IRINA WITH A FRENCH ACCENT

Irina Björklund's brand new 4th album is called La vie est une fête (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund’s brand new 4th album is called La vie est une fête (photo by Richard Dumas)

International actress and singer-songwriter  Irina Björklund has appeared in over 50 films and TV shows and released four albums. In the Hollywood thriller  the American she played opposite to George Clooney and in the war film Ambush she was paired with her true life husband, actor Peter Franzén.

For 14 years the couple was a familiar sight in the L.A. artistic circles. Many in the Finnish community went to see Irina perform on stage at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. She would sing songs from her albums and play the saw. Irina Björklund and Peter Franzén were also regular stars at the annual Scandinavian Film Festival in Beverly Hills, where many of their movies were shown.

A year ago the couple, along with their 7 year-old son Diego, moved to Southern France. Her latest album is called La vie est une fête. Exclusively to Finntimes Irina Björklund now talks about her new album and life in France.

Irina Björklund's 4th album consists of old and new Finnish songs sung in French. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Irina Björklund’s 4th album consists of old and new Finnish songs sung in French. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

1) La vie est une fête is the name of your latest album. It consists of Finnish songs from 1940 to 2012 that you have translated into French. Tell me about this album?

A few years ago, while still living in LA, one of my favorite song writers, Timo Kiiskinen contacted me, asking whether I would be interested in recording one of his songs, Kaiken Nähnyt, in French, one day. That triggered an idea in me: why not translate a selection of my own favorite Finnish songs through time to French language? So I started doing it, and asked the producer of one of my favorite French bands, Nouvelle Vague, to produce it – Marc Collin, along with the band’s singer, Liset Alea. Them having a 100% objective view and not knowing any of the tunes before, said it was like “opening a treasure chest of untouched pearls” that the world hadn’t heard before. That, to me, proved that Finland has some absolutely gorgeous, international caliber tunes, that have only been held back by language barriers. The arrangements of the album are the result of a truly international collaboration – my Finnish band along with French Marc Collin, and Cuban Liset Alea. To my great delight, my favorite French label, Naïve Records (Pink Martini, Carla Bruni, Tanita Tikaram) embraced the idea, and is now releasing the album world wide.

In this picture caption Irina Björklund is performing the song La vie est une fête by Samuli Putro in a music video directed by Maarit Lalli and photographed by Rauno Ronkainen.

In this caption Irina Björklund is performing the song La vie est une fête by Samuli Putro in a music video directed by Maarit Lalli and photographed by Rauno Ronkainen.

2) In the video for the title song you are laying on sawdust in a circus tent, dressed as a circus performer as camels walk by – tell us about this video and its production?

The title song, La vie est une fête (= Life is a party, originally Elämä on juhla by brilliant song writer Samuli Putro) , describes in one song a human’s life, from birth to the last breath, in a nut shell. Just an amazing text, sharp and honest as a razor. For the video, it gave me the idea of showing a dying person, going through her life in flashes. I find the circus ambience visually entrancing… and just thought of this idea of a tightrope walker who have slipped off her rope… together with Pete Eklund, my partner in crime at my Finnish label Kaiho Republic. Circus Finlandia gave us the beautiful tools to make the video happen. And director Maarit Lalli along with DP Rauno Ronkainen gave it life.

Irina Björklund (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund (photo by Richard Dumas)

3) Are you performing songs from this album to live audiences in France, Finland or elsewhere and do you have future plans of performing them  – if so, what has the reception been like?

Yes, we have been doing quite a few live concerts in Finland – the album has done amazing in Finland, and to my great awe the concerts have been sold out – what a treat to be performing for full venues – very gratifying. We are still starting out with the international scene, but have so far performed in France a couple of times – the international release was depending on the French critics, so I was happy to find out it made the cut, and that the French liked what they heard.

4) In Los Angeles you collaborated with Peter Fox on your previous albums – is he still in the picture or have you found new collaborators in France?

Peter Fox and I stay in contact, and the songs we created live on (currently in commercials in Finland and such) – however the distance between us makes active collaboration hard – he lives in New York now, and me in France. But I simply see us as in being on hiatus – I’m sure we’ll find an opportunity to work together again.

