by Rainbow Kirby
photography by Jaramay Aref
Margarita Levieva’s sophistication and wise words flow effortlessly over the phone as she shares her road less traveled – from gymnast to student to actress – since fleeing Russia and coming to America at age 11 with mom and twin brother. Lost in a new country, she sought refuge in the familiarity of rhythmic gymnastics, but found training drastically different here. Her Russian Olympic team, subsidized by the government, enabled the trainers “to do whatever they wanted to you. Physical abuse was part of it. In the U.S., I saw girls eating sandwiches and drinking water during practice. I was shocked.”
As a young gymnast, Margarita went to the East Coast Regionals where she learned she couldn’t compete for the U.S. at the national level. By that point, she had already won several NY state championships, among some other East coast states. Today, she has her green card and will soon apply for citizenship. She calls the States home, and refers to herself as a downtown Manhattanite, but when the Olympics roll around she admits she still roots for her birth country.
The Obama whirlwind has personally inspired her because she knows what it’s like to be an immigrant fueled by hope. “There were possibilities. Growing up in Russia there weren’t. You had to decide a major by 16, and whatever you chose became your profession and that was it. This is a country where anything is possible if you work hard enough. I am very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.” As an example, she refers to a friend’s elation over the President’s recent announcement of common law/domestic partnership benefits and his White House invitation extended to Gay Rights Activists in June.
Margarita hails from what she calls an “intellectual” family. Her mother was a mathematics professor in St. Petersburg, Russia, specializing in informational science and applied mathematics. She was chosen as one of the first professors to teach informational science in Russia. “Education was always very important to me. I was approached to model, but never wanted that. I wanted school and to study.” And that she did. She majored in Economics and Psychology with three minors – Philosophy, Sociology and Russian History. “I’m just a curious person,” she adds sheepishly.
Her longing to become an actress began with her childhood admiration for world-renowned Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. “She’s a performer, an artist, and an actor; she molds into whatever character she’s dancing. To me, that was memorizing.”
For Margarita, acting was a distant dream. “I had to learn English, and people told me, ‘You shouldn’t bother, this isn’t going to happen for you.’” That’s all she needed to hear. When she was accepted into the prestigious William Esper Studio in New York, new doors opened. Does she think pursuing formal study helped her be taken more seriously than traveling directly to LA and winging it? “I think so. I look at things differently. I’m not in it for the quick fix; I want to develop a career I’m proud of.”
With her role in 2007’s supernatural thriller, Invisible, she was filming in LA for almost a year. “I do like it [LA], but I prefer New York… creatively it gives me more.” She fell in love with her character, Annie, a troubled girl with a dark side. “This kind of part is hard to come by. She wasn’t a love interest. She wasn’t someone’s daughter. She was her own. The more dramatic stuff drew me in.”
She did a 180 from the dramatic role this past spring with Adventureland (opposite Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart), playing Lisa P., the hot, sassy girl that everyone crushed on. “Comedy was harder. I was so self-conscious with so many funny actors on set. I kept thinking: am I funny enough?”
This summer, she’ll appear in Spread, which she says holds true to its sexy title. Ashton Kutcher plays a serial womanizer who sleeps his way to privilege using wealthy women (including Anne Heche), but develops feelings for a gorgeous waitress (Margarita) playing her own games to survive. I ask her reaction to the photos posted of her with Kutcher, which seem to imply there is more than acting between the two co-stars. “I was mortified. It does upset me… the whole gossip world.” She shares that even when actors are between takes, “you’re not going to just walk away. You’re still looking at each other, sharing that intimacy.” And that’s what the paparazzi caught with their lenses.
Growing up in Russia, Margarita didn’t want to read about actors. “It takes away from their roles if you know too much about them. Even with Russian cinema there was no happy ending. It was real. They don’t get back together. Sometimes someone dies, live with it.”
She believes indie films are greater for risk-taking. “Big romantic comedies have to be beautiful, sweet and likeable. Indies give you more opportunity to portray a female who’s like a bull and has a few skeletons in her closet.”
Encouraged by many to share her life’s story, she says, “I’m definitely open to writing a screenplay.” In the meantime, she’s looking for auditions “like crazy. As an actor, we’re always unemployed. It’s part of your life, constantly looking for work, to be inspired, to create something.”