Ana Golja stars and produces the heartfelt film ‘The Cuban.’ She spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HL about how she came up with the concept for the film, bonding with Louis Gossett Jr., and more.
The Cuban is in select theaters and is now available on VOD. The film follows a nurse named Mina, who befriends a patient who has Alzheimer’s disease. As they grow closer, he tells her about his incedible past as a famous Cuban musician.
Ana Golja stars as Mina in The Cuban, but she also serves as a producer. Both Ana and her producing partner, Taras Koltun, were inspired to tell the story because of their own relationships with their elderly family members. Ana spoke with HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY about the journey to get this movie made, why working with Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. was like a “masterclass” in acting, and wanting to tell more of her own stories in the future.
What was the inspiration behind this film? I know it’s something that’s very close to you.
Ana Golja: It’s very personal. So pretty much I was between seasons on Degrassi, and I was itching to do something that was creative but expanding my horizons within the industry. I was kind of looking for stories to tell, and maybe do a short film or something. During this time, I was going through a lot with my great-grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I noticed what an incredible impact that music had on her whenever we played it in the house. Specifically, when we played music from her past, it really brought her to life. At the same time, my partner Taras Koltun had a dream about his grandfather. He also passed of Alzheimer’s, and Taras was in a state where he just really wished that he spent more time with him and listened to his stories and perhaps used music as therapy just to know more about him. We pretty much just came together and decided that we wanted to make a short film and tell this story and create a positive impact of some sort. I took it to Sergio Navarretta, who’s our director, and he instantly connected with it. From there, we pitched it to the writer, Alessandra Piccione, who also had personal experiences with Alzheimer’s. So at that point, the four of us came together and just decided to make this film come to life.
Is the character of Mina modeled a lot like you or if she very different from you?
Ana Golja: That’s a question that our writer Alessandra would definitely be able to answer better than I can, but there are definitely a lot of aspects of myself in Mina, just in terms of that coming of age story and finding your voice and figuring out what you stand for and what you want your purpose to be on this planet. There are a lot of similarities, even in terms of culture. I’m Albanian, but there are a lot of similarities to the Afghan culture. There are a lot of similarities for sure, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100% based on me and my personality,
What was it like working with Louis Gossett Jr. and really establishing Mina and Luis’s bond?
Ana Golja: I had the privilege of getting to know Lou really well before we started shooting. We really hit it off immediately, and we got to really build a beautiful bond before we even started shooting. Once we stepped on the set, it really was just being in the moment and telling this beautiful story as authentically as possible. Lou has this incredible gift of really being able to bring you into that present moment, regardless of what’s going on. As both a producer and actress in the film, it was really tough to kind of juggle the two roles. But Lou has that gravitas and that ability to just bring you right there to him and nothing else exists. It really was like a masterclass in acting every time I was alongside him.
Music plays a huge role in this film. Is music something that’s very personal to you, or is it something that you got to learn about throughout filming?
Ana Golja: Music is a huge part of my life and always has been, including my upbringing. My grandfather was an opera singer back in Albania. My whole family, even though it’s not what they do for a living, they’re all very artistic. So I’ve always been a huge fan of jazz music, specifically Afro Cuban jazz. I listened to a lot of it growing up. Music really is the core of what started this whole process. I saw firsthand my great grandmother come to life and become a lot more social and almost become a different person right in front of my eyes whenever we played music for her, so it was very important to have that showcased in the film.
What was it like for you to balance producing and acting? Is that something you want to do more of in the future?
Ana Golja: It was a lot more difficult than I ever had anticipated. There’s nothing that can prepare you for something like that. I was just very fortunate to have such an incredible team around me. My director, Sergio, and writer/producer Alessandra and producer Taras really carried a lot of production weight so that Sergio and I could really focus on the storytelling. It was very tough to detach in that sense and not listen to all the noise happening in the background and just focusing on the task at hand and being as authentic as possible with the film while we were shooting. But it is definitely something that I would do again, hands down. I want to continue being in charge of the stories that I get to tell and the roles that I create for myself. I definitely see myself doing this long term.
What do you hope viewers take away from this film?
Ana Golja: I really hope that they remember that their grandparents and great grandparents, their neighbors, our aging population. They were young once. We really need to refer back to them and cherish them because, especially now during COVID and situations like this, they’re leaving us at a higher rate than ever before. We really don’t know when they’ll be taken away from our lives, so we really need to appreciate them and make the most of our time with them.