Rade Šerbedžija: I Was Taken Hostage by Those Who Wrote Better

I am tired of representing others in my soul so much

Photo Dragana Udovičić

Actor Rade Šerbedžija has returned to the Belgrade theatre stage after 27 years, starring as George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, by playwright Edward Albee, directed by Lenka Udovički. The play had its premiere on the Brioni Islands, while the Belgrade audience had the opportunity to see it for the first time on 8th October. Šerbedžija played George back in 1991 too, at the Belgrade Drama Theatre, with Dušan Jovanović as director and co-starring Mirjana Karanović, Željka Cvetan and Aleksandar Alač. Since the play was greeted with a standing ovation, it is safe to assume that playing George was the crowning achievement of Šerbedžija’s career in theatre. For this role, he won the Zoranov Brk Award and the Zoran Radmilović Award for the best actor at the 28th Zoranovi Dani theatre festival. After almost thirty years, the Belgrade audiences had the opportunity to see you performing in theatre again.

The play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, which is centred around marital relations, was directed by your wife, Lenka Udovički. How would you describe this collaboration and is there a line that separates your private from your artistic life?

— I have been successfully collaborating with my dear Lenka, both privately and artistically, for 29 years now. There is, as people call it, real chemistry between us. Sometimes we can be very fierce when, in rehearsals, we are trying to find all the answers to the questions posed by working on a drama that we are bringing to life at that moment. For instance, I will never forget when Lenka, who was, at the time, quite a young director, told me, during the rehearsal of “Mother Courage and Her Children” in Belgrade in 1991, while I was trying to perfect a detail which was not really important, and while she was putting finishing touches on the light setting: “Šerbedžija, get off stage! I have no more time!” I was a little offended but the premiere was great and Mirjana Karanović was absolutely brilliant. Once, when I was performing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, I threw a book off stage and she later claimed that I was aiming at her, which was not the case at all. The truth is that, at the premiere at the Belgrade Drama Theatre, my acting partner Katarina Darvas hit me with a stiletto in the head, and that was Lenka’s idea, as the play’s director. Still, it’s amazing how well we get along and how we have such similar tastes and solutions in all matters of art. As far as our private life is concerned, she is the commander and I am her crazy-in-love subject. I would love if everything stayed exactly like that until I die.

You played in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with Mirjana Karanović, in Belgrade, twenty-seven years ago.  Around the same time, you also played in “Mother Courage and Her Children”, which was an anti-war theatre piece. You participated in protests, spoke out against the war in every possible way, but also wrote that you still felt guilty for not doing more. What could you have done differently?

— All of us who, as public figures, were trying to stop the evil that was devouring our nations at the time, will always think that we could have done more. Yet, after all, and despite some fervent nationalists who, from time to time, threw their nasty nationalistic jabs at me, I would still do the same, all over again. I would be on the side of the weak, downtrodden, unfortunate people. And I will always be against the war.

Photo Dragana Udovičić

Dilapidation of the world we live in and that we leaving to the next generations is one of the central themes of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. It’s been 57 years since the play premiered on Broadway. What is your view of today’s world and what has changed since then?

— For me, Albee’s play is one of the best dramas of the 20th century. He so archetypally understands the relations between men and women, and since he was a great and intelligent writer, he never slipped into triviality. All human beings can recognize themselves, with all their life problems and personal stories, in this piece. How much has the world changed since the early 1960s? I do not know. I would say that it has gotten rougher and more miserable. Nonetheless, there are still the same islands of love and happiness in these large and turbulent oceans we sail; we just need to know how to find them. It seems that Lenka and I have our haven in which we keep our children safe and in which we are building our loves and friendships.

This play was co-produced by your theatre, ‘Ulysses’ and the Belgrade Drama Theatre, which is yet another proof that cultural cooperation and exchange work well, unlike in politics. What does that say about artists and what about politicians?

It says that this format is truly needed because it helps to implement artistic projects that bring artists from across the region of the former Yugoslavia and beyond together. We, as in the Ulysses Theatre, have been collaborating with Italy, England and America and would like to get in touch with the Balkan countries with which we share similar mentalities and historical memories. As for politicians, I do not know what to say or think about them. It seems that they are truly lagging behind contemporary social movements and that they pay inadequate attention to the direction in which the lives of the peoples they represent are moving and to which they are aspiring to.

Photo Dragana Udovičić

You said that this might be your last role and that you were tired. What made you feel fed up?

— Actors often talk gibberish and even at their smartest, they sometimes run their mouth off, just like Hamlet. Of course, I belong to this category, although sometimes I happen to write and explain something in a meaningful way. Yes, I am tired of representing others in my soul so much. I’ll quote one of the many verses I wrote during my lifetime that best answers your question – “I was taken hostage by better-written characters”.

After the demise of socialism in this part of the world, you were one of a handful of public figures who still declares himself a socialist. On the other hand, nationalism is spreading its wings today. Is there any hope for the left?

— Humane ideas and movements have been created and have been persevering throughout our history while trying to make this world a better place. Sometimes that is really difficult and sometimes it seems impossible because this world is so damn imperfect.

You are an actor who is known worldwide. You said once that “Yugoslavia would never wither away in your heart”. Do you still think the same? Have you ever been indifferent to this part of the world?

— Yugoslavia is not my political idea and programme. It signifies the place in which I lived and the people to whom I belonged. The people who have brought evil to this region and its population with their actions should be ashamed of their doings and ideas. I still feel only love and understanding for all the people and nations of the former Yugoslavia in my heart.

photo Dragana Udovičić


You are, by no means, a stranger to Belgrade, as you noted in an interview once. Your New Year’s concerts have become a lovely tradition. Unfortunately, some people and places are long gone, but memories remain. What connects you to Belgrade and can you still recognize it after all these years?

— Of course, I’m no stranger to Belgrade. Belgrade was the capital city of the country where I was born and lived happily. I got married in Belgrade and Lenka’s and my first daughter, Nina, was born here. I made films with Živojin Pavlović, Dušan Makavejev, Miša Radivojević and Goran Marković in Belgrade. This is where we founded a rather unique theatre, KPGT, with the ingenious Ljubiša Ristić. My closest friends – Ljuba Tadić, Dragan Nikolić, Milena Dravić, Sonja Savić, Bora Todorović, Zoran Radmilović, Bata Stojković and Nebojša Glogovac – lived here. The deceased live in me. My dearest Cvele, Voja, Tika, Djuričko, Koja and Miodrag Krivokapić-Brik also live here, as do my tennis buddies Goran Bubanj and Rade Marković. It would be very difficult to imagine my life in Belgrade without them. This is also where my parents, who signify the gravity of my life’s axis, are buried.


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