Kamil Tukaev, an actor of the Voronezh Chamber Theater and an Honored Artist of Russia won the Golden Mask National Theater Award in April 2019. The artist received the award in the "Best Male Role" nomination for playing Creon in the play Antigone. In an interview to RIA Voronezh, Kamil Tukaev spoke about working on new roles, moving to Voronezh and establishing himself in the acting profession.
“I couldn’t have played Creon at the age of 30”
– When you started working on Antigone, could you imagine that it would be such a success?
– All works are born in different ways. Right now, for example, we are rehearsing Bulgakov's The Cabal of Hypocrites, I’m playing Moliere. And I do not feel like Moliere yet, it makes me feel anxious. But this is normal – there is always a distance between the performer and the one he plays. The longer the distance, the more interesting it is to make through it. Creon from Antigone is far from me. I had to make an effort to get closer to him. But the rehearsals somehow began to go pretty well right away. Mikhail Bychkov is such a director that he was able to immediately say the right words, give accurate hints about what we would talk about with the audience. Because you need to understand very well what is left behind the scenes, beyond words, in silence. We live in one country, in one society and are representatives of the same profession. All this formed the story of Antigone and her uncle Creon. I am sure that I would not have been able to play Creon at the age of 20 or 30. This is the role of life experience, not just professional. To play it, you need to be indifferent to a person who is faced with power. You need to worry about him and fight for him, he needs to be defended - as paradoxically as it may sound. I play Creon, but, of course, I share the views of Antigone - her main principle is to live according to the conscience. This rule should not be criticized at all. It is so natural! If it were applicable in all areas, life would be easier.
– It is very interesting to learn how an actor develops a character from the example of Creon. Did you come up with a biography for your character? And what hints did the director give you?
– I am not a very big supporter of what we were taught under the Stanislavski system - that we need to come up with a biography of the character and then adopt it and so on. It never gave me anything special. I go the other way - I imagine this person, I create his image in my head, and he begins to influence me. But to create this image, you need life experience. And Bychkov told me that while working on Creon it was necessary to look for analogies in today's world. Because simply walking with a crown on your head and prophesying in a thunderous voice is meaningless. I do not like to reveal the backstage entrails, but one of the keys was that I remembered the experience of communicating with officials. Bychkov advised me to take note of what outraged me about them, to recall which ideas I, on the contrary, understood well and shared. And I have a great experience of interaction with a variety of leaders and authorities. I realized that Creon should be pliant, he should change easily, flow like mercury, change masks quickly. But these masks must be logically motivated in the process of how he tries to convince Antigone so that the viewer gets his own images in his head too: for some it is disputes with their mothers at the transitional age, some have a child who has already started to have his point of view on any issue. For example, a boy says that he wants ice cream, and you answer that he has a sore throat. It is pointless - he cannot put the two together in his head. And you start to bluff, distract, intimidate. Creon does all this with Antigone. In a sense, he is an ideal father, husband, and brother. He is the only man next to Antigone in these moments of stage time. And her whole life is in his hands, he does everything to save her. But he fails because the truth is not on his side.
“As children, we are all artists”
– What were the prerequisites in your childhood to becoming an actor?
– Everyone has them at this age! As children, we all have them! It’s just that in one person these actor features get stuck, and out of another one they are washed out by new hobbies or worries. As children, we are all artists. We love to play. And in this game, we are always someone else. In our yard, all the boys every day were divided into fascists and Soviet soldiers, red and white, musketeers and cardinal guardsmen. I was simply the only one who became an actor. Someone became a military man, someone - a professional skier, and someone - an artist. And I'm stuck because I'm infantile. It is easy to check if your child has an artist gene. If they fool around in front of a mirror, try on their parents’ clothes, portray someone and rush to show it to you – you can be sure that they have acting skills. And I had it in me. During school, I participated in art contests, I used to be a host, I played in acting scenes. I remember myself dancing Georgian lezginka wearing my mother's sable hat - it was extremely hot. I remember a scene based on Chekhov's Surgery - I was a patient, and my friend pulled out my tooth made of a cork from a vinegar or vodka bottle with pliers.
– When did you realize that you wanted to become an actor?
– After the eighth grade, I first went to enter the drama school in Irkutsk. I arrived in the summer, there was no one there except the secretary who was then barely hired. She was fired that very summer. But she managed to show her knowledge and said that I had a stentorious “r”, that it was an incorrigible speech defect. I did not really understand what I was told, but I felt that it was a tragedy. I went out and tore my documents. I entered the ninth grade. Later, remembering my stentorious “r”, I went to enter the Aviation Department of the Irkutsk Polytechnic Institute. I failed everything there, so I entered the Department of Chemistry and Technology. After studying there for six months, I realized that all this was very far from me, that it was not interesting to me, that I was occupying someone else’s place. I decided to change everything drastically. I passed the descriptive geometry test with the highest grade, came home and reported this to my mother. She praised me, and I replied that I was leaving the institute. I decided that I would go enter the Choreography Department in Ulan-Ude. When I came, I saw that the guys who were preparing to enter were much better than me, so I applied for the People's Theater Direction Department.
– If you would have entered, you would end up working in some community center?
