Love Story star Masha Yakovenko talks to Scott Kara about playing the muse to Florian Habicht in his oddball romantic comedy.
What must she have thought when a strange man from New Zealand asked her to be his muse in his funny film about finding love in New York City?
Well, Russian-born actress Masha Yakovenko ran with it.
"It was just an interesting project," she laughs on the phone from New York. "Something that I really liked was the reality of the shoot and the acting, because it really is an exploration of life in a way. And with every take there was a different way you could go, a different possibility."
That's because the plot twists of Love Story, the fifth feature by Kiwi director Florian Habicht, were determined by the people of New York. He made the film while in the Big Apple in 2009/10 on the Art's Foundation's Harriet Friedlander Residency and, following a case of "writer's block", he hit the streets to ask ordinary people what they thought his film should be about. They included everyone from his local shopkeeper and a group of friends dining at a restaurant, to a stockbroker and street-dwellers.
As with Habicht, when you talk to Yakovenko there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding what she says about the film - and especially what she reveals about their relationship. Is it real love? Or are they just acting? And really, does it matter, because Love Story is a great little film whichever way you look at it.
Although, TimeOut offers, you do make a lovely couple. "I think sometimes, yeah."
It is ambiguous how she and Habicht first met. She claims they met on the first day of the shoot; then again - and this is for all you romantics - perhaps they did meet on the subway and fell in love (well, at least Habicht did) like they do in the film.
What is clear is that they both put themselves on the line for their roles - and reveal all on both an emotional and physical level.
"What does that look like on screen?" she laughs, referring to the love scenes. "But you know," she continues more seriously, "when actors are in a play or something, there are emotions that come up because of what you are doing. And it becomes very difficult to separate what you are doing from reality, especially in a situation like this when there is a lot of exploring who you are.
"It started with us being really friendly towards each other and going through whatever emotions we were going through and then we did some really intense scenes and then it really tore down that wall of separateness. And I think we both got differently emotionally involved - and I think we were both, in some way, generally hurt."
When TimeOut talked to Yakovenko she still hadn't seen Love Story and was feeling a mix of fear, amusement, and confusion about it.
"Why haven't I seen this movie yet?" she laughs. "I think that's why I'm a little confused, because I have no idea which takes Florian used. I have no idea how the film ends."
And she's even more in the dark about what's in the film because she refrained from looking at footage during the making of it because she didn't want it to make her feel self-conscious.
"I just wanted it to be me and my imperfections, because it's not interesting if someone is totally successful all the time, that's boring."
Yakovenko, who moved to the US with her Ukranian parents in 1998, is studying psychology, art and theatre. She hadn't had much acting experience previously and says Love Story's impromptu script suited her.
"I'm kind of terrible at lines, for the most part. This movie was perfect."
She has fond memories of the shoot, like the opening scene where she appears holding a plate with a piece of cake on it and, best of all, being led, blindfolded, by Habicht through Chinatown.
"I think that sort of thing should happen more often. It was quite terrifying actually. But it was also a really beautiful experience."
What: Love Story, in cinemas today
Who: Masha Yakovenko, actress and muse
Directed by: Florian Habicht, whose past work includes Kaikohe Demolition (2004) and Woodenhead (2003)