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!