Irina played the saw at the opening of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills in 2012. (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

Irina played the saw at the opening of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills in 2012. (photo by Tomi Hinkkanen)

5) Do you play the saw on this album?

The saw is on hiatus for this album, too – however, I like to bring it out now and then during live shows, for a song or two.

6) You have released four albums now but many people don’t know about your music career – what about your collaborations?

I have collaborated on quite a few albums or soundtracks as either a composer, singer or saw player with artists/bands such as Miranda Lee Richards, Garbage, Samuli Edelmann, Olavi Uusivirta, Latebirds, Edu Kettunen, Mikko Kuustonen, Phoebe Killdeer & the Shortstraws to mention a few.

Last year Irina Björklund and family moved to South of France. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Last year Irina Björklund and family moved to South of France. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

7) I think many people were taken by surprise that about a year ago you and your family packed up after 14 years in L.A. and moved to South of France – why did you make the big move?

We just finally woke up to the fact, that LA is extremely far away from family and work in Europe – something had to be done for the family’s sake. And my French record deal had a lot to do with it – I also wanted to be available when my big dream of releasing an album in France suddenly came true. And honestly – we’re quite conveniently located for traveling everywhere now – I’ve been working a lot in New York and Finland this last year. Not too far for going anywhere, really. We do visit LA regularly for work and friends, too.

Irina spent her teenage years in France. (photo Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

Irina spent her teenage years in France. (photo by Jonny Kahleyn Dieb)

8) How is life treating you in France in terms of work, people, friendships and what do you  like and dislike about living there?

Even if I spent years of my childhood/teen years in France, everything is still new what comes to the region we live in, work scenes, friendships etc. But we take a day at the time, and are enjoying pretty much everything except the French traffic habits. Not that I very much enjoyed LA traffic, either:)

9) How have Peter and Diego settled in France?

I couldn’t be prouder of them – after all, the French language wasn’t new to me, and they are the ones who must work the most.

Irina Björklund performs at the opening gala of Marimekko store in Beverly Hills, 2012. (photo Tomi Hinkkanen)

Irina Björklund performs at the opening gala of the Marimekko store in Beverly Hills, 2012. (photo by Tomi Hinkkanen)

11) What are your future plans – any new movies in the works?

This year I’ve spent a lot of time in New York shooting a film by Emilia Ferreira – The Erotic Fire of the Unattainable. I was lucky to work with brilliant and fun actors such as Harry Hamlin, Kevin Kilner, Caprice Benedetti, Edoardo Ballerini and Margot Bingham.

I’m also preparing to play the lead in a Finnish/European movie about a historically important Finnish lady – Aurora Karamzin. The movie is to be directed by Maarit Lalli, who also directed my music video.

Irina Björklund (photo Richard Dumas)

Irina Björklund (photo by Richard Dumas)

12) What would you like to say to your friends and fans in Los Angeles?

Happy Thanksgiving!! Merry Christmas!! …..and hope to see you very very soon, again!!!

LINKS:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/la-vie-est-une-fete/id838277163
Physical copy:
http://www.amazon.com/La-vie-est-une-f%C3%AAte/dp/B00FJAKW4U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413322895&sr=8-1&keywords=irina+bjorklund
Merchandise department, order in the USA:
http://www.recordshopx.com/merch/bjorklund_irina/la_vie_est_une_fete/
Music video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwSxU7ySkhE
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/IrinaBjorklundofficial

Irina Björklund’s albums:

Oh l’Amour – 2006

Vintage Espresso – 2007

Chanson d’Automne – 2011

La vie est une fête – 2014

SIX LIVES OF GABRIELLA NEJMAN

Gabriella had to memorize 78 pages of dialogue for Ghosts.

Gabriella Nejman as Mrs. Helen Alving in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – WEST HOLLYWOOD

PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN

Gabriella Nejman is a lovely and talented 22 year old Finnish actress with an unusual background. Her mother is from Finland and father from Israel. Gabriella has lived in six countries. She is a classically trained dancer, who moved to Los Angeles a year ago to pursue an acting career. For the past year she has studied at the renowned Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood. Finntimes recently met with Gabriella and her mother Outi, as the young actress made her theatrical debut at her school’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts.

