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What was your Christmas like when you were little, what is the best memory you can remember?
Christmas at home with the family is the most beautiful thing a child can experience, and mine was thoroughly Moravian and cared for by my mother, who can still make Christmas wonderful to this day. From the beginning, I tried to continue it, but it was not possible to transfer the charm of the Moravian countryside to Prague, so I decided to create my own rituals and festive moments. But those Christmases in our childhood at home were full of customs, fragrant, full of music, because both of us loved music. Gramophones were released and some notes and melodies still evoke the moments we experienced. It was an extraordinary time when parents weren’t working as much and it was such a slowdown.

What do you take home with you?
Peace. And for my sons to realize and respect that it is a unique season, and to understand the spiritual elements of Christmas, so that they don’t take it for granted that we look forward to Santa Claus and presents. Even at their age – 12 and 14 – they are already interested in giving gifts, of course in terms of what can be made or painted.

We tapped the countryside. A few months ago you published the book Are there glasses in heaven?, stories from a South Moravian village from the revolutionary year through the eyes of a little girl. You come from Nový Šaldorf near Znojmo and in 1989 you were eleven. So is it an autobiography?
That cannot be said. Of course, I drew on my memories, but at the time I was older than the heroine of the book. I did it on purpose so that she is not yet at the age of environmental assessment or harsh condemnation, but rather just observes what is happening around her through the prism of a small child.

Of course, those who know me and are close to me will prepare and install the floor plan of the family, the scenes of the story. But I just borrowed those memories. It is a story constructed by my imagination about a historical phenomenon of the time, which is generally perceived as euphoria. But the big thing that happened in Prague could cause an earthquake in the small microworld of that family. Because back then, information reached people much more slowly than it does today.

Did you have any idea in November 1989 that something was going on because adults were dealing with it?
Yes. On the day of the events on Národní třída, I was with my parents in the theater in Znojmo for a big celebration for the 70th anniversary of the local folk art school. The whole family performed, my father taught at that school, I played the piano there, I went to ballet, to productions, and the school also included a folklore ensemble in which my brother and I played. And bits and pieces of information came behind the scenes that students were beating in Prague, that there was a revolution, a strike, a coup d’état… No one knew what to imagine under that. I was tense among the adults, but I can’t read why they were so worried. Until then, I only perceived some absurdity, like that a hundred meters behind the garden is a border plot, where I am not allowed. Otherwise, ours kept us away from grown-up things.

Where did your desire to write come from and how do you choose your topics?
Great-grandfather was a man of letters, editor of the Třebíč newspaper during the Second World War, so those genes remained deeply planted and I pulled them out. The first book (How I Wasn’t on the Lions and Other Incidents – editor’s note) was entirely based on my personal experiences, with the second I moved on and now I am on literary rest and thinking about where to go next and absorbing. I find inspiration in the stories of people around me. If you can relate to it as an author, you can hope that the reader will too. For me as an actor, the story and the emotion it carries are important. The first reader is my husband. As he has known me over the years, he knows very well where I make mistakes, where I sound like a cliché, where I am incomprehensible. He is also a litmus test of emotionality for me, he is very sensitive, so I can see from him whether it affects him or not.

I’ve read and heard reviews about you as an author: she doesn’t play tricks, she’s her own, easy-going, funny, and it’s a good read. What do you think about it?
For me, that’s a sign that the book is authentic, and that’s what I wanted. I also reach myself through the letters. I wanted people to understand that being an actress at the National Theater and shooting something does not mean that one’s character changes. We are all flesh and blood.

You are a trained teacher. What actually happened that you finally headed to the Janáček Academy for acting?
I was convinced for a long time that I would stay in my teaching profession. But as I already touched different directions of art on the “pajdák”, from artists to recitation, the desire for self-expression was probably in me and I understood that I was attracted to art. I grew up in an artistic family, but I was always wondering where the flow of expression would go. And I understood that my language, dramatic acting and feeling for a situation, as well as the ability to perform in front of people, led me to the fact that theater is “it”.

And you’ve been in that Prague National for over two decades…
With breaks. I played there in 1997, then I returned to the Mahen Theater in Brno for two years, and only in 2000 did I get an engagement in drama from the National Theatre. Then the children came, which is another role in the life of an actress, and I thought that they will play it with all its glory. And to the surprise of me and my husband, the second son came very soon, so I was only at home with them for a few years and thus I interrupted the diaper break a little. Today, I appreciate the time spent with my sons at home and tell myself that they deserved not to have to fight with me around caravans and theater dressing rooms. And for my profession, the break is actually good, you play into a different energy wave of acting and a different category of roles when I get them from it.

You have many theater and television roles to your credit, but except for “I Wake Up Yesterday” you have avoided film. Why is it? And do you believe that will change?
As a creator, you can’t influence that, the actors have to be approached by someone in the project. People who make films, who cast TV projects and who do theater are very different interest groups. And the Czech film industry can get by with those who have already been discovered (laughs), so I would have to be very suitable for someone of that type. When you’re young and interesting, which I undoubtedly was, you regret for a while that you’re not cast in a movie and you don’t go to the Lions, as it appeared in my first book. This adolescent grievance comes to life and you actually think that happiness can be found in that profession through completely different things. Now my colleague makes fun of me, saying that my second book would make a beautiful movie, but I didn’t write a role there. (laughs) That’s my dream… That if not me, then at least my artwork will touch the screen.

It was not possible to transfer the magic of Moravian Christmas to Prague, says Martina Preissová

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