Nina Arianda was just months out of graduate school when she landed the role actress-seductress Vanda in the Off Broadway play "Venus in Fur." Since then, the 27-year-old hasn't stopped. She has been nominated for a Tony for her performance in the Broadway version of "Venus," following her nomination last year for her portrayal of Billie Dawn in "Born Yesterday," and this week she received a Lilly Award from an organization honoring women in theater. She's also scored roles such films as "Midnight in Paris," "Win Win" and "Higher Ground." It's no wonder ELLE put her on their 30 Under 30 list, noting that she's been compared to a "young Meryl Streep." Arianda spoke with HuffPost Women about her rapid rising star and why the role in "Venus" has meant so much to her.
It's been only a few years since you got your MFA in acting at NYU, and so much has happened -- you were in a Woody Allen movie and starred in two Broadway shows. What's been the most amazing part?
It's been wild. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised, honestly very moved, by the response from the women that I have met. I don't know if I was expecting it, which makes me feel bad. I've had a very supportive mother my entire life, so I've had strong women around me. But there's something very profound about having your peers and women who are maybe older or just people that you admire so much and who understand what you do support you. The legends that have come up to me or that I have very embarrassingly, shyly gone up to -- I mean, Cherry Jones, Judith Light. Everyone talks about the nasty part of the business, and it is there, obviously, but nobody talks about the community as much as they should.
Did you always know you wanted to act?
When I was a kid, my daily routine was playing make-believe, and I kind of created these stories throughout the day. And when it came time to go to preschool, my English wasn't really so great because my mother wanted me to learn Ukrainian, so she signed me up for these children's theater groups. I think we met either once or twice a week, and I just kind of got bit. I didn't know that there was a formula to what I was doing, that people actually supported this crazy world that I lived in during the day. Before that, though, I did a recital when I was 3, a poetry recital at this Ukrainian event. And the poem was, I would say, mildly if not greatly patriotic toward Ukraine. And there were a lot of first-wave immigrants in the audience, a lot of older people, and they were very moved by the poem. I don't know why I remember it so well, but the response was so overwhelming -- a room full of older people just crying.
You lived in Germany for a few years growing up. How did that affect you?
It was kind of the epitome of "absence makes the heart grow fonder." Before I left for Germany, I had gotten accepted to the performing arts high school in New York, which was a big dream of mine. And having to leave that was very sad for me. The high school in Germany –- with the support of my parents –- agreed to create a curriculum for me that was similar to that of a performing arts high school. So during the morning, I would have regular academic classes, and in the afternoon, I would do something toward the performing arts. It's very cliché, but to keep the dream alive, I continued doing everything I could.
You famously nailed your auditions, getting your two Broadway roles with no callbacks. What is it like for you going into auditions? Where does that confidence come from?
I don't know if it's confidence, but I do know that it's determination, and it's an insatiable appetite to work. Every audition is different, but I get incredibly nervous and insecure and worked up for however long I have to prep -– that's when I get to spin. But you're not allowed to spin once you enter the room. Doubt really can't enter the room when you're auditioning -- unless it's part of the character. Because it's not about you. It's about what you're saying or your character. So you have to make the strong choices and go with whatever honors the person you're representing.
When you got the part in "Venus in Fur," did you have any sense of what it would do for your career?
Absolutely not. I didn't even think I was going to get the part. It was the summer, which is a very slow month for auditioning. So I got a job as a hostess, and I was doing that and auditioning at the same time. I just got out of grad school maybe five or six months before, and it was a two-person show Off Broadway. Was it a goal of mine to get it? Obviously. But I certainly didn't have that expectation going into the room. I was at my friend's apartment [when I got the news], and I just kind of had to leave. I remember not breathing very well. And I walked across town talking to my mother on the phone, just in complete shock.
So how does it feel now to be performing every night after dreaming of this your whole life?
I feel ill when I'm not doing it, so there's something in that. And I think that's a very special, very weird thing about actors. You feel more like yourself playing something else, and there's a great deal of comfort in that. You feel at home. From that place, you can communicate who you are. It's my Facebook and my Twitter and it's my love at the same time. I share myself when I'm on stage, and it's with a higher purpose, which is representing, in this case, a strong, layered, complex, brilliant woman. Because I love the character so much, the lines blur for me a little bit sometimes. Maybe it does have to do with the length of time we've been at it, but other actors have done other parts for far longer than I've done this one. First of all, she's an extraordinary woman, on paper and off paper. And the other part of it is a character like this does not really exist, I don't think –- a woman who is so classic and modern at the same time and so smart and sexy, who is allowed to show her strength and her vulnerability at the same time. I don't think I've ever read a part like that before. I don't mean to sound crass, but you really learn about what it's like to have balls of steel. And she does. Minus the S&M part, a lot of the show does touch upon things that I'm reflecting on.
Do you know what you'll do after this?
No, I want to give her a proper farewell. We'll see what happens, but this is a very important chapter that I want to pay homage to as much as I can.
You've been nominated for back-to-back Tony nominations in your first two Broadway roles. What does that mean to you?
It means the world to me, but I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I think if I actually did, my brain might explode, so I say thank you, and I do the best I can. It's wonderfully overwhelming.
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