Gabriella landed the coveted female lead in Ibsen's Ghosts.

Gabriella Nejman as Mrs. Helen Alving in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.

Gabriella Nejman can truly be called a citizen of the world, she  speaks English, Finnish and Hebrew.

She was born in Helsinki, Finland, and at the age of a year and a half moved to Israel. She also lived in South Africa, New Zealand and at the age of 17 she moved to Australia. Gabriella studied dancing at Dance World Studios in Melbourne. Then, when Gabriella was 19 she moved back to Israel. She took dance classes and met choreographers and they booked her for various events. She was in a production for six months, dancing and touring in a production called iFestigal. She describes the production as an amazing experience performing  four shows a day.

Gabriella with her mother Outi in the green room after the performance of Ghosts.

Gabriella with her mother Outi in the green room after the performance of Ghosts.

Were you always interested in dancing and acting?

“Since I was 15 I wanted to be a professional dancer. So, I went to train full time. I only saw myself as a dancer at the time. Everywhere I went it was dance, dance, dance. I was trained at Classical Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary, Hip Hop and Tap, I did some Salsa and Flamenco as well. It was only after I turned 18 that I discovered I wanted to be an actress. It happened while I was in Australia training to be a professional dancer. I went to a performing art school. We had singing, drama and other classes aside from dancing as well.”

Gabriella’s great uncle was a famous Finnish actor  Pekka Niskanen.

Gabriella shows a picture of her late grandfather, Yrjö Niskanen.

Gabriella shows a picture of her great uncle, Pekka Niskanen.

Gabriella tears up when the discussion turns to her beloved late grandfather Yrjö Niskanen. When she visited his house in Kuopio, she found an old photo album that had belonged to her great uncle, Pekka Niskanen.

“I saw the book and suddenly I recollected my grandfather always showing me that photo album as a child. It had pictures of different roles my great uncle was in – Romeo and Juliet, pictures of him in the theater and postcards made of him. They are beautiful pictures. I realize now that my grandfather was always hinting that acting has always been in my blood.”

The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood.

The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in West Hollywood.

How did you come to study acting here at Lee Strasberg?

“Well, I did my research before I came here. I went to see different acting schools just to get a feel of which one would suit me the best. When I came here, I audited a class – a method class taught by M. J. Karmi. 

A French man, Louis-Karim Nébati, who plays Pastor Manders in Ghosts, was on stage that day. He did a monologue about a rapist that I will never forget. He was living it. I believed every single word he said. I got so involved with it that I said to myself, I want to come here.”

Gabriella performing Ghosts with Louis-Karim Nébati. (photo Lee Strasberg Institute)

Gabriella performing Ghosts with Louis-Karim Nébati. (photo Lee Strasberg Institute)

Gabriella made her theatrical debut in August at her school. Tell me about the production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts?

“We started rehearsing seven weeks prior. First there was quite a big round of auditions for this. We had to prepare a monologue by Anton Chekhov or Tennessee Williams – one of the classics. I did a monologue from Uncle Vanya by Chekov. I did Sonya as an audition and got a call-back the next day. 20 girls and 10 boys. I got sides got sides for Mrs. Alving but also for Regina Engstrand. I went to the audition thinking I would be playing Regina. Then the director told me I would be playing Mrs. Alving (the female lead). I was thrilled.”

In the play, Gabriella plays a middle-aged woman, although she is only 22. Her birthday was April 5th. Amazingly, she pulls it off with flying colors. Her mannerisms, the way she talks and carries herself are all that of a 50 year old woman.

In Ghosts, Gabriella had to portray a middle-aged woman.

In Ghosts, Gabriella had to portray a middle-aged woman.

How did you prepare yourself to play a middle-aged woman? 

