Interviewed by Veronica Farmer, Author of www.madebeautifulbyscars.com
My name is Peter Janov. I was born in Bratislava, Slovakia in the early 1970’s at a time when the country was under many Russian imposed restrictions. I could see from a small child how my life would be if I followed the world around me. I would be working in one factory or another for the next 30 years, trudging home at the end of the day and that would be my life. Deep within, I knew I didn’t want that.
Watching American action movies inspired me. They were hard to get hold of as many movies were banned until Gorbachev’s time. The first movie I saw was ‘Never Ending Story’ there was something about that boy opening a book and choosing to go into a world of adventure that fired up my imagination as a kid. I hated reading but that all changed after that movie. The Terminator series made me sure that I wanted to make and be in action movies, a desire that has never left me.
I would have been in my early teens when I asked everyone I knew about how I could possibly get to America. The average monthly wage was about $100 and I knew I did not have the resources to get there and set myself up. I needed some sort of plan. Someone told me that the way to the U.S was being very good at a sport and gaining a college scholarship. Having that behind me would give me all I needed. I was a very good swimmer and had begun to excel in water polo and had gathered some medals. That would be my ticket if I could only find a school to take me.
I went to the American Embassy and spent hours writing down all the names of colleges that supported water polo and exhausted my family’s reserves of about $500 in postage (a small fortune for them) sending off hundreds of letters. Some were kind enough to send me back information while others thinking I was some strange kid from ‘who knows where’ ignored my applications or said “no-one is going to take a kid they haven’t seen play.”
It wasn’t looking hopeful and my father sat me down and said “Why are you doing this? You will never find a place” But this dream had consumed me since childhood and I just couldn’t let it go. I didn’t have friends or family or anyone in America but I just had to find a way. My father said to me, “Look, if you do find someone to take you and give you room and board, we can somehow find a way to pay for a one way ticket.”
One last letter suggested community colleges as a better avenue to try, so I scrounged around for some more postage to send off 25 letters. My English teacher at the time told me to use more formal language in my applications, but I wanted to just speak from the heart and wrote the truth which was that I did not have any money and was under no illusions about the road being hard, but I had a hard working attitude and I would give it my all. The college that took me did not sponsor international athletes but the coach liked my honesty in my application. Although my words might have seemed hokey to a lot of people, to him it showed guts and that landed me somewhere to stay and access to jobs I could do to cover my tuition at the college.
I was awarded All American player twice, and then the Most Valuable Player for California. Our team The Trojans won the Championship and then I transitioned into coaching. The sport that I started playing at the age of 7, taught me some key skills that I have been able to use in all parts of my life - discipline, being on time and working hard. It has taught me to never give up.
After finishing my degree I was offered a job in insurance, and although I had not let go of my desire to be in the movie industry, I saw this work as a way to make the money I needed to fund and create my own movies. The timing was totally wrong though. The work I found myself in didn’t sit with my core values and getting out meant that I lost everything, every penny I had.
I was offered a job working as a uniformed cop actor on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” with some great people and while I was there I began to create a screenplay based on what I had experienced in the industry I had just left. I started to talk to some colleagues from the show and friends from the water polo world about my short film concept. Amazingly, people came around me and offered me the use of an expensive camera, houses for location scenes and more. Before I knew it, out of zero budget I had a crew and could get the project off the ground. I was the producer, wrote the screenplay and acted in it – so it was a lot to take on, but I loved it. The film won Best Action film in Temecula and best Male actor for short films at the Venice Beach Festival. In Brisbane, Australia it got the People’s Choice award.
I don’t have a theatre education, but I visualize everything and then just go and do it. I don’t doubt myself and grab onto opportunities as they are offered to me. I have worked as a character on one of Taylor Swift’s videos “Wildest Dreams” and today I was on a TV show with Jean Claude Van Damme. I watched his films as a child and working alongside him reminds me of how you can make anything happen if you just keep focused on what you know you are capable of creating.
There is nowhere that you can’t go if you have drive, enthusiasm and just don’t doubt yourself. Even though people see others as famous, I see that they are just very normal people, who work hard and get on with it. That inspires me. I see that working alongside people who are masters of their craft can rub off on you, if you act like a professional and get on with the job you are there to do.
I still coach kids with water polo and I think that is important. All the opportunities that I have had in life have come out of that world and so giving back is the right thing to do. There are no limits on life if you just keep pushing through.
www.madebeautifulbyscars is a human global story series created by Author and Therapist Veronica Farmer, capturing real stories from men and women who have refused to let life scars hold them back from creating an extraordinary life.
Made Beautiful by Scars is a powerful movement for change around how we see our life scars. Instead of hiding our wounds, we share them and the lessons richly learned.
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