BElgrad born, Sydney-raised actress Bojana (pronounced “boy-yana”) Novakovic made up for lost time and met her taboo-breaking aunt, “the most sought-after hairstylist in rural Serbia,” a brash, loud, and confident bohemian whose taste in vintage clothing left her stand out at glamorous parties.
Between seasons, she played the idiosyncratic, sarcastic Clara on the Melbourne-based binge series Love meNovakovic completes her screenplay and directorial debut. It’s called a “documentary soap opera”. The Forbidden Auntin which she interviews her aunt Gordana, who is sometimes suspicious of her niece’s motives.
Novakovic, 41, also stars in the film, portraying her aunt as a character in a Turkish soap opera, a genre Gordana loves. The film is both an exercise in understanding how the women in her family fared in “patriarchal, communist” Serbia and a way to get to know this exuberant aunt.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t allowed to hang out with her because she had a drinking problem,” Novakovic says via video call. She speaks from her living room lined with books and photos in Astoria, a neighborhood in New York City’s Queens she loves for its melting pot of Greeks, South Asians, Arabs and people from the former Yugoslavia.
Novakovic has recently split her time between the US, Australia and Japan, where she has acted in film and television, interspersing all of that with frequent trips to Serbia. Family and friends on every continent have commented that she is much more like Gordana than her own mother, Biljana, Gordana’s sister.
“My aunt drank like a fish, just like me,” says Novakovic, tilting her head and resting her chin on clasped hands in a mockingly coquettish manner, before adding, “She had many lovers, just like me.”
She laughs. “We found photos of me and all my ex-boyfriends and her and all her ex-boyfriends, and we both fell in love, like, you know…” For a dime? “As if there were no consequences.”
Novakovic’s own teenage struggles with the bottle unfolded completely unaware of her wayward aunt’s drinking problem. “I don’t drink now, and I haven’t drunk in 17 years. I struggled with addictions and eating disorders…they really took over my life.”
“I don’t drink now, and I haven’t drunk in 17 years. I had problems with addiction and eating disorders. They really took over my life.”
However, followers of Novakovic on social media won’t find the actor indulging in the “culture of exhibitionism” around addiction issues. Rather, she expresses deep concern about the environmental impact of, for example, Rio Tinto’s proposed lithium mine in Serbia, although she will speak about past addictions for the right audience – for example, when speaking to young people about mental health.
“We have a culture of exhibitionism about how hard life can be,” she says. “I don’t have to exhibit – you know, ‘poor’. That’s not what Instagram is for.”
Novakovic carefully curates her personal story on her terms, with the greater good in mind. In 2019 she wrote the foreword to a book entitled Beating Endo: How to Reclaim Your Life from Endometriosis. In 2020, another essay detailed living with endometriosis for more than 20 years, beginning with being wrongly told as a teenager that it’s “normal for girls to have painful periods.”
After a 2005 laparoscopy came back negative for endometriosis, “I was told the pain was in my head,” Novakovic wrote. Then came a long road, until 2017, when she was diagnosed with small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), an inflammatory condition that led to a gynecologist suggesting she had long-standing endometriosis.
“The condition doesn’t just affect the pelvic region,” she wrote. “The body’s response to the inflammation it causes sensitizes the central nervous system, and that can also produce emotional symptoms like anxiety.”
Novakovic went to see a therapist because of the fear. “In therapy, I realized that my recovery depended not only on following diet and procedures, but also on being honest about my pain—first with myself and then with my partner.
“In relationships, I’ve often aspired to be a superhuman, super-cool, can-do-anything girlfriend. After my diagnosis, I made a big change. I’ve never pretended to be physically better than I actually was.”
Novakovic came to Australia at the age of seven with her computer programmer parents, Radovan and Biljana, and attended McDonald College in Sydney’s North Strathfield. (Her mother became a sculptor and earned two master’s degrees in fine arts.) Meanwhile, Novakovic, who was already an avid observer of the nightly news bulletins to keep up with the wars in Yugoslavia, got involved from the age of 14 in protests, notably a student strike in the mid-1990s against French nuclear tests in the Pacific.
Novakovic recalls being struck by the deaths of children in the war. “I wanted to be Princess Diana; She helped children. I thought: I have to be famous and how do I become famous? I will be Princess Diana. And how do I become Princess Diana? Well, I’m marrying a prince. And how do I marry a prince? When I was 10, I saw a documentary about Grace Kelly and I thought: I’m going to be an actress!”
The authors of Love me may not realize it, but Novakovic brings a lot of her own experience and outlook on life to the role of Clara. In the first season, set in the middle of a Melbourne winter full of scarves, coats and gloves, Clara used humor and sarcasm to ward off attachment to her boyfriend Peter (Bob Morley).
The second season is set in Melbourne in the spring, and Clara has broken her guard over Peter but is struggling to conceive. “That’s all she wants,” says Novakovic.
The first season depicted the different reactions of three family members
When mourning the death of family matriarch Christine (Sarah Peirse), Clara encounters another form of grief, “the grief of being able to have a child or not. her brother Aaron [William Lodder] had this baby and Clara is struggling to get pregnant and that affects her relationship with Peter in a very special way.”
Many of Novakovic’s girlfriends loved the first season but thought Peter was “unrealistically awesome” as a friend. “Well, he’s not that great in season two,” Novakovic says, laughing.
Peter begins to have concerns about the relationship. “He’s actually a person with a lot of problems,” she adds. “By the way, his hesitation is entirely justified, but there’s no way Clara and a whole host of other women I know – I might even be one of them – will ever compromise.
“She’s 39, almost 40. You don’t wait for someone to pull themselves together to get pregnant, especially if you haven’t frozen your eggs.”
“She’s 39, almost 40. You’re not waiting for someone to get their act together so you can get pregnant.”
We talk about how Novakovic’s life influences Clara’s storyline in season two, but she asks to keep the details private. Likewise, Novakovic never names her friends — she’s never shown any on her Instagram account — and won’t discuss her current partner other than shake her head and wave her hand dismissively when I ask if he’s an actor, too.
We talk about how parents who don’t say they love their child, as with Clara and her mother Christine, can affect a child’s defenses. Clara’s father Glen (Hugo Weaving), on the other hand, makes his love for his daughter clear.
“By the time you’re able to actually intellectualize your parents’ inability to talk about love, it’s already too late,” she says. “The formation of your character, your defenses, is based on a certain amount of self-loathing.
“Whether that self-loathing ultimately propels you to some form of success, or actually implodes and induces depression and anxiety, or does both, it’s already happened, that character is formed.
“I feel like that element of season one was so crucial in understanding Clara because it was a big part of keeping her from letting anyone in. It’s ‘If I’m such a piece of shit, how can anyone like me?’ And ‘If someone likes me, then they can’t be that great because they don’t really know me; I fool them really well.”
Unsurprisingly, Novakovic has some ideas for her character’s development, though Love me gets the green light for a third season. “It might not be a bad idea for Clara to go to therapy and we talk about all of this,” she says. “My experience is that you choose to parent [who says they love you]because you want to feel validated.”
https://www.smh.com.au/culture/tv-and-radio/bojana-novakovic-you-don-t-wait-for-someone-to-get-it-together-so-you-can-get-pregnant-20230223-p5cmzy.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture “Love Me” actress Bojana Novakovic on the second season and her directorial debut