We recently connected with Suzana Norberg and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Suzana, thanks for joining us today. What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
With the help of my amazing friends, I made a movie during the pandemic. When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, my Serbian immigrant grandmother made us go to the cemetery every weekend to picnic on Grandpa’s grave. Her tyranny, plus the heat and humidity made me miserable, but I could appreciate the unintended comedy of my family and always wished I had a movie camera. Forty-eight years later, I remedied that with LIBERTYVILLE, my first screenplay. It’s a 17-minute dramedy short that’s currently screening at festivals throughout the U.S. It just won the Audience Choice Award for Best Overall Film at the Borrego Springs Film Festival. I’m still feeling the stun and the thrill.
Without Director Devin Scott, and co-producer Jeanne Scott and their connections to the best crew in San Diego, I could not have made this film. Jeanne and Devin are the co-founders of American Dream Cinema – one of San Diego’s top production companies. I met them over 30 years ago as a voice talent on one of their projects, early in my acting career. After all these years of friendship, I knew that the humor and heart of my story would be in good hands with Devin. And he made it all happen in just three days of filming.
The cast is another miracle of LIBERTYVILLE. I needed actors who could speak Serbian, and child actors who could say a few lines in Serbian with a convincing accent. Not an easy task. I found three of them through LA Casting: Boyana Balta plays my mother, Keziah Wall plays 11-year-old me, and Conor Kowalski plays my 12-year-old brother.
I play my grandmother, so that was easy. Finding someone who could play my grandfather (who we see in flashbacks) seemed impossible. I reached out to local actor Randy Davison who’s married to a Serbian woman, which eventually led me to Dragan Sutalo, a local musician and Bosnian war refugee. He could not have been more perfect.
The final role was that of a widow we encountered at the cemetery when I was a child. When I found no senior actress who spoke Serbian, I asked Boyana about the reader in her audition tape — clearly a native speaker. It turned out to be her 70-year-old mother in Canada, who helps her daughter as needed via FaceTime. Even though she’d never acted before, she flew down from Canada. In a pandemic. To be in LIBERTYVILLE.
The day before everyone was to arrive, I felt like a hostess on the eve of the most important party of my life, and was terrified that no one would show up. Had even one person flaked, the entire production would have imploded. But they all came!
That, for me, is the beauty of filmmaking. That complete strangers would put everything else on hold and come together to tell a story. Whether you’re holding the boom, clapping the sticks, or pretending to die, everyone is fully committed to the magic of movies. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.
Suzana, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I grew up in Wisconsin, the offspring of Yugoslavian immigrants who encouraged me to pursue a career in nursing. Knowing that my preference to be a comedic actress like Carol Burnett would never fly (to my grandmother, “actress” was synonymous with “prostitutka”) I chose advertising copywriting. I ended up voicing a lot of the radio commercials I wrote, and when I moved to San Diego in 1985, I started doing standup at The Comedy Store. My voiceover demo and standup reel got me in with the fabulous Shamon-Freitas Agency, and I’ve been with them ever since.
I’ve been an actress for over 30 years while wrangling a day job as a marketing copywriter at The San Diego Union-Tribune, then at SDSU’s College of Extended Studies. At the latter, I was part of the mass layoff that made the news in March of 2019, and it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to my career. That plus the pandemic gave me the time I needed to make my film, and I’m pursing acting full-time now.
My joy for acting is evident in everything I do.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
No single story illustrates my resilience, rather the number of years that I’ve been pursuing my goal of making a living as an actress. Slow and steady wins the race, and I’ve got the slow part down. I remember feeling a bit panicked as age 30 was approaching, thinking “My ingenue window is closing.” Well, that thing slammed shut decades ago. But it’s also freeing; my career is all uphill from here. And I’m no longer hobbled by the 9 to 5, which meant the only auditions I could do were local and during my lunch hour. If they were running behind, I’d break into a stress sweat. Not the most ideal condition under which to audition.
My time is my own now, and I couldn’t be happier (except for being cast in BRIDESMAIDS 2 or any film starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, or Sandra Bullock). Doing what you love is its own reward, and any accolades are just frosting on the cake. Recently, I got a big dollop of frosting by winning the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 2022 Oceanside Film Festival for my role as Russian mobster “Svetlana” in Jonathan Hammond and Ryan Roach’s brilliant dark comedy, WE ALL DIE ALONE.
Have any books or other resources had a big impact on you?
