Adriana Sklenaríková-Karembeu

Adriana KarembeuShe is tall and thoughtful, friendly and open; amazingly down to earth. Born in what is now Slovakia to a Moravian father and a Slovak mother, Adriana Sklenaríková-Karembeu went West with the first wave of Eastern European models and rode it to the heights of fame and fortune. In a country known for turning out models by the baker's dozen, she remains Slovakia's best -known and internationally recognizable personality. Adriana has graced the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan and GQ, to name just a few, and in 2000 she followed in the footsteps of Czech super-model Eva Herzigová as the Wonderbra Woman. During the past year she has begun to realize her cinematic ambitions. Adriana played a starring role in the French film Trois Petites Filles, and most recently she was the subject of a documentary film by the noted Czech director Miroslav Šmídmajer. Both will be available soon on DVD.

The Prague Compass met with Adriana Sklenaríková-Karembeu in Bratislava on the eve of her nomination as honorary international Ambassador to Slovakia.

Prague Compass: How old were you when you went to Prague to study medicine?

Adriana: I was 17. I finished high school when I was 17 and I started studying in 1989.

PC: You were in Prague during the Velvet Revolution. What were your thoughts at that time and what changes did you expect to come of it?

Adriana: When you're a kid you don't really realize that much because you're too young to really understand the system. But something felt like it had to change and we succeeded …for me it was an open door, I had never wanted to leave and I never had any plans like that but it just happened. If it hadn't been for the revolution I could never have done what I've done.

PC: So you were studying medicine in Prague and you moved to Paris after winning a modeling competition in 1992. What made you decide to become a model?

Adriana: A scout found me on the street, I went to the competition, I won and they gave me a plane ticket. I just wanted to go to Paris and I thought that after two weeks I would be back. I was very shy, I never really looked particularly good in pictures…

PC: Famous last words!

Adriana: [laughs] Anyway, I thought, I'm going to see the Eiffel Tower and I'll be back!

PC: What were your impressions of Paris at that time, coming from Eastern Europe?

Adriana: It was different than I thought it would be. We were always told that people were dying there because there was nothing to eat and they were so poor. And I went and thought, I'm the poor one, where are the others! It wasn't what I expected, it was so much more … I had been very protected by my parents and [in Paris] I had to make my own decisions and that's what I liked. I made mistakes and I learned from them, but I made my own way and I guess that's why I stayed.

Editor's note: Communist propaganda often portrayed Western Capitalism as a system of the very rich and the very poor.

PC: At what point did you know that you had made it and become a top model?

Adriana: Did I? [laughs] You never know! The top model category is so strange, I don't know if I really fit in. But as soon as I really started to make a living, as soon as the finances were OK, as soon as I got to work with the photographers I always wanted. I don't know, the first three years, or maybe year and a half, weren't that easy …the break was when I got the contract with Wonderbra, because it's such a huge campaign...It crossed the line, it's not only fashion anymore and the image is such that every woman knows Wonderbra. That's when it became different, people started to recognize me on the street, which had never happened before.

PC: Were you living in Paris all this time?

Adriana: No, no, no! I was moving all the time, I was kind of based in Paris but I was in New York, in Italy, I was working 20 or 25 times a month. I was always somewhere else.

PC: Was there any model that you really admired and looked up to when you started out?

Adriana: I loved Nadia Auermann, she had long legs and was very tall and pretty and I still very much admire her work.

PC: …and Eva Herzigová?

Adriana: Oh yeah I liked Eva too, in the Wonderbra campaign I really thought she was the second Marilyn Monroe. For me she is one of the prettiest girls.

PC: Did you ever get to work with her?

Adriana: Yeah, we did some shows together.

PC: How did you feel? Was this a moment where you said, I'm really somebody now?

Adriana: No, it's really not like that…how can you say I'm somebody now? You're always somebody! You can always do better, first of all, but I'm not ambitious in that way. I'm not going to cry if I don't get a job. It's such a question of taste and people either like you or they don't, you can't force them. If I get a job, so much the better, if not, well, you can't please everybody.

