After a breakthrough year, expect to see model and up-and-coming actress Lana Zakocela’s transfixing gaze everywhere.
Mega yacht in the Mediterranean is a long way from the small town in Latvia where Lana Zakocela was born. But that’s just where the 5'8" beauty found herself last spring, shooting the campaign for Antonio Banderas Fragrances’ perfume Queen of Seduction.
Zakocela, who arrived in England by bus when she was just 16, has been working in Europe, the US, and beyond ever since, modelling for the likes of Australian Cosmopolitan, revealing her impossibly toned physique in moody editorials for French magazines including Madame Figaro, and now, dodging sea snakes in St. Barts for her sultry cover with Maxim.
But something clicked when she stepped in front of the camera with Banderas for the video and print campaign.
“Antonio and I worked together for four days,” she says. “At the time, I had a boyfriend, and he didn’t want me to be an actress because they have quite crazy lives. But Antonio said, ‘You have to do this. It doesn’t matter about your accent.’ ”
So these days, the brunette is pursuing her dream, and stays up late in her Battery Park apartment reading Shakespeare for her classes at New York’s Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. She knows, of course, that the path from model to actress has been heavily worn. “My teachers, they hate models,” she laughs. For now, she has fully committed to her studies there, only booking shoots in nearby locations like the Caribbean on two days of the workweek.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Zakocela, both personally and professionally. Last fall, she split with the aforementioned “boyfriend,” diplomat and entrepreneur Justin Etzin, just over a year after the pair were married in a lavish, four-day celebration in Florence (they were serenaded by Craig David, and a troupe of Cirque du Soleil–calibre acrobats performed).
After the breakup, says Zakocela, “I decided for three months to disappear from the New York scene. I went to Paris. You find out who is truly your friend. Everyone is texting ‘Let’s have dinner,’ ‘Let’s have lunch.’ Those people wouldn’t even care if something happens to me. I have to really stop and evaluate everything.”
She’s taken to painting and is learning to play the piano. And lest you imagine that she’d love to be typecast as a bombshell, Zakocela insists she’s serious about the craft of acting. “I don’t want to do this without getting into theatre first, because everyone is going to be like, ‘She’s got it so easy.’ ” She cites Charlize Theron, who has transformed her appearance for several films, as a role model. “I wouldn’t be afraid to do anything to truly live the character. I really respect that.”
In fact, Zakocela’s life has not been easy, she says. She was raised by her grandmother, who died when Lana was only 13, leaving her in the care of her uncle. She says her childhood was a struggle. “Most actors have broken pasts…People don’t want to hear that; they want to hear you have a nice, fancy life. They don’t want to hear what you went through. But I have expressive eyes—I think you can see there is more to me.”
Until she lands a role that challenges her, she will continue to model. She’s not afraid to push boundaries, but says that for many years, “I didn’t want to do all the super sexy stuff. I always felt, not shy, but it’s a funny thing to put on high heels and underwear for a magazine. You can do that in a bedroom with your man.” If she’s going to be provocative, she prefers that there be some mystery left. “[Magazines today] make it so open. They leave no space for imagination. I’m more European. I’ll shoot underwear, but it’s sophisticated.”
Now single, she says her ideal man is “very well-educated, very sensitive. A man who wants to take on the world. To work hard, to
create something, to evolve. I don’t just mean a career; it’s deeper than that. I want the type of man who can make me better. And not just be like, ‘Oh, there’s another blonde model, let me go for that.’ I have to make sure the person appreciates me for who I am and understands where I am coming from.”
PHOTOGRAPHS: GILLES BENSIMON
STYLING: CAROLINE CHRISTIANSSON
MAKE-UP: LESLIE LOPEZ
HAIR: PUJOL JONATHAN