Alessia Sushko on artistic risk, drama as unconscious therapy, and girl power
Meet Alessia Sushko
Alessia Sushko is the rising actress and all-round esthete with good looks and bang-up style to boot. She started turning the cogs of culture at an early age as a competitive dancer and ballerina back in Belarus. Now based in the Big Apple, she’s tipped for the top as an avant-garde performer who fuses art with good causes.
When Alessia Sushko strolls into the café on West 3rd Street just off Washington Square Park, her ultra-cool elegance seems in keeping with her Belarusian roots. But her measured poise belies the sizzling, high-octane intensity the 27-year-old has been pouring on to the screen and into the theater since her House of Cards debut last year, in which she plays the politically shifty femme fatale, Svetla, embroiled in a dense thicket of Machiavellian mischief. A skilled method actor and avant-garde thespian, the Belarusian transplant is one of the most spine-tingling ingénues working in NYC today. A natural risk-taker, she prefers the raw, under the radar parts that mainstream up-and-comers tend to eschew. But there is upside to taking on contrarian and risqué roles. “I get to explore compelling roles I’d otherwise never know about,” she says enthusiastically in her suave, ultra-subtle slavic drawl. “It’s a form of ‘immersionism’ that I’m fortunate and happy about—I get to do what I love and work with amazing writers, actors and filmmakers. But it is often tough.”
Alessia started out as a dancer and ballerina from the age of 5, enduring endless practice and grueling physical discipline in the aftermath of the USSR’s rumbustious collapse. She got encouragement from her steadfast mom and kid sister, both of whom gave her oodles of inspiration and moral support in Belarus’ post-Soviet swamp. “I grew up in a sordid place in the midst of economic and political chaos,” she says. “It was a tough as nails environment that instilled in me a lot of grit and personal strength. To stir my imagination, I read Agatha Christie mysteries and ruminated endlessly on Russian classics and Dostoevsky novels. I went to school and studied a wide range of subjects—dance, literature, art, economics, etc. and got hooked on Tennessee Williams (my fave!) and Woody Allen. They were my windows unto other, more alluring worlds. It paved the way for what I’m doing today.” Fast forward a decade and half to now. Alessia’s acting credentials were established via a patchwork of parts and pieces—HBO’s Girls,The Mysteries of Laura, Gossip Girl, a few obscure TV and internet gigs in which she made quick cameos and punchy one-liners, and the newly launched Billions, in which she plays the sultry Ariadne. She also got big props for her role in FX’s Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll last year starring Denis Leary and produced by Jim Serpico. Since then, Alessia has been flitting between LA, London and NYC working with talents like Kevin Spacey and Damian Lewis. When she’s not imbibing screenplays and internalizing scripts, she’s at the gym getting fit or shooting campaigns for the likes of Redken, Aveeno and Nicole Miller. Fresh off the plane from LA, we stole a few minutes of Alessia’s time in the West Village to chat about artistic risk, why drama is unconscious therapy and Pussy Riot.
You mentioned that acting is a form of ‘unconscious therapy.’ Can you talk about that?
Yeah, for me, acting is a form of therapy because it transforms and transcends at the same time. It goes beyond the mere physical-mental realm; it supersedes the moment and liberates me on an unconscious, conscious and subconscious level all at once. The effect is overwhelmingly therapeutic and extremely empowering.
Who are a few of your role models and inspirations?
I have so many. Film-wise, I love Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen and Alejandro Inarritu. My favorite philosophers are Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Charles Bukowski. Some personal role models include my mom and sister, Christy Turlington Burns, Liv Ullmann and Emma Watson. And there are many more people who have shaped me as a person and informed my worldview.
What does art mean to you and how would you sum up your personal philosophy?
Art is a mechanism for transforming and transcending meaning. It is a way of seeing and becoming; a way to experience personal growth and to see new vistas. To paraphrase the poet Charles Bukowski, “You have to die a few times before you can really live.” That means you have to take on risk and get comfy with uncertainty to grow.
You are involved with the organization FAIR GIRLS and often campaign on behalf of women and humanitarian causes. Can you be more specific about what you do?
FAIR GIRLS is an anti-human-trafficking organization based in DC. It stands for Free, Aware, Inspired, Restored. I actively serve as a counselor to girls who have been victims of bonded labor and human trafficking and I do my very best to help traumatized young women get back on their feet and empower themselves through educational programs and mental health. I’m a huge fan of Andrea Power, the founder of FAIR GIRLS, and I’m honored and delighted that I can try to make a difference in the lives of those affected by sexual slavery and inhumane conditions.
Why is Tennessee Williams so important to you?
He is my God and his plays are sacred to me. He is one of the most autobiographical of American playwrights and I’m enamored of his unshakable commitment to his art. I have so much respect for Williams’ masterful character development, plot construction and writing—his plays are always perfectly integrated and connect theme, plot and characterization in the best, most nuanced ways.
What was it like to work with Pussy Riot on House of Cards and why were they even on the show in the first place?
They were amazing! They are the world’s number one balaclava-clad punk protesters and Russian rebels. In the third episode of House of Cards, Pussy Riot attended a state dinner held by power-luster President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), along with Russian President Viktor Petrov. After an acrimonious meet and greet, Pussy Riot and activist Pyotr Verzilov (also playing himself) interrupted Petrov’s fancy toast with a tirade against the Kremlin kleptokrat. I consider them to be art-political agitators fighting for the rights of women, the oppressed, and waging a war on censorship and obscurantism. Respect!
Favorite fashion lately?
I love any and all avant-garde rebels and underground designers who are shaking up the industry. I’m really inspired by Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons. I loved what Chanel just showed in Paris—the ‘eco-couture’ concepts were really cool and relevant!
What do you do in your spare time?
Lately I’ve been learning how to play the piano.
To all my friends and fam! One love! ❤