To gauge Kosovan actor Arta Dobroshi's standing in her homeland, one need look no further than a recent skit on one of Kosovo's most popular television programmes. The piece revolves around a screenwriter's despair after failing to convince anyone to finance his film about a screenwriter trying to make a film with Dobroshi.
The 30-year-old is something of a national treasure these days, having earned worldwide acclaim for her performance in the titular role of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence. In the film, she plays an Albanian immigrant in Belgium who enters a marriage of convenience with a junkie (Jeremie Renier) to obtain citizenship. The plan is for the husband to overdose so Lorna can then remarry and bestow citizenship on a rich Russian gangster. For her co-operation, Lorna is promised money with which she and her real boyfriend can open a snack bar.
There must be many people in Kosovo trying to meet you now.
Well they meet me - I walk down the streets when I'm there. I was known before, but people now recognise me much more. People are very nice and proud of me - they say, 'We feel like we are you, you've represented our culture.'
We had the war [between the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Serb-led Yugoslavian federal forces in the late 1990s] and since I was born we've had a bad situation here. For somebody from this region to have the success that I have had is meaningful to other people. I am one of them.
How did you prepare to play Lorna?
I went to Belgium and started a two-week course in French, because I didn't speak the language. Then I spent one-and-a-half months doing rehearsals, and after that we shot for three months - it was done chronologically so it helped me a lot. I stayed alone then and didn't go out. After the day's shooting, I went back to the hotel room. On Saturdays and Sundays, which I had off, I went to the pool. I never saw anyone - because Lorna is also alone and I tried to live her life. If we were filming a scene in which she was sad, I kept that sadness with me because it helped me.
Did the time you spent living in the US when you were younger shape your approach to playing an immigrant?
I lived there for a year. But it was different: I was 16 and I was there as an exchange student with my brother. With Lorna it's different - she went somewhere to have a better life but couldn't get her papers. If you are an immigrant, you go to another place because you want to have a better life. Lorna's life was so bad that she escaped.
Have you ever had the feeling of wanting to escape?
Of course - I was like every youngster I guess. Even if you live in Hong Kong or America, you have that feeling of wanting to escape. I was raised in Pristina and my family and I live there happily because the war is over. During wartime, we didn't want to escape. If I had escaped, I would have felt bad for my country; if you go elsewhere, you cry every day.
I spent the last three months of the war in Macedonia with my mother and two brothers because my father said, 'You have to leave.' But he stayed in Pristina. Those three months were terrible. When we heard [Yugoslav president] Slobodan Milosevic was toppled, my brother and I went with the Nato [forces] into Kosovo to see our father. It was such a bad feeling being far from home, we wanted to go back as soon as possible.
With your career advancing internationally, would you consider moving elsewhere for the sake of convenience?
That's normal, it's part of being an actor. I love it - I'm a person who loves to travel. I never wanted to live in one place. It has nothing to do with where I came from, it's just my personality. I have no children and I don't have any responsibilities so I can go wherever I want to.
Lorna's Silence is screening now