The Swede Sound of Music - NYLA Magazine
Written by Nima Ghazai; Photos by Gerry Garcia
Persian-Swedish actress Nadia Bjorlin talks about life as the daughter of famous European composer, her role as Chloe Lane in NBC's Days of Our Lives, and her pursuit of becoming
the next Wonder Woman.
It's a common dream of young kids to grow up with aspirations of becoming a star musician, whether it's ruminations of rock stardom or a fancy for the philharmonic. But few people can boast a family rich in musical talent, unless, of course, you are Nadia Bjorlin, the daughter of the late world-renowned Swedish classical composer, Ulf Bjorlin. In such a case, it would be adamantly expected of you to follow in your father's footsteps as an opera singer.
Unless, of course, you are Nadia Bjorlin.
"You hear horror stories of 'stage parents,' when it comes to acting or music, but my father was so non-intimidating in that he allowed me to develop my own style," Bjorlin says. "My mom was so proud too, but she never pushed anything either." It should be no surprise either that two of her brothers are nearing the pinnacle of their respective musical academia; one, a full-fledged opera singer, is working on a Masters at Juilliard, while the other was schooled at the Manhattan School of Music. Having this type of pedigree sans the inherent pressures made it easy for Nadia to explore her inner talent.
Not only was her father her biggest supporter, but he provided each child with a separate teacher for every aspect of music. He never actually gave any piano lessons because he didn't want to put any extra pressure upon Nadia or any of her other siblings. "I started off with classical music, played the harp and flute along with the piano at age 6," Nadia remembers. "My brothers would then pick different instruments so that we could play together as a band."
Nadia was the fifth of six children born to Ulf Bjorlin and his Persian wife, Fary, while the couple was in America for a symphony in 1980. Soon thereafter, the family returned to Stockholm, Sweden where Nadia was raised. At the age of 7, she relocated to Florida and then moved to New York for the second half of high school before arriving in California.
Although her talent in classical music emanated from her exposure to the genre by her father, Nadia's love for it is not exclusive. She is currently segueing into the mainstream facet of music. "I've sort of moved into a little bit of Pop and R&B. I'm working on a soon to be released album right now with a French-Canadian artist Barnev Valsaint, who's been touring with Celine Dion."
Given her talent, it was only natural for Bjorlin to venture into other aspects of the entertainment industry. While commencing in music, she concurrently explored her way across musical theatre and dancing while experiencing the thrill and fulfillment of each. Bjorlin's acting career started off with a number of auditions and pilots for Nickelodeon, screen tests for As the World Turns and All My Children before she ultimately landed her role as Chloe Lane on NBC's daytime drama,Days of Our Lives.
Bjorlin recalls the day she got the good news from her agent: "It was a surreal feeling having to pack my bags and head out to L.A. after thinking I would never get it." However, Bjorlin soon found out that playing the enigmatic Lane was not as glamorous as it first seemed. After all, her character was as interesting as a law school lecture on campaign fund-raising reform; she was awkward and an unloved insecure child from the orphanage. "The worst part was that she'd wear these oversized Goth clothes with old fashioned glasses and messy, greasy hair and would be the object of everyone's taunting at school," Bjorlin says. "I had to make my national television debut looking like hell and having to go through Lane's emotional roller coaster."
In time, Bjorlin realized the importance of her role off the screen. "You think of soap operas and everyone looks beautiful and never really has any problems, but right off the bat Chloe has all of these emotional traumas and things that real people can relate to," she explains. Letters soon started pouring in from fans thanking Bjorlin for her acute way of portraying their feelings. "It made me see things differently, like maybe we shouldn't be so concerned with our looks and crazed with this ideal the media has put out."
Bjorlin's character served as a staple on the show from 1999-2003 and has returned in recurring roles in the interim. Nonetheless, the prospect of change is inevitable as Lane has been married off from the show and is on her honeymoon. Bjorlin will have plenty of time to reflect on her acting career and the future as fears of not being asked to return to the show have crossed her mind. "There are so many highs and lows in the industry," she laments. "When it rains, it pours – when you get one job, you have to turn down eight others and there's also this down time when you wonder if you'll ever going to work again." Yet the past brings her solace for the future. "I feel like I've grown up on that show."
And grow she has. On October 23rd, 1993, Ulf, the ever creative force in her life, succumbed in his bout against Leukemia. Bjorlin was at an incomprehensible loss. "You don't realize when you're young that not everyone has this opportunity to listen to great talent all the time," she enlightens. "I didn't really appreciate it as much as I could until later in life; but, it was the best experience I could ever ask for or wish for."
Once again, Bjorlin drew her strength from the drama show she had embraced. In 2002, one of her best story lines as Chloe required her to be a cancer patient. Bjorlin recalls her initial reaction to the script, "I was really scared to play that because of the death of my father; it was too close to home." Yet as the story evolved, Bjorlin sensed an occasion to reach out to those suffering from the same disease. "When I saw how the fans would donate money in my father's name to the Leukemia-Lymphoma society, it was very humbling. It makes you realize how grateful you are for so many things," she recalls. That same year, Bjorlin was named as ambassador for 'Light the Night,' the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's nationwide evening walk.
Despite her role on Days, Bjorlin is well aware that the path to stardom is no cakewalk. "People don't realize it is hard work," Bjorlin reveals. "You're on the set for long hours, where it's either too hot or too cold. It's not necessarily fun and games all of the time." However, for Bjorlin, the fun is just beginning. Since her tentative departure from Days last August, she has posed for Maxim's 2007 calendar and is currently a bona fide candidate to play the role of Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie. Although the running is laden with such stars as Evangeline Lilly, Eva Longoria, Katherine Heigl and Jessica Biel, Bjorlin remains undaunted and confident in her chances. "I would love to play Wonder Woman; I have the abilities and the strength because I am definitely not the typical Hollywood actress. I'm Amazonian in that I am 5'8", have curves, muscles and am very strong. I don't look like I'm going to break in half like most of these women in the industry are."
Although Bjorlin has been occupied with her career, she still makes time for the more important things of life. Never the brash personality one would expect out of a celebrity, Bjorlin takes shelter from the spot light and to call her low-key would be an understatement. "I honestly don't go out that much unless I'm invited," she recalls. "I love being at home on Saturday nights with the whole family over here cooking tons of food and dancing. They're my best friends and the most fun people. I honestly don't go out much."
She may have a tremendous European influence on her life (she is fluent in Swedish, French, Danish, and English) but Bjorlin has no difficulty reconciling the dichotomy of her Persian and Swedish roots. She dresses in Persian garb, enjoys many of the cuisines, and even lists Arash as one of her favorite singers, "It really says something when his music is popular throughout Europe. It's about time someone young combined the music cultures of Persia with techno and hip-hop."
Bjorlin attributes her affinity for all things Persian to her mother. "I learned a lot of the family values and traditions from my mother," Bjorlin proclaims. "She had so much of the culture around us...I'm very European but also at the same time very Persian." It is this diverse and exotic combination that, according to Bjorlin, has not only set herself apart from others, but has also allowed her to relate to different cultures.
In a frenetic, power-driven industry such as Hollywood, Bjorlin is more than content being as laid back as possible. When not honing her opera skills or rehearsing on the set, Bjorlin leads quite a normal life in her suburban L.A. home, listing TiVo and Texas Hold'em Poker as her new fads, along with working out and traveling. With the prospect of fame and fortune in the entertainment industry, it would be quite easy to get caught up in the fast lane of prominence and neglect the more important aspects of life.
Unless, of course, you are Nadia Bjorlin.