Anna-Leena Harkonen


Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva


Finding a Balance

Anna-Leena Harkonen was seventeen when she was spotted by a director at an amateur theater event and chosen to star in a major feature film.

That summer, she also learned that she had been accepted to attend the Theater Academy in Helsinki and that her first novel, How to Kill a Bull, had been accepted for publication.

The book became a modern classic in her native Finland and is still widely read.

SINCE HER DEBUT, Anna-Leena has been used to seeing her face in magazines and her name in gossip columns. The success of her literary debut introduced her to the circus called celebrity.

“If someone breaks into a convenience store as an adolescent, their crime is forgotten over time. If someone writes a book at the same age, it will never be forgotten,” she says.

FEW PEOPLE DEBUT at such a young age and in two fields at the same time. Navigating the sudden celebrity proved difficult.

“At the time, the teaching methods at the Theater Academy were controversial and cruel,” Anna-Leena says.

“We were asked to bite each other, for example, and we had slapping contests: we had to slap each other on the face, harder and harder, to evoke our real emotions.” 

Anna-Leena tried to explain to the teacher how bad the exercises made her feel. His answer took her by surprise: “It’s not your fault that you weren’t beaten as a child.”

One student after another left the school, including Anna-Leena, who transferred to the University of Tampere.

COMBINED WITH the performance pressure after a sensationally successful debut novel, the stress was too much. Anna-Leena fell into depression.

“I will never forget what it really feels like to be depressed. For six months, I just wanted to stay in bed and barely had the energy to take a shower,” she says. 

“This is why it annoys me if people speak dismissively about depression. All too often, those suffering from depression are told to just get over it.”

SINCE THEN, ACTING has become a welcome source of change and variety for Anna-Leena. While writing may often feel difficult, acting is liberating. The director tells everyone what to do, and all she needs to worry about is her own performance.

“I find acting in front of the camera easy, but I don’t miss live audiences. I fear I would freeze under the pressure.” 

TODAY, Anna-Leena appreciates safe and familiar things: pajama days at home, a glass of good wine, a piece of Fazer milk chocolate, a package vacation in the Canary Islands every winter to make the darkest time of the year feel shorter.

“I’m not an adventurer, not in the least. I’m even terrified of nature. There are mosquitos and ticks that could damage you for life, and a snake might fall around your neck at any time,” Anna-Leena says, seriously—and, at the same time, jokingly. 

Just like in her books.

By Katariina Romppainen and Mirjami Haimelin

Published with permission from Fokus Media and Eeva magazine

New Terrain Press 2024. All rights reserved.

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