Sofia Lebedeva is one of those actresses who was told for much of their life: “You’ll never be in high demand.” But, the opposite came true. At 28, she has already played roles in almost 50 Russian and foreign cinema and TV projects. She is to appear in two set for release this winter: the second season of the sequel to ‘Vikings’ on Netflix - ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ (set 100 years after the events of the original series) - and a movie about the development of the famous video game ‘Tetris’, directed by Jon S. Baird.
Sofia was born in Obninsk, Kaluga Region, Russia’s first naukograd (‘science city’). She comes from a family of academics and this fact had a great impact on her life. Her parents wanted her to have a similar career to theirs.
Sofia was raised as a versatile child. She was sent to a local theater studio and to rhythmic gymnastics classes. She devoted 10 years of her life to the latter and became a Candidate Master of Sports of Russia. But she didn’t make a career in sport. She was not considering professional sport. She said, she was praised, but, in general, her physical specifics would not have allowed her to get to the top. She was prone to plumpness and all she remember was her coach always telling her: ‘Sonia [short for Sofia], you need to lose weight, you need to lose weight’.
At the same time, at the Obninsk theater studio things went well. Director Oleg Demidov spotted the young girl’s talent. Her parents, though, still hoped that she would take an academic path and tutored her to sit exams for the Faculty of Global Studies at Moscow State University (MGU).
At 15, Sofia finished school with a diploma good enough to apply to MGU but, in the end, she chose to go to drama school in Moscow and got in at her second attempt. At drama school, when she didn’t get through to the subsequent stage at the Shchepkin Higher Theater School, she asked one of the teachers: ‘Why? What’s wrong?’ She was told that she had no talent and would never become an actress. Later, in her studies at drama school, they kept telling her she had a high and unusual voice and, as such, she was not cut out for an acting career. But, all this only spurred her on.
After completing her studies, she got a place in the theater and regularly played on the stage of the Moscow Art Theater, the Mayakovsky Theater, the Meyerhold Center and other theaters in the capital, receiving leading roles. But, her cinema work, at that time, was confined to occasional roles in TV shows and short films.
Everything changed in 2014, when Sofia Lebedeva was given a part in the feature-length war drama ‘The Dawns Here Are Quiet’. To get the role, she had to put on 8 kg in weight, cut off her magnificent long hair and overcome her fear of water: In one of the scenes, her character is sinking in a swamp. Twenty takes were required to film the scene and they were a “real ordeal”.
McMafiaHossein Amini, James Watkins/BBC One, 2018
The dedication she displayed in her debut movie did not go unnoticed - after the movie came out, she was noticed by other directors. This was when she decided not to confine herself to Russian cinema work and hired an agent from the UK. The foreign viewer had already had a chance to assess her talent in 2018: In the British TV show ‘McMafia’, Sofia played the part of a girl who had been sex trafficked. In preparation for the role, the actress met actual victims of violence.
The result of this collaboration with a foreign team exceeded all expectations - the series won an Emmy award. Soon after, Sofia became a rising star on the foreign market.
Taron Egerton on set of Tetris with Sofia Lebedeva and Nikita Efremov in Aberdeen, ScotlandLegion Media
When filming ‘Tetris’, she spent a year and a half in Glasgow - a “ghost town”, as Sofia recalls, owing to the fact that, because of Covid restrictions, only the supermarkets were open. The auditioning was carried out remotely - she had to record a “self-tape” (they send you the scene and you have to film it yourself).
Vikings: Valhalla. Sofia Lebedeva as Elena in episode 207 of Vikings: ValhallaCr. Bernard Walsh/Netflix, 2022
After that, she spent over six months filming ‘Vikings’ in Ireland in the role of the “unyielding” Elena (Netflix is not allowing any details of the character she plays to be released). “During work on ‘Vikings’, a whole team of people formed around me to help me prepare for the part. It included a historical consultant (I now know the 12th century inside out), there was a pronunciation coach, because the production contains a wide variety of accents and dialects and there was also a girl who is an expert on various ancient practices and customs. With her, I studied in depth what a woman in the 12th century must have experienced, how she felt physically and what view of the world she had. There was also a lot of physical training - horse riding and fighting skills,” she says.
McMafiaHossein Amini, James Watkins/BBC One, 2018
When she goes on filming assignments abroad, she always takes a number of small pictures drawn by her sister and a deafblind best friend of hers, as well as a soft toy given to her by her mother. “My family is one of my mainstays. My mother, having raised three children, did a second higher education course at the age of 55. She studied to be a stylist and costume designer, and then started working in films. I’m very proud of her. I frequently hear people say it’s too late for them to pursue their dream. It’s never too late!” she believes.
Apart from her filming work, Sofia devotes herself to contemporary dance, studies foreign languages and likes outdoor activities such as tennis and snowboarding. She prefers not to speak about her personal life, claiming that, after several unsuccessful romantic relationships, she has decided to focus on her career.
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