafton Bridge, which gives an air of whimsy, and the Scientology building in Grafton, where Parlak says they filmed the tragic end.

It was here that Parlak encountered a scene she believes was the most difficult to do as an actress, displaying Juliet's despair upon finding Romeo dead.

"I had to dig up a lot of emotion and I think I didn't have that at the time after going through something so big with my mum," she says, "but van Dammen is an excellent director and helped me bring out those emotions.

"He didn't over-direct me or expect too much. He would just give subtle direction, which I think made it easy to take it on board."

Despite this difficulty, the new actor has taken the role in her stride, something that would have made the Bard proud: from learning to lip-sync to the music to memorising 20 songs, word-for-word, in the traditional Shakespearean format, which, yes, did include all the thees and thous.

Parlak says she found shooting in several underground caves around Mt Eden to be the most awe-inspiring of the variety of striking locations. Used as a lair for the character of the friar who agrees to help the lovesick youngsters, Parlak says the oxygen around them changed as soon as the film crew entered the gigantic caves.

Although working with what she says was an excellent cast and crew, not everything ran smoothly during filming: while shooting a beach scene at Waipu, Parlak broke her toe and ended up on crutches.

"We did a party scene in a tavern and they had to film a lot of cropped scenes because my foot was in bandages. It was all hanging out," she says, laughing, "but the crew were really friendly about it."

Since 2011 Parlak has continued to model and has just finished shooting a commercial in Oamaru.

In honour of her late mother, she is also working alongside her father to open a family Turkish restaurant next month.

The road ahead has endless possibilities and is full of potential for the young star, something for her family to be very proud of.

Romeo and Juliet: A Love Story screens in the New Zealand International Film Festival on July 26 and 30. For tickets see nzff.co.nz.

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