PC: Your husband is a football player. Why do European models always marry football players?

Adriana: You know what? It's not true! I'm the first one who did … I met him [French soccer player Christian Karembeu] in '96 and French football wasn't really that big at the time. I didn't know what his job was, I just met him on a plane and he didn't know what I did, it was just love at first sight …but the truth is, I set the trend because I was the first one. Really! Come on, it's [almost] ten years now!

PC: How do you feel right now with the premiere of two films that you're associated with?

Adriana: Cinema is something that I've wanted to try lately and I didn't know how good I could be, but apparently I could be very good [laughs]! And it's something that I would like to continue to do if I have the chance. It's difficult but it's something that you can learn. It's a real profession and you can really improve. In modeling you are born a certain way and there aren't many things you can change. But in this [cinema] it's a real job and you can really work on a role and become somebody else and that's really tempting for me.

Concerning the documentary, it's funny how my life goes on and then suddenly I just can't see it. When I saw the documentary it was like watching someone else's life ... I had the impression that it's very normal, very down to earth, and I was very glad. I thought it might come out more superficial, but it's very honest.

PC: What was your initial impression when you read the screenplay for Trois Petites Filles [Three Little Girls]?

Adriana: I read it and I saw a woman I could play. The character has three different facets and I was very interested in trying it. Also there were some points in common between us. When you do your first role it's better if you have something you know how to do.

PC: What points did you have in common with the character?

Adriana: Well she's beautiful, charming and a nymphomaniac, which is a point she has in common with me [laughs]. No it's not, but she's a very loving wife and very pretty, so I could do that.

PC: What do you find most challenging as an actress?

Adriana: When you have to search for emotions that you think you don't have and you have to find them within yourself. It's a technique which I don't have because I never studied it, but it's the most beautiful moment when you succeed in finding it. In cinema people don't care about how you look anymore ... you need sincerity and honesty in a film.

PC: Right now you're very famous; looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

Adriana: No, except for the small details. There's nothing major that I would change. I was always a good girl and I would do it the same way…there are so many people who want to change you all the time and I was quite preoccupied with that for a while, but now I would just not care at all.

PC: What's next? What are your ambitions for the future?

Adriana: If I could do some more movies that would be great, if not, I'm not going to cry about it. But it's really fun, it's a new passion...

PC: You're also doing a lot of charity work? For the Red Cross and others?

Adriana: The Red Cross and now we have a project with an organization in Slovakia called Magna. They take care of children who have AIDS in Cambodia and we'll go there in February. But mostly with the Red Cross; I prefer to concentrate on one thing and I've been working with them for six years now.

PC: Do you have any advice for Eastern European girls who want to go to the West?

Adriana: Just be careful…you should be serious when you leave because it's not easier than home, it's probably harder and you have to prove a lot to people because you're a foreigner.

How tall are you? 1m85
Think you'll ever return to live in Slovakia? Maybe, why not? My husband likes it.
Favorite Model: Laetitia Casta
Favorite Film: Amadeus (Miloš Forman)
Favorite City: Paris
Where do you live now: Geneva
Any children: No
Any plans: Maybe
Why is everybody always talking about your legs?
[laughs] I don't know, because they're long! I'm tall, so obviously I have long legs. They're 124 cm long.

Key Events:
1971 - Born in Brezno, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia)
1989 - Goes to Prague to study medicine at Charles University
1992 - Goes to Paris to pursue a career in modeling
July 1996 - Cover of Elle (Greece)
June 1997 - Cover of Cosmopolitan (UK)
Fall 1997 - Cover of Hola (Spain)
Dec 1998 - Marries French footballer Christian Karembeu
May 1999 - Cover of GQ (Spain)
2000 - Signs two-year contract with Wonderbra
2004 - Trois Petites Filles, France (Jean-Loup Hubert)
2004 - Documentary, Czech Republic (Miroslav Šmídmajer)