“I started to understand my character by breaking down the whole elements of who is Mrs. Alving – what has she gone through. I created her back story. Then, to be honest, my mother is that age. I was observing her – her actions. I am wearing her earrings right now to feel I am an older lady. That’s my secret!” 

After seven weeks of rehearsals, the play was performed for three times only. Do you learn lines quickly?

“I learned the 78 pages with great joy.”

Gabriella emulated her mother and wore her earrings to be able to play a middle-aged woman.

Gabriella emulated her mother and even wore her earrings to be able to play a middle-aged woman.

Tell me about studying at Lee Strasberg?

“Well, my first semester, I was in uncharted waters. I had no idea what relaxation and sensory was. In the first class we did the coffee cup exercise – getting the sense of the smell, weight, temperature, who’s the first person that comes to mind…these tools have become second nature to me now, and I will live and continue to grow as an actress within this working process each day. I’m so very grateful to learn and understand this ‘method venue’, and as actors, I realize our true size as artists is never finished; we simply develop more understanding and skill, as we continue to enjoy and survive real life.

Gabriella Nejman and Louis-Karim Nébati in Ghosts (photo Lee Strasberg Institute)

Gabriella Nejman and Louis-Karim Nébati in Ghosts (photo Lee Strasberg Institute)

The method class is four hours long. The first two hours we do relaxation and sensory. We relax the body. Sensory consists of different exercises. Then we do scenes from different plays. I’m here from Monday ‘til Friday. Some days I’m here from 9.30 am to 11 pm. Others are shorter days.”

Where do you live?

“I live in West Los Angeles area with my boyfriend he was a soccer player and now is studying finance and business at Santa Monica College.”

Gabriella Nejman with boyfriend Yarin Ohayon.

Gabriella Nejman with boyfriend Yarin Ohayon.

When she is not acting, Gabriella likes to dance.

“I did a performance not long ago for the EOTM awards here in LA. It was for upcoming artists. I also just joined a dance company called Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble in Los Angeles.”

Cosmopolitan Gabriella is now on her sixth country. What are your future plans?

“I really want to stay in LA. This is my sixth country. I like it here, I love the people and the weather is perfect. Opportunities are here and I fell in love with this school.”

How often do you see your family?

My family visits me often and I normally go to Finland in the mid summer for Juhannus.

Kuopio, Finland will always be a home base fro Gabriella Nejman.

Gabriella Nejman as Mrs. Helen Alving in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.

But no matter how many countries I’ve lived in, the one place where I have a base is Kuopio. That house was built  by my grandfather’s father and mother. They lived there. I’m very much influenced by their heritage and by the Finnish culture. It is something I put in this play.

Finntimes wishes Gabriella all the best in her life and acting career. Something tells us we are going to hear from this young, lovely and talented woman in the future!

IRINA BJÖRKLUND PERFORMS IN LA

Irina Brjörklund will take to the stage this month in LA.

In the last couple of years the talented movie star and singer-songwriter has been absent from the stages of her hometown. Now we all can catch her in the act on stage as she will give two performances in the L.A. area. Here’s Irina’s invitation:

Irina will play songs from her French language album Chanson d'Automne on stage.

Hey friends!

I’m opening up for this really cool French band at 2 small LA theaters on April 20th and 21st, and tickets are for sale now online, and for pre-sale only – would love it if you could make it! The theaters are tiny, so please book asap to get seats!

And even if we aren’t the headliners, we’ll still play a 40 minute set with material from our newest album. Hope to see you there!

All info is below.

 Love, Irina

Irina is all set to conquer LA with her lovely chansons.

After a long break from LA stages, Finnish actress-singer Irina Björklund will give two concerts in Los Angeles:

Friday April 20th at 8pm at the Santa Monica Playhouse
http://www.itsmyseat.com//events/454548.html
Saturday April 21st at 8pm at Two Roads Theater/Studio City
http://www.itsmyseat.com//events/824133.html

Seating is limited (theaters seat 70 and 50 people), tickets are for sale on links above only, please book asap.

Headliner for the evening will be the band Deleyaman, arriving from Normandie, France.
http://www.deleyaman.com

The French group Deleyaman will follow Irina's performance.