Many years ago, while trapped in Cubicleville, I stumbled upon an article by acting coach Craig Archibald. It’s so beautiful that I’ve carried a copy in my wallet ever since to reread as needed. That last line reduces me to tears every time.
You are the inside.
by Craig Archibald
I was reading an article recently in “Film Comment” magazine (vol 47, no. 1) in which there was an interview with the great film director James. L. Brooks. Mr. Brooks is world-renowned as one of the top directors in Hollywood. He has been in the industry for ages and was a writer on the classic television hits “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Taxi”; he directed many Academy Award-winning films including “Terms of Endearment,” “As Good as it Gets,” “Spanglish” and the recent “How Do You Know.”
In the article, Mr. Brooks was questioned by the interviewer, Gavin Smith, about his new movie, and what came to light was the fact that Mr. Brooks feels like an outsider. He said, “I always think of myself as on the outside looking in. And I have all these fantasies about the inside — in there, people are having a good time, all the time — that’s true, isn’t it?”
And the surprised interviewer said, “You see yourself as an outsider? You’re regarded as a powerful Hollywood insider.”
I mean come on! The man has Jack Nicholson in every movie he’s done. He executive produces “The Simpsons” for crying out loud.
And Mr. Brookes replied, “Well that’s just not true.”
Right about them was when I tossed the magazine, like a frisbee, onto the floor. And as I sat and stewed on that one, a little light went off in my head. Could it be …
Over the years I have had the great fortune of meeting many of my heroes. And one of them is Mr. Al Pacino. And I remember a conversation with him in his home in Croton-on-the-Hudson, New York, where he claimed that he wasn’t on the “inside.” That it had been 15 years since he’d won the Oscar and now he just did his work happily outside the mainstream.
Then I remembered a television interview with Mr. Tom Hanks that predicted this year’s Oscar telecast in which Mr. Hanks indicated his lack of “inside,” pointing out that it’s been many years since his back-to-back wins for Best Actor.
A client of mine worked for the great Steven Spielberg and my client claims that Mr. Spielberg feels the same way — it’s been over 10 years since he won the Oscar.
So wait a second. James L. Brooks, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, and Steve Spielberg all feel like they aren’t on the inside? Well if they aren’t, then who is?
Certainly not most of the people who work in Hollywood. I’ve never met an actor who isn’t worried that they’ll never work again. I’ve never met a director who hasn’t feared his project being green lit. I’ve never met a producer who isn’t looked over their shoulder and praying the choices they’ve made work. Most certainly there’s not a writer who exists that isn’t churning with doubt. Not a casting director, not a set designer, not a prop person, not a single soul in this industry feels secure. And wouldn’t being on “the inside” make you secure?
So it occurs to me that … there is no “inside.” There is no fabled land where everyone is happy and cool and relaxed and rich and guaranteed endless contracts under the setting sun off Malibu. There is no Hollywood Hills party where the laughter rains down upon the selected few who know they are forever safe in this ever-shifting landscape. It doesn’t exist. There is no “inside.”
And if that’s true, then there’s no reason to put any effort into feeling badly because you aren’t in there. The truth is that you aren’t missing anything. There is nothing to miss. That is wasted energy.
It’s also a terrible perspective. If you’re struggling in your career (And who isn’t? Honestly, as an acting coach, I hear it every day — even from my movie star clients.) and you’re complicating your perspective with frustration or jealousy about not being on “the inside,” isn’t that a complete waste of time and energy? Isn’t that almost self-destructive? Self-defeating? Not almost, my friends. It is.
And so if there isn’t an “inside” somewhere “out there,” then doesn’t that mean that this is “the inside”? This. This right now. You reading this. Me typing it. The right now. The every second of every minute. All the things you do in your day. The moment by moment. The energy you put into your art. The actions you take to move your business forward. The classes, the conversations, the care, the attention to the life you lead, the love you share … you are on the inside. This is it. You are the inside. The only one you can ever be in.
So if this is it … make it good. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. Work hard. Then relax. Be happy. Be cool. You are rich (and I’m not talking about money). And remember: the sun sets off Malibu every day for all of us.
- Website: www.SuzanaNorberg.com
- Instagram: @suzana_norberg
- Youtube: ChristianCrafternoon
- Other: www.LibertyvilleFilm.com
Alicia Wszelaki (Libertyville poster image) Amy Storey (Santa Fe Brass Bear photo)