Popular Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova speaks about comedies and thrillers, Russian spies, pole dancing and the Venice Film festival
In the recently released film ‘Rzhevsky vs Napoleon’ you played Natasha Rostova, whose image was far from the romantic one described by Leo Tolstoy.
This is correct, my Natasha Rostova has very little in common with the original character, just the name and the surname. To play her role I had to learn horse riding, fencing and pole dancing, so it was quite a challenge, but what would you do for the sake of your acting career!
Was it an interesting role?
Of course. That was my third project with the director Maryus Vaisberg – hopefully in the spring we will get the fourth one started. Also I worked together with Vladimir Zelensky, who played Napoleon. And of course Pavel Derevyanko, who played Rzhevsky – we became great friends.
Do you like comedy roles?
Yes, but I would not star in just any comedy. I like the films which make you laugh and cry at the same time, such as ‘Love Actually’.
By the way – you recently co-starred together with ‘Love Actually’s’ Colin Firth in the thriller ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’.
Yes, but we didn’t have any scenes together, my partner was Tom Hardy. I didn’t know who he was until I saw the film ‘Inception’. I was really ashamed I previously knew nothing about such a genius actor. When most of us transform for a role by changing costume, name and makeup, Tom entirely changes his gestures and mannerism. He was playing a blue-eyed blond and I was sure that he looked like that in real life until I accidentally met him backstage – his dark hair was cut short and he looked more like a rapper.
Do you think such transformational ability is something that can be rehearsed or is it a unique talent?
Actors get special training, but some degree of talent is a must. We actors are like monkeys, we like to copy others. Sometimes I catch myself unwittingly copying someone I am talking with at the screening or at an interview.
What is your role in the film?
I am playing the Russian spy Irina, who makes a stupid mistake falling in love. Spies should not fall in love, but she had no other chance – despite being married, she was an incredibly lonely and abandoned person. You know – sometimes it happens – you may have a family, but deep inside have a feeling that the whole world is against you and nobody cares for you. You just want to have somebody beside you, somebody you can talk to, and my character found such a person in Tom Hardy’s character.
One of your scenes is so romantic, where both of you are driving through Istanbul’s seaport in an old convertible Mercedes, looking so happy…
For this film I had to master driving cars with a gearshift. In fact, I’m always learning something new – now it’s the English language, I am also planning to study French.
Hang on, you were interviewed in English during the Venice Film festival?
It happened because on the first day of the festival the organisers forgot to supply us with a translator. I didn’t expect it, but quickly got used to speaking English and later refused translation services. It made me so proud of myself. So yes, I speak some English but it needs polishing and I need to get rid of my Russian accent.
What do you think of the Festival – I believe it wasn’t your first time there?
I visited Venice 2 years ago, when I was invited by a watchmaker, and this time to present this movie. I sensed a tremendous difference, as for the first time I felt so excited to be a part of the film industry.
Have you been offered more roles in Western films?
Yes, but not of the same kinds, and again my character would be Russian and this time, a good Russian. It really annoys me when my countrymen are presented as swindlers, public nuisances and heavy drinkers. Such as the character of the Russian cosmonaut in ‘Armageddon’ – a silly guy in a furry hat - he’s just missing a balalaika and a dancing bear on the Mir space station.
How does your work for international projects differ from the Russian ones?
The volume of sound – on stage. Russians are louder and don’t adhere to any etiquette. Western film crews are more discreet, they respect the work of the actors.
And what about the film director controlling what’s happening on the stage?
It doesn’t always happen in Russia, sometimes the director is just too shy to intervene, in particular when the film producer is present.
Do you often reject roles?
Yes and the reason for that is the screenplays are similar to those I had before. For a long time I was under the influence of the female character from Stavislav Govorukhin’s ‘Bless the Woman’. I love this director and this film a lot, but that role was restricting me from playing other characters and that was affecting me negatively, as I have to develop and grow.