Anastasia Baranova: A Russian Warrior
Anastasia Baranova Brings Talent and Power to Syfy’s "Z Nation"
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You must be fearless to cross national borders and travel unseen terrain with nothing more than a winning spirit, portfolio and smile. With hopes of captivating an audience, Russian-born Anastasia Baranova desired the taste of success regardless of her grasp on the English language. Beginning her career as a model in still Soviet-controlled Moscow, Baranova and her mother eventually moved to the United States so she could pursue modeling and acting despite speaking almost no English. Using JumpStart computer games and working hard in school, Baranova mastered the language and broke into the entertainment world.
With the stealth-like finesse of a warrior in battle, Baranova accomplished what she aimed to do by starring in a variety of roles on television series such as Scout’s Safari, Veronica Mars, and Joan of Arcadia. Her tenacity and infectious personality would lead to a golden record and a role as Addison “Addy” Carver on the ongoing Syfy series Z Nation, currently in its third season.
In the hit Syfy series, Addy is a caring, tenacious communications specialist—an interesting parallel to Baranova herself. With refined skill and cultured wisdom, Anastasia Baranova proves passion triumphs above all else.
You’re a long way from Moscow. How has your journey benefited your career motivationally and spiritually?
I think the biggest advantage of having my kind of upbringing—which in a lot of ways was unconventional and unstable because we moved around a lot—[is] it gave me the opportunity to see and experience different cultures and values in different places in the world. So my understanding of humans in life or the human experience is just “bigger.” When it comes to playing characters who I don’t necessarily relate to, I can draw on things that I’ve learned with this weird life that has taken me all over the world in a lot of ways.
I’m curious to know what inspires your love for acting over modeling.
(Laughter) You know the answer to this is not super logical! The Bodyguard, Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing were the defining films of my childhood. I watched The Bodyguard and was like “Cool!! That’s what I’m gonna do with my life, that’s what I’m here for. I’m gonna be Whitney Houston!”
I was always really out there, and I got really lucky because my mother supported me… She put a lot of things on hold for herself. We moved from a different country, we moved from a different state, she took me to all my auditions. We’re very close… [She’s] an example of what it means to work really hard, the influence of not giving up… We’re Russian, so there’s not a lot of fault acknowledged (laughter). We don’t get stickers for spelling our name right, and a lot of the feedback maybe wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but what I needed to hear to grow.
When did you have that initial “A-ha!” moment and feel you could do this professionally?
It was either in an audition or in an acting class, but [it was] when I understood that I could make people laugh by being myself… It’s not difficult for me to be open, vulnerable, loud or really intimate with people right away. But definitely when I started making people laugh, I realized “Wait, this is actually really valuable. People are happy just because of something I’m doing,” which I thought was really cool.
What were the challenges of not knowing how to speak English?
I definitely was an outsider. I came to the United States the summer after second grade, and right at the end of the school year [in Russia], my best friend’s mom shaved her head so her hair could be longer and thicker, and I didn’t want her to be alone, so I did it too. So I shaved my hair and immigrated to a new country! I was bald, thin and tall—I didn’t speak right away either—and I was pretty weird. I’ve been here a long time, and I’m still naturally weird (laughter). I definitely was not like anyone else.
I learned English pretty quickly after the move to Minnesota. I went right to standard American English, and there definitely was an adjustment period. I still just won’t know something; [for example], I may not know a reference because I had to teach myself the American culture…
I will say that my [English] world claim to fame is I missed only two grammar questions on my SATs, and I always really prided myself because I am foreign, but I had an incredible English teacher who had a real respect for the language… She wasn’t easy by any means, but you walked out like, “I just learned some shit!” You considered yourself lucky if you got her, and you definitely felt smart for having her for a year.