The mermaid speaks: Alexandra Bokova from ‘Mermaid Down’
Alexandra Bokova was born in Stavropol, Russia. Stavropol was once an exile for Russia’s progressives such as Pushkin and Tolstoy, and established the first theater in its North Caucasus region, Stavropol Academic Theater of Drama. Theater and performing arts were a huge part of Alexandra’s childhood.
Alexandra’s grandmother, stage actress Alla Bokova, was honored as a Distinguished Artist of the Russian Federation. At age 8 Alexandra went on to host a children’s TV show called Nezhniy Vozrast. As a teenager, she immigrated to the US and planned to pursue her other passion: working in the field of human rights organizations.
Shortly after graduating from San Francisco State University, Alexandra’s path led her back to her artistic roots where she got cast as the lead in Mermaid Down.
Mermaid Down is an independent, original film based on an award-winning script written and directed by Jeffrey Grellman about a mermaid (Alexandra Bokova) ripped from the ocean. Her tail is brutally hacked off by a fisherman’s axe and she is thrown into a mental institution for women where no one believes she is a mermaid.
Mermaid Down is currently available in select theaters, streaming platforms worldwide (Amazon, iTunes, Comcast, GooglePlay, Youtube, etc), at RedBox, and is coming to DVD/Blu-Ray in early 2020.
This is Alexandra’s first feature film. She impressively got selected for the part after several auditions and out of thousands of actresses. Here’s what people had to say about her latest feature.
“As good as the flick looks, the acting on display is it’s equal with Bokova giving an impressively physical performance that conveys her every emotion without the benefit of dialog.”
“Alexandra even wore the tail for those shots and performed the stunt work herself despite knowing the camera could barely see her face in the murky water.”
“She doesn’t speak at all in the film but you do get the idea about what kind of emotions she’s going through. And how she’s able to communicate through using purely facial expressions, body language and sign language. She does a good job here of really portraying almost like an animal, a wide-eyed kind of dog if you can imagine, who’s shoved into this cage from being free in the world. I thought she did an excellent job here.”
—Geek Legion of Doom
Here’s our interview with Alexandra Bokova, be sure to check her out on Instagram.
Tell us about your history as an actor. How and when did you start your journey?
I’m from the cultural center of the Northern Caucasus region of Russia, a city called Stavropol. It used to be an exile for progressives and artists such as Tolstoy and Pushkin. My hometown theater, Stavropol Academic Theater of Drama, is actually built in the name of Lermontov. Literature, music and art is a big part of our culture and upbringing.
My grandmother, Alla Bokova, was a very talented and successful stage actress, honored by the Russian Federation as a Distinguished Artist. As a child I grew up in theater and hosted a TV show Nezhniy Vozrast. When I immigrated to the US in my teens, although it was hard fitting in and adjusting to a new country, it was also very exciting to dream of all the endless possibilities I was about to embark on.
I always felt very lucky to have the privilege of moving to the U.S. As soon as I graduated from studying Political Science in San Francisco State University, I decided to move to LA to see if there’s a place for an outlier like me in Hollywood. A month later I was cast as the lead in Mermaid Down and the rest is history.
Who were your early influences?
First and foremost, my mom and grandma. They are individually unique but both so talented, passionate, their presence is so strong and personalities very impactful (Leo and Scorpio). They are my role models. My big brother and sister influenced me in many ways because I spent a big chunk of my childhood shamelessly copying everything they did.
Gary, my dad since I was 9 years old, introduced me to Tim Burton films and most of my favorite Western musicians (BB King, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Janice Joplin).
Music played a huge influence on the way I interpreted the world. Living in Eastern Europe I had access to all kinds of music sounds and genres. From Glenn Miller to Rammstein, my taste is an explosion of variety.
For the most part, I grew up watching the movies of my grandparents and parents generations. I was fascinated by Louis de Funes, Giulietta Masina, Alisa Freyndlikh, Yul Brynner, Annie Girardot, Andrei Mironov, Sophia Loren, Adriano Celentano.
How was working on Mermaid Down? What did you learn from the experience?
I got to work with some incredibly talented people. This movie was shot on an $85k budget, so our director Jeffrey Grellman was directing, building the sets, and everything else in-between. Spending about 15 hours a day on set was like a free course on movie magic.
I got to work with super talented industry OGs Jack Edjourian and Monty Shook who custom-created my Mermaid tail (there is no CGI in the movie). Working with them was such an honor and they were so nice and so supportive. They taught me that we all set the tone of our work environment.