Irina will be opening with a 40 minute set for Deleyaman as a trio with writing partner Peter Fox and Venice based musician/producer Steve McCormick. They will play material from Björklund’s and Fox’s newest, all French language album Chanson d’Automne, that has gathered beautiful reviews across the borders, and stayed on the official Top 50 album list in Finland for 6 weeks. A total of 2 hours of feel good world music in an intimate theater setting, followed by a “meet the artists” reception.

The reception on April 20th will be hosted and generously sponsored by the Consulate of Finland with wine and delicacies. A limited amount of Irina’s newest album will also be available at the concerts for the first time in the US, as well as naturally headliner Deleyaman’s.

Please note that these concerts will take place in theater’s, so approach the concerts as you would a theater play – be early.

Listen to Irina’s newest album here:
http://www.sonicbids.com/irinabjorklundpeterfox

And should you to Irina’s disappointment not be able to attend, but would still like to purchase a physical copy of the album, sent to you directly from the label inFinland:

http://www.recordshopx.com/artist/bjorklund_irina/chanson_dautomne/

 

OSCARS – THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN –HOLLYWOOD

DATE: Feb. 26th, 2012

The Academy Awards will be handed out today for the 84th time. The scene of the Oscars, the Hollywood and Highland Center has been buzzing all week as thousands of people have prepared for the big show.

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

It takes carpenters, electricians, publicists, cameramen, directors, producers, presenters and numerous other people to create the Oscar experience. Early last week the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between LaBrea and Highland Avenues was closed. The first thing to go up: the media bridge.

The media bridge, from where the network anchors bring you the Oscars.

This is where the star network anchors have been reporting for days leading to the gala tonight. It is an expensive piece of real estate. Networks pay premium for each little booth on the bridge. Reporters and photographers from all over the world have flown in to cover Hollywood’s biggest night.

Moments before the gala begins, last minute preparations are made.

This years’ contenders for the best foreign language movie come from Belgium, Canada, Iran, Israel and Poland.  At the foreign directors’ press conference Friday, four out of five countries vying for the best foreign film were present –Iran was absent. Its’ entry, A Separation, is a story of a middle class Iranian couple headed for a divorce.

Belgian director Michaël Roskam

Belgium’s entry, Bullhead, is a story of a cattle farmer, who is lured into dubious dealings with a shady businessman.

“I wanted to make a movie, which would evoke a sense of redemption instead of judgment in the end,” director Michaël Roskam explains. This is his second feature and there’s more to come – he plans to start writing his next script in the near future. He says that just to be nominated for an Oscar is an honor.

“It’s almost like a title given to a nobleman – an Oscar contender. For the rest of your life you will be known as such.”

Canadian director Philippe Falardeau

Canada’s entry, Monsieur Lazhar, is a story about an Algerian immigrant, who is hired a teacher after the former teacher has committed suicide. But as he assumes his new post, he must also deal with dramatic events unwinding in his own life. Director Philippe Falardeau believes the nomination will also shed light to other indie productions. He comes from the French speaking Quebec. The language drives the French speaking Canadians to create art.

“We are struggling to maintain our language, our identity. This pushes us to write books, make movies, plays and dance performances.”

His advice to young filmmakers is to be authentic.

“Think from the heart. Don’t imitate big Hollywood productions and don’t give any thought to Oscars.”

Israeli actor Shlomo Bar Aba

Israel’s Oscar-nominated film, Footnote, is a family drama about a father and a son with unresolved issues. The star of the film, Shlomo Bar Aba, is a veteran stage actor from Tel Aviv, known mainly for comedies and musical extravaganzas. This is his first movie role in 30 years. The success of Footnote from Cannes to Hollywood came to him as a surprise, but he believes it is due to the personal nature of the story.

“Everything revolves around the family. If we cane resolve our intimate family issues, we can also deal with global problems affecting relations between countries,” Bar Aba says through an interpreter.

“I myself had no chance to come to terms with my own father. My advice is: If your parents are still alive and you have unresolved issues with them, resolve them. If you don’t it’s going to haunt you for the rest of your life,” the actor concludes.

