Rising star Viktoriya Agalakova spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about playing Polina on Netflix’s international hit series, ‘To the Lake’.
* This interview contains spoilers for ‘To the Lake’ Season 1.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT [NIR REGEV]: The scene where Polina cries as her family departs the morning after Misha’s rejection looked heartfelt. If Misha hadn’t come to look for Polina later in the season, do you feel Polina would have gone to search for him on her own?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: I think, no. She has hardly ever been turned down. She is quite cocky, and Misha’s “I don’t love you,” humiliated her and made her incredibly vulnerable.
That is to say, at the time when she was leaving with her dad and Marina, there were two most difficult events in her life in her life – the death of her mother and this boy rejecting her. In adolescence this is like falling through the ground – as if there is no further life, only darkness.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Why do you feel Polina most connects with Misha? Unlike her father & Marina, she is instantly accepting of Misha at their first dinner together.
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: Because subconsciously, Polina feels in him the same notorious and unhappy teenager, just like herself. The only difference between them is that she hides her complex emotions behind aggression and teenage rebellion – manipulation, alcohol, defiant behavior – where he is a well-mannered, shy and controlled boy.
They are like Yin and Yang. This is what grabs her interest. She wants to “stir him up”, and get him to do something daring and impulsive.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: How do you feel about the obvious parallels to the coronavirus pandemic and the virus theme of the series?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: A lot of parallels! Of course, in the series, everything is somewhat more serious and fantastic – death, cannibalism, betrayal. But the closure of borders, the panic… this is exactly what was happening in the real world, and it could not but surprise me.
Personally, I am not really worried by the presence of the virus as such. I am quite calm about diseases – because if something is destined to happen, then it will happen, one way or another. Therefore, I just accept the circumstances of the pandemic and live my life in them.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The role reversal where Polina is locked with her family in a basement with barely any water or food is definitely a life lesson. Treat others the way you want to be treated… You never know when you’ll be on the other side. What was it like shooting this destitute scene?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: I think this was a really remarkable scene! After all, my heroine, in principle, did not know any hardships in her childhood – she had a wealthy family, she was spoiled, and the transformation that is happening to her here is, in my opinion, very powerful.
On the set, we were worried that we would not be able to see anything, but in fact it turned out that an infrared light device was attached to the camera lens, so we could see what was happening, and we had to do a “absent look” to make everything believable.
And from an actor’s point of view, it was really interesting – as were, in general, all the scenes in which I filmed.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What’s your favorite behind the scenes story on ‘To the Lake’?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: There are many stories! Every day we had a story. I remember a huge number of night shifts, piercing cold, because of which I had to put on a bunch of insulation under the main costume of the character, and in this regard, the inability to drink anything hot, since we simply needed a lot of time to go to the restroom to take off and put back on this pile of clothes. But all these difficulties fade away when you work as a single, close-knit team.
It was really an amazing project, incredible people all around – it all came together like a puzzle. This rarely happens. I enjoyed my work immensely.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Polina is initially presented as an independent, rebellious, at times reckless character. An alcoholic. But over time it becomes clear she’s immensely vulnerable and cares about others… Maybe more than anyone else on ‘To the Lake’. How do you feel about this gradual reveal of who Polina really is?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: Well, Polina is actually quite a positive girl, but life circumstances – such as the death of her mother and the betrayal of her father – open up other sides in her. She is closed off inside, and outwardly behaves defiantly. This is a fairly common adolescent problem, when a person is still unable to analyze oneself and help oneself, and adults nearby do not understand this, or simply do not want to waste their time with a child.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: I felt your best scene overall on ‘To the Lake’ was at the hospital when Polina’s father wants to pull the plug on her mother. Polina desperately yells, “She’s still alive!” Simply tremendous acting. Did you utilize emotional recall or sense memory of a particularly painful moment to evoke that kind of emotional response?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: What helped me the most was how the scene was written in the script. That is, at the very initial stages of preparation, when reading the script, I immediately knew how I would play it. And Polina’s actions here work for the viewer, not because of my performance of her character, but because of the contrast in the character’s moods, because you don’t expect to see such emotions from Polina.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: When Polina opens herself up and finally admits to loving Misha, he rejects her coldly. This is one of the rare times the audience sees Polina let her guard down. What do you feel Polina was thinking during that moment?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: She sees that it is hard for Misha, her emotions are close to the surface; she understands what he is going through at the moment because she also lost her mother. It also seems to me that she unconsciously opens up to him, which she later regrets, since she does not see him do the same.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Why do you feel Polina is haunted by the murder of the armed henchman at her father’s estate despite what he was going to do to Marina if she hadn’t stepped in?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: Well, as you may recall, Polina is in fact, a kind girl in thick armor, and the fact that she killed a person oppresses and torments her. Therefore, he appears to her in difficult moments, acting as the voice of her conscience.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What was the day-to-day shooting process of ‘To the Lake’? Did you have a personal acting ritual you did to get into the mindset of the character everyday?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: On the way to the set, I always listened to a playlist that I specially made when preparing for the role. It always helped me to tune in to the character in the right way.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: ‘To the Lake’ is one of the best Netflix surprises of the year here in the US. How do you feel about the show’s international reception?
I am extremely glad that the foreign audience liked our project. We made it with love, and therefore we are very pleased that people enjoy watching it – after all, that is what we worked for. Many foreigners write to me; they leave detailed reviews about our project – and, honestly, it is incredible, and it’s hard to believe.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What can fans anticipate for Polina and Misha in a potential Season 2? Do you have any personal hopes for Polina’s direction narratively?
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: We have an amazing writer and a really cool team – so I try not to make assumptions, and I look forward to reading Season 2.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Viktoriya!
VIKTORIYA AGALAKOVA: Thank you!
– Watch actress Viktoriya Agalakova as Polina on ‘To the Lake’ now over at Netflix.
Viktoriya Agalakova Photos:
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Be sure to check out The Natural Aristocrat®’s recent video interview with Niv Sultan & Shervin Alenabi on Apple TV+ series Tehran.