Everyday on set I had to pinch myself because I was just so happy to be there, despite the long hours, the often uncomfortable conditions of the freezing cold and dirty water I had to swim in, or scraping my legs crawling around during physically demanding scenes.
It was a great collaborative process of everyone involved because we wanted to be there and gave it our all. Energy is contagious and I learned the importance of bringing a positive mindset to every project.
Tell us about your career before film.
Before film I was a student working part-time jobs from Jamba Juice to Greenpeace.
Where did the concept come from for the way you performed in Mermaid Down?
In this story the Mermaid is a mythical creature not a princess. I was immediately drawn to that. I knew she had to be very animalistic, wild and free from any socially constructed concepts.
In many ways I was inspired by my family dog Graf – he’s the sweetest Boxer we rescued as a 5 month old pup. He was wild, but harmless. That was my concept for the Mermaid. Her initial instincts aren’t violence despite being physically strong and able to defend herself. She isn’t fixated on revenge but just to get back to her natural element.
The challenge was honestly portraying the Mermaid without the guide of a dialogue but through eyes, facial expressions and body language. It was a lot of fun actually because the character isn’t bound by race, gender and any social norms.
The first day of shooting our director told me to just trust my instincts. That was very empowering because it allowed me the freedom and confidence to fearlessly explore this character.
Tell us about your creative process.
I develop the character from the inside out. I study, practice, overthink it, but ultimately it comes down to my instincts. I am a bit impulsive by nature so a lot of times what I plan to do in a scene isn’t what actually happens during filming. That is all the secrets I’ll share.
What tips do you have for new actors?
Stop comparing yourself to other actors in particular and to other people in general. Living in LA can be challenging with every single person pursuing a career as an actor. But you shouldn’t focus on who’s doing what but on your own craft.
Stay focused, practice in workshops, be open to collaborate with others, and stay humble no matter what you book or how far you think you’ve come. But don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself because if you don’t nobody will. You don’t have to say yes to everything.
Can we expect to hear news of you getting behind the camera any time soon?
I love the idea that anyone can do anything they put their mind to. So I never say never, although can’t imagine directing someone without eventually getting magnetically pulled in front of the camera myself.
What’s your next project?
I have an indie feature scheduled to be released in the spring of 2020 but I can’t say much about it at this time. I am also in talks about signing on to a few feature films in 2020. Stay tuned, folks.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
I respect my parents as creatives and individuals, so trust them for support and advice. Otherwise, I’m figuring things out as I go, winging it, if you will. It’s challenging but I’m learning a lot and rely solely on myself thus, have only myself to answer to for all of my defeats and victories. I am ok with that.
I recently started working with Sharon Carnicke practicing Stanislavsky’s Active Analysis and look forward to that growing collaborative relationship. I consider the actors I practice in workshops with my mentors as well because I learn and get inspired by them. We share information and resources, it’s not competitive because we are self-assured and supportive.
I don’t think there is a script to go by when it comes to mentors. If you meet people you connect with then that’s great. If you don’t, that’s ok too. To each their own, just enjoy your journey and whoever wants or needs to be on your path will come in due time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and always keep an open mind for information. Ultimately, rely on yourself to get to where you want to be.
What’s your acting mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
To be boundless, to transcend any and every stereotype. I hope to reach a level of success that allows me the freedom to go after very versatile roles. I don’t want to be known for a singular or specific thing, I want to do it all. Ideally, the goal is always for the viewers to connect, relate to, or get a sense of belonging through a character.
Growing up, I’ve always been somewhat of an outsider. Watching Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice made me feel like it was ok to be strange and unusual. It didn’t matter to me where these actors were from and what their philosophies on life were, I connected to the characters, the stories, and felt understood and included. That’s the kind of relationship I hope to have with viewers.
Can we expect to see any episodic television from you anytime soon?
I hope so. It’s an exciting time in television with so many interesting and inclusive stories. I just bingewatched Pose on FX. It’s great to see more representation. The world is so big, colorful and diverse – I want to be a part of showing the beauty, contradiction, and irony of it all.
What’s your five-year plan?
Keep working and collaborating more with fearless filmmakers, stay alive, passionate, wild, humble and enjoy the ride. Be in a Tim Burton movie.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
This is hard because I don’t have a single favorite film and I’m sure after this interview I will remember more film’s I should’ve included on this list.
Le Notti di Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, La Grande Vadrouille, Brilliantovaya Ruka, Ivan Vasilevich Menyaet Professiyu. Probably every Tim Burton film I’ve ever seen, The Godfather I & II, Taxi Driver, Scarface, Pulp Fiction. Each in its own way taught me about the irony and complexity of human nature, and to approach life fearlessly and with a sense of humor.