As a child, Swiss-born Silvia Spross dreamt about the United States. Today, she has realised that dream by living in Los Angeles. She makes a living from acting and other artistic endeavours. She tells swissinfo.ch why she left “the best country in the world”.
swissinfo.ch: Why did you turn your back on Switzerland?
Silvia Spross: I wanted to paint, to sing, to dance and to act. I just wanted to be free to do the things I wanted to do, even if it sounded like a totally unrealistic proposition. When I was thirteen, I created a crazy collage of California and hung it on my wall. At the time, we lived on the eighth floor of a building and I would look out of the window for hours fantasising about one day flying over the mountains to far-away California.
My parents said they would only let me go after I had attained a diploma. So I did an apprenticeship at the SKA Bank, and three months later, I was on a flight to New York. Amazingly, that collage I created at thirteen is my reality today – sea, actors, movies, glamour, Hollywood, sun, cabriolets, surfers and beautiful men.
Last summer I produced a movie called PARASITES. That film became available from January 24 on the big internet video platforms in the US and Canada. Hopefully, it will be available in Switzerland in the future.
swissinfo.ch: What were your first few months abroad like?
S.S.: My neck was aching from looking at skyscrapers too much! My sister lived with her now-husband in New York, and I was allowed to live on their sofa for eight months. I still don’t know how we all survived that.
The hardest thing to acclimatise to was the humour. After two months, I understood English, but not the humour.
swissinfo.ch: When did it become clear that you would never return to Switzerland?
S.S.: A chance meeting with an actress in San Francisco changed everything for me. She told me about the HB Studio acting school in New York – the cheapest such school that you can find, and very good.
After a year in the US, I came back to Switzerland, where I saved up enough money and got a visa. A year later, I was back in the US, this time as an acting student. I did street theatre performances in Central Park with my ex-boyfriend, who was a magician, and my puppet Bonifaz. In my third year, I won a Green Card [unlimited residence permit] in the lottery, so I knew that I could stay in the US.
S.S.: I’ve repeatedly tried to break into the Swiss film industry. I’ve shot more than 40 films in the US, ranging from small budget to large movies with famous actors. But in Switzerland, things are not that simple when it comes to acting, and the distance really doesn’t help.
swissinfo.ch: What work projects are you currently pursuing, and how’s it going?
S.S.: I work mainly as an actress and a photographer…and sometimes as a jewellery maker and a graphic designer. For my husband I’m also an electrician and a plumber. My husband is a thriving actor, which is rather an exception in Los Angeles.
swissinfo.ch: You have posted pictures of your puppet Bonifaz. What’s the story behind this character?
S.S.: On Bonifaz! I found him in the shopping centre at Zurich’s main train station. He is also Swiss. I found someone selling hand puppets and I just fell in love with him. A street musician called Trevor happened to be standing next to the puppet seller. I just started to play around with Bonifaz together with Trevor and my ex-boyfriend. Bonifaz can move his hands, fingers and even his tongue.
To my amazement, we collected a crowd around us. Wow! After that, we were a team of four and went out in the streets of Zurich. My boyfriend and I moved to New York six months later. We performed in Central Park and quite a few private engagements. Bonifaz learned tap dancing and magic tricks, and has played on a few stages in Los Angeles.
swissinfo.ch: What’s the cuisine like where you live?
S.S.: Life sometimes feels like a holiday in Santa Monica. We can see the sea from our balcony. It’s almost too beautiful. Sometimes I have to force myself to leave the house. As for cuisine, I prefer vegetarian, which is very easy to find.
swissinfo.ch: In what way is the US (or even California) better than Switzerland?
S.S.: Have you actually seen the news recently? Certain people in the US lack common sense and a moral compass. These are two very attractive qualities. Prosperity in Switzerland is better distributed.
swissinfo.ch: How do you think about Switzerland from afar?
S.S.: My view of Switzerland changed dramatically after I took off and moved to the US. Switzerland is a wonderful country, if not the best country in the world. Being born in Switzerland is like winning the lottery.
swissinfo.ch: Do you participate in Swiss elections and referendums?
S.S.: No, because I don’t live in Switzerland. I had a good idea (or so I thought) what was best for the country when I lived there. Sometimes I did not know what everything meant, but I could always get clarification on the street if I explored the subject.
swissinfo.ch: What do miss most about Switzerland?
S.S.: Quite a lot of the obvious things, such as family, chocolate, Davos, mountains, nature, recycling – and public transport! In January, I used the train for the first time in the US to take part in the Women’s March. It was not bad, but it was sardine-like because 750,000 people had all had the same idea.
It is not like in Switzerland, where public transport is king. But it was free…
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