Agnieszka Holland, one of the top directors from Poland

Agnieszka Holland is one of the premier filmmakers of Poland. She is best known for her war time drama, Europa, Europa. Her current Oscar entry is called In Darkness. This film also takes place during WW2. In the Nazi-occupied Warsaw, a sewer worker and a thief helps the local Jews hide from the Nazis utilizing his knowledge of the sewer system.

“I wanted to point out with this story that the line between good and bad is blurry. It is easy for a person to step on each side of the line,” Agnieszka explains.

Since she has lived and worked through the Communist era, I ask her, what is it like to make movies in the post cold warPoland.

“Funny enough, when I look at my Iranian colleagues, I feel that somehow they have it easier. To be under oppression makes movie-making more meaningful. But I enjoy my freedom, even if the movies were less powerful as  a result.”

A German TV reporter is doing her stand-up on the red carpet.

A handful of Los Angeles Finns work in the entertainment industry.

Make-up artist Kristina Duff and CNN anchor Piers Morgan at Hollywood Reporter's pre-Oscar party in Hancock Park

I asked make-up artist Riku Campo, what goes into making a filmstar ready for the Oscars. As it turns out, it is a major operation.

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars by Jonny Kahleyn

Riku Campo - a Finnish make-up artist of the stars

“A week or two before the show, the star goes to the teeth cleaning at the dentist. Then a week before he or she has a microdermabrasion and a facial deep cleansing. A couple of days before the gala, many of the stars take a spray tan. It takes a day or two to even out the tone”, Riku explains.

On the morning of the awards show, Riku Campo shows up at the star’s dressing room.

“They usually check into a hotel a night before, even if they live inL.A.It’s just easier to do all the preparations in a hotel than at home. As I arrive around 10.30 am, the room is already buzzing of people. There’s the star’s publicist, agent, manager, pedicurist, hairstylist, fashion stylist and sometimes family members – about ten people altogether.”

Campo has been given a picture of the star’s gown earlier, so that he can plan for an appropriate make-up.

“Pedicure and manicure are done first. At the same time, the hair stylist works on the actor’s hair. Once the hair has been blow-dried and rolled up, I create the make-up foundation and after that the whole make-up. After that the hair is opened up and finishes, the star is dressed and body make-up applied.”

The whole process costs thousands of dollars, but is worth every penny, as the limousine door opens and the star steps onto the red carpet. The TV lights are so bright and the high definition cameras so brutally sharp that without a perfect make-up the star would look horrible. Riku Campo’s books, containing make-up tips is called Best in Beauty and is available on Amazon.

Costume designer Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto

Costume designer Susanna Puisto has created outfits for the A-listers Faye Dunaway, Michael Douglas and Leonardo DiCaprio among others. She is currently working on the procedural show Body of Proof, starring Dana Delaney.

“The Academy Awards are the most elegant of all the awards ceremonies. The gown has to look at the same time classy and stunning. There’s the body contouring mermaid gown and the princess look, with a wider skirt,” Susanna characterizes.

 

Gigantic Oscar statuettes welcome the audience at the Hollywood and Highland center.Since the Oscars end the long awards season, most of the stars have already been to at least half a dozen galas. Each require a different gown. While the star is not reimbursed for her time it takes her to pick and choose and fit all the outfits, the clothes are given to her free by the fashion designers wanting exposure for their creations. Susanna anticipates a colorful Oscar gala.A Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley designed the Oscar statue back in 1929. It has endured and remains the symbol of the Academy Awards even today.

“I believe we will see a lot of color. The trend colors for this spring are cobalt blue, orange, yellow, green, even neon colors. This reminds me of the 80’s. Peplums are is fashion. They are like double-decked skirts that can be worn over slacks or as a blouse.”

The last minute preparations in dressing a star include attaching the gown carefully with tape to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions.

“If the designer fails, the critique the next day is murderous.”

She will ring in the Oscars at home with friends, sipping champagne and eating little nibbles, paying special attention to the red carpet arrivals.

“There’s always surprises – and hopefully some catastrophes!”

