At twenty-one going on 40, chain-smoking Diana Kobzanova exudes the world-weary sophistication that comes from living life like a lightning rod. Crowned Miss Czech Republic in 2001, Diana was almost immediately caught up in storms of her own making; first by moving in with her 24-year-old footballer boyfriend, whose wife was four months pregnant at the time, then by posing naked for the Czech porn magazine Leo, a move which lost her the crown. Lawsuits and counter-suits are now flying, while the local media are having a field day with Diana's family-busting, rebellious antics.
Born to an American father and a Czech/German mother, Diana's life has been knotty from the beginning. She is street-smart and seems acutely aware of the need to manage her image. Yet at the same time, Diana appears to have an equally strong sense that she needs to be true to herself, no matter how self-destructive that truth may be. Lately, Diana has pinned her hopes on a singing career. She's lined up a producer and is hunting for a label, even though she's painfully aware that "everybody makes fun of models who sing."
DAN LEVINE: So you have three passports?
DIANA KOBZANOVA: Yeah, but I use only the American one... because you don't need a visa.
DL: I guess you've traveled a lot?
DK: Yeah, but I live in Prague, I've never moved to Paris or Milan because it's difficult there. East European girls don't have a good reputation...
DL: Why's that?
DK: Because most of them undercharge... so when you move to Paris and people there learn you're Czech, they think you'll undercut them. Then if you want to start a career, you don't have a chance of making it unless you sleep with someone...that's why I prefer to stay in Prague.
DL: So, being a Miss, that's a lifelong kind of dream, right? Did you know you wanted to be a Miss early on?
DK: I started modeling when I was 14, with a modeling agency here in Prague. But I never thought about becoming Miss Czech Republic. It's completely different to modeling because a Miss is a smiling, amusing, elegant girl who works for charity, while a model only works for herself. A model doesn't have to care what other people think of her, unlike Miss Czech Republic. But anyway, in the Czech Republic there was no market for models, and becoming famous puts up your price. That was the main reason I entered the competition; because I wanted to make more money. There was a big final on TV, but I didn't believe I was going to win because I was too much of a model. There were 18 girls and most of them were really commercial-type beauties. I'm kind of a catwalk girl... and for me that's completely different. But, I won (laughs), which was a bit of a surprise.
DL: Tell me about that moment.
DK: I didn't believe it. I thought we are just following the choreography. I didn't believe it was for real; that I was on TV and everybody was watching me. It was a strange feeling and then I started to cry.
DL: And I guess you won a lot of stuff too...
DK: Yeah, I won a car, but I don't have it anymore (laughs) because I bought a new one, and you win an apartment for three years, rent free... you get some clothes, jewelry, a contract. I must say that for the first month I was very excited and happy, but then I began to run into problems because the agency that manages Miss Czech Republic and the first two runners-up wasn't able to give us a job. They want you to have a good car, to eat at expensive restaurants and go out to the best clubs, but they don't let you make the money you need to cover your expenses. So now I'm fighting both the agency and the competition president.
DL: So the first months were great...
DK: Not exactly great because there were some things which I didn't understand even then... like why we worked for the sponsors for free. I can understand doing that once, but not over a period of five months, because we have to make money, we have to eat.
DL: So you became disillusioned...
DK: Yeah, because I went to the agency and told them that I wanted to choose my own agency and start working for someone else. And they told me, "OK, if you want to, but you have to leave the apartment". But I had only lived there for a while and there was over a year left to go, so I said, "'I'm sorry but I won free use of this apartment for three years, you can't move me out," and they said, "We can, so if you want to terminate your contract, leave the apartment, pay us back all our expenses and everything will be fine". So I gave in and did everything they wanted me to, but then 4 or 5 months later I made some nude pictures, because I needed the money.
DL: Did they take your title away?
DK: Yeah they did.
DL: And did that happen before or after the Leo shoot?
DK: After! It was because of the naked pictures, because the contract says you can't do that for three years after winning your title. But I thought my contract was over. And I made really good money. I shouldn't really say that money is the most important thing, but in the Czech Republic, and especially in Prague, if you don't have money you're nobody.... I want to be happy when I'm 30 or 35 (laughs) and be able to go on vacation twice a year, not to spend my whole life working in a factory. So that's why I did it, because I don't want to live like my mom, or my aunt, I want things to be different.
DL: So, what are you doing with the money?
DK: (sighs) I'm waiting. I now have problems with the competition president who wants me to pay back 700,000 crowns. I don't want to pay him... so our lawyers are exchanging letters... so maybe I'll end up poor anyway!
DL: Were you surprised about the hoopla that happened after the Leo shoot?
DK: I knew that something like this was going to happen because I was the first Miss to be really famous... before me it was only some ex-TV personality and an ex-model, so it made quite a difference. I knew there was going to be a really big fuss and I was afraid I wouldn't have a job after the shoot.
DL: What's been the reaction, both good and bad?
DK: No one ever criticized me for it, ever. Everybody told me they would do the same for that money.
DL: But there has been some bad reaction, I mean the relationship you have with the Miss people...
DK: Yeah, of course, but I don't care about their reaction. They don't care about how I'm doing, how I pay my bills, so I don't care about them.
DL: Have you done other naked pictures?
DK: No, no. Just pictures for my book, so that was completely different. Not quite art, but not nude photos. They were, how can I put it, maybe half naked.
DL: But it sounds like you would if somebody asked you and offered some good money.
DK: Why not? Of course I'm shy about that kind of thing...
DL: You're not!
DK: But you have to close your eyes and think... about the money and you think about what you can buy with it, what you can do when you've made it. I don't know if you can understand exactly, but it's different.
DL: Did you consult with your parents before the Leo shoot?
DK: Yeah, I did. My mother told me, "It's your choice and it's really good to have the money to buy your own apartment when you are 20, 21," and that was it. Then I spoke with my father... he's a father, I'm his little girl... so it was a bit harder to talk to him about it. And afterwards I didn't tell my father that I had done it....
DL: But then I'm sure he read about it in the newspaper...
DK: Of course, so he was quite angry for about 3 days, because he didn't know how the pictures were going to look and he was afraid that the client wouldn't pay me for them. But I told him, "No, everything is OK, I'm too smart for that". So, my father was a bit angry.... It's funny but - six months after it all blew up - my father was in Prague to visit me. We were at a fashion show, and then, it was after midnight, we went home and talked and he told me "you did the right thing". He wasn't thinking about the pictures, just the money....
DL: Has it ever been a disadvantage being beautiful? Being a model?
DK: Of course! Because everybody thinks I´m stupid. If I want a serious conversation with someone I don't have a chance because everybody thinks, "Oh, it's that stupid model, that stupid Miss. All she can do is to walk the catwalk" But it's not true. I'm independent and I can manage by myself. I don't need anyone in this country, so I know that I'm not stupid.