Producer Joni Labaqui at the Golden Age Theater gives Oscar themed walking tours in Hollywood.

At the eve of the Oscars, I took a walking tour of the Oscars past and present, given by producer Joni Labaquin of the Golden Age Theater.

We visited the Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Academy Awards ceremony in May of 1929.

“Douglas Fairbanks hosted. The dinner tickets cost five dollars. There were only 15 Oscar categories, whereas there are 24 today. Two best picture Oscars were given – one for a drama and another for a comedy. That first years’ winners included Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin. The best drama picture was the Wings. It was the only silent film to ever win a best picture Oscar,” Labaquin says.

Finnish actress Anna Easteden, appearing at the Golden Age theater, took the walking tour before her performance.

If the modern silent film the Artist wins this year, that bit of history has to be rewritten. The tour then takes us to this year’s Oscar preparations. Peaking from the second floor balcony of theHollywoodandHighlandCenter, we are greeted by a peculiar sight: On the ground level there are people walking on the red carpet , carrying signs on their neck saying Jonah Hill, Natalie Portman, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt ja Angelina Jolie. However, “Angelina Jolie” is a man and “Brad Pitt” an African-American woman. “Meryl Streep” looks surprisingly youthful, about 25, wearing jeans and a sleeveless hirt.

Stand-ins for the stars rehearsed on the red carpet saturday.

“Those are stars’ stand-ins. They rehearse the actual stars’ every move in sequence on the red carpet for the director and the cameramen,” Joni Joni Labaquin tells.

Nothing is left to chance at the Oscars. Enjoy the gala!

Tomi Hinkkanen at the 84th annual Academy Awards in Hollywood

For the complete listing of all the nominees, events and winners, go to www.oscars.org

SUSANNA PUISTO: HOLLYWOOD’S FINNISH COSTUME DESIGNER

COMING SOON:
The fascinating story of John Hauli: a mysterious man who left his small eastern Finland town of Kuusjärvi at the turn of the century in search of a better life in America and whose legacy lives on in a little piece of paradise called Hauli Huvila.

John Hauli's Hauli Huvila

SUSANNA PUISTO: HOLLYWOOD’S FINNISH COSTUME DESIGNER

REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN – LOS ANGELES
PHOTOS: JONNY KAHLEYN

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Costume designer Susanna Puisto is one of the very few Finns working in Hollywood film industry. Susanna works as a freelancer and is hired separately for each film production. A costume designer creates the clothes actors wear in movies and leads the costume department in any given production. The costumes for a movie are planned weeks before the cameras start rolling. The work requires an artistic eye and a healthy dose of diplomacy.

Susan receives the journalist and photographer at her home in Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. She lives on a hill in a detached house with stunning views of downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers. The home is warmly decorated in pastel colors. The living-room bookshelf is full of costume-design art books. Susanna plays one of the lastest films, MacGruber, from a dvd as a sample of her work. The film is a comedy, based on Saturday Night Live skits and a parody of the TV series MacGyver. It is set in the present time, but the main characters played by Will Forte and Kristen Wiig have remained stylistically in the 80′s.

– Some of the clothing was pre-determined, since they were based on well-established skits, so we had to use them. But there was only one piece of each garment and we needed a dozen. So, we had to have them taylor-made at a high price.

A common misconception is that a costume designer creates each and every piece of clothing by him or herself. In reality, they are obtained from all possible places – department stores, used clothing stores, from other designers, and from costume rental facilities. Only those clothes that are not available anywhere else are planned from scratch. A costume designer is a foreman with a budget and team. A typical studio film has a a costume budget that equals to about one percent of the total budget  i.e., in a 10 million dollar movie, it is one hundred thousand dollars.

Susanna_Puisto_by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna’s workdays are busy:

– I go to the office at eight o’clock in the morning. I start by having a meeting with my team, and give them their tasks which  include shopping for clothes and making returns. We also do product placement, that is, we will contact clothing manufacturers and designers who want visibility for their clothes. The background actors need costumes as well. My principal assistant and I go to the first fitting at 10 o’clock.  Afterwards, we upload images of the cast wearing their costumes and email them to the director. Then we go shopping for future fittings.

One of Susanna’s latest works include a drama based on a true story called “From the Rough”. She began designing outfits for it six weeks before the filming started.

– The film is about golf, so we had to learn quickly about everything related to golf. I did not have any previous experience of the subject, but that’s only a matter of studying.  My motto is: there is no need to go to the outer space in order to make outfits for a space movie. You learn something new from each assignment.

A good costume designer understands and highlights the thematic content of the scene.

– I was costuming Josh Lucas for a movie “A Year in the Mooring”. He wanted to wear a colorful t-shirt in a very dramatic scene. Isn’t that an awfully happy-looking t-shirt for such a dramatic scene, I asked him. Bad things happen to people who wear happy-looking clothes, he responded.

Susanna is known in Hollywood for her good relations with major stars. Rebecca De Mornay is one her friends who constantly asks Susanna to design her costumes. Even Val Kilmer, who has a reputation of being difficult, succumbed to Susanna’s will.

– We didn’t have any problems. In the first fitting I started to hand him his costumes: ‘this is number one, number two, number three …’, and he just looked at me. Then I started going through the rack and removed the ones which I did not feel right for Val now that I had met him. “I usually do that”, Val blurted out. Oh really, I replied. ‘Doesn’t anyone tell you no’, he asked. I answered, ‘No, do you want to be the first?’ ‘No’, he replied.

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susanna Puisto by Jonny Kahleyn

Susan has also worked with Renny Harlin on the film The Cleaner.

– I love Renny, he is absolutely wonderful!

In the thriller “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, she got to design for Michael Douglas.

– We talked on the phone first. Michael wanted to imitate the Republican politician Mitt Romney who wears tailored suits. I took it as a starting point. Douglas was used to wear specific brands, but I had a contact with the Italian clothing company Canali that makes fabulous suits.

They met for the first time at the Universal Studios.

– Michael is absolutely wonderful – a class act. They don’t make men like that anymore. He drove from his bungalow to my office in a golf cart. Michael was interested in my background. In the middle of the fitting, when my stomach began to rumble from hunger, he offered lunch.

– Once the costumes were tailored, I met Michael again in the Beverly Hills Hotel to make sure everything was ok. His wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones came along. ‘Good job,” she said, ‘Michael could use a change.’

After the filming was over, Douglas wanted and got to keep the outfits Susanna had created.

Once in a blue moon the designer can also influence casting. Susan proposed a Bulgarian-Finnish actress Vera Jordanova for a horror film Hostel II as a villainess.

– I was hired as costume designer on the movie. So, I met with director Eli Roth and producer Dan Frisch. I asked if they have already cast the part of Axelle. They said no. Then I spoke the famous words: I have a friend. They checked out Vera on the internet and called her to come to an audition. She got the part.

One cannot pin Susanna to say anything negative about any star. A large part of the job is to be able to massage big egos.

– They are all demanding. One can never say ‘no’ to anything. One has to be diplomatic. We are called the dream team. We want to please. After all, actors are the ones who have to wear the costumes. If they don’t want to, I cannot force them to do so. My job is to help the actors in their work, not make it more difficult. The costume department is often compared with the art department. I always say that they have nothing in common for walls don’t have opinions.

SUSANNA PUISTO
Born: in Helsinki
Parents: journalist-writer, Tuula Poutasuo and steel industry businessman, Raimo Puisto (divorced)
Background: The family moved to Spain in 1979. Since then, Susan has lived in Monaco, the Bahamas, New York and San Francisco, where she studied acting. Susan moved to Los Angeles in 1990 in order to become an actor. She got a job instead as an assistant costume designer for a TV series. She assisted a costume designer for three years. In order to become a costume designer herself, Susanna had to do free work on indie films and theater to prove herself. A theater play called Big Al spawned her first paid work as a costume designer for a TV pilot, and launched Susanna’s career.
Marital status: Divorced, no children
Hobbies: Traveling, nature hiking, going to galleries and playing with her dogs Misty and Scruffy.