– Yes. I was considered a defector, they said that I was knocking on the wrong gate. As I took my exams, the level of interest in me grew. And then appeared Mikhail Bogin, a famous Leningrad director – he was recruiting students to the Irkutsk Theater School. He auditioned everyone and picked just me. After auditioning me, he said: “Here is money for you, go to the station, buy a ticket for me and yourself. We're leaving". He took just me to Irkutsk. What a time it was – the master himself traveled around the country, picked people and took them to the school himself. Now it is impossible to imagine. And the words about money and two tickets became epochal for me. They may mean nothing to you, but for me, it is an aphorism, like a line from the Bible. Acting is a profession of meetings and partings. I had a lot of important meetings and many such crucial phrases said by important people to me. Directors and teachers Mikhail Bogin, Boris Raikin, Vyacheslav Kokorin are my real teachers in the profession. And also the Dutch clown Ted Kaiser who came here to the Voronezh Theater for Young Spectators and staged the play Harmsburg, or the History of the Fighters. At that moment I realized that the boundaries of theater can be pushed very wide – down to clownery, to farce. And, of course, for 30 years now I have considered Mikhail Bychkov as another very important teacher of mine. I learned a lot from him and am still learning.
– Is studying in a drama school a complete paradigm shift?
– Yes, when you get there, you don’t understand what is happening at first. The studies are all very complicated. The most understandable is the history of world theater. And the rest is stage movement, makeup, music. And the subject “skill” is indescribable. Everybody is crawling, mooing, trying to portray some animal all day long. After all, young people are a receptacle of a huge energy potential. And in a theatrical institution of higher education, you are simply driven by it, it is a real wave. That is why there are so many breakthroughs during studentship. Some flourish during the first year, some - during the fourth. And those who were good at 18 shift to the second fiddle at 21. Authorities are overthrown constantly. Student performances are the crown of everything, they are beautiful and honest. Young people play old men, babies. Everybody plays everybody. And then you come to the theater, and there old people play old people, babies - dolls in diapers. What is important is that this training brings great joy. I believe that there must be drive in studentship. If you go into the profession because your dad has arranged it or because you need to continue the family tradition, you can be sure – either you will leave or the profession will not bring you any joy.
– An actor can be unhappy too.
– Of course. Because very few people realize what the profession of an actor consists of. Applicants imagine the pages of newspapers with their names, Oscars, Golden Bears, Golden Palms, fans. And only few people understand what a hell of a work it is for the soul. The more you work, the better you understand your place in the profession. And if your place is outside the top third hundred, you rarely smile. You wonder whether you have squandered your life away. Or maybe the next role will bring success? And the clock is ticking. The artist’s nature is very reflective, and I am not an exception. Actors are very vulnerable, they constantly ask themselves whether they are in their place, whether they are needed by someone. I think doctors do not ask themselves such questions - it is obvious that people need them. But for artists it is a constant whipsaw. And the only way to convince yourself that you are not a stranger in this craft is by working hard. The acting profession is not applied, it has no practical application. It is not for good use here and now. Art is for the future. I think artists have some sort of a gift. But for me this word is a derivative of “give.” An actor is an intermediate stage. I'm a repeater. Something came to me - I passed it through myself and gave to others to others. And when there is a response from people, gratitude, you always feel it. And the petty questions you ask yourself disappear for a while.
– Can you remember some of your student breakthroughs, your little victory?
– Apparently, I was predestined to public suffering. When we released the play Yegor Bulychov and Others in the drama school, I called my mother. And there was an episode where Bulychov's liver hurts, and he dies. Mom barely stayed until the end. And then she ran backstage and asked what was wrong with the liver, said that we should to go a doctor. I say: "This is a character, it is not me, everything’s fine." And she said: “Bulychov, theatrics, I understand all of it. But what’s wrong with the liver?!”.
– Did you get into the army after graduating from drama school?
– I was taken from the first course. It was an ice shower. I thought: "How is it possible?". At the school, we talked so much about the soul, about love, belonging, empathy - and in the army I looked at some things and thought: “How is it possible?”. We once went to the pits to take a photo against the background of tanks. My mother sent me a Smena-8M camera for my birthday, it was about one-eighth of her salary. She did not know what the army was like, and neither did I. And the company commander, seeing us in the pits, broke my camera against my head. It was very painful and bitter, especially for my mother. I pictured the whole scene before my eyes - how she was packing the camera in a wooden box, writing the address with a chemical pencil. In the drama school, I saw a special breed of people - beautiful, talented. In the army, I saw different ones. And I could not put it together in my head that all these people lived in the same country. And when it was over, I realized what a wonderful experience I had. I am grateful to the army for not hardening me, it opened even more empathic channels in me. I began to empathize with people even more, began to fight the camera-to-head method everywhere.
“I have never knocked on the doors of Mosfilm”
– You are one of the few Voronezh actors who have starred in films. How does someone get there?
– Everyone does it differently. I once sat in the workshop of my wife Nina Proshunina, she is an artist. The year was 2002. My huge cell phone rang. "Hello, calling you from Yekaterinburg, I want to invite you to the main role in a movie." I thought that nobody had played me like that before. I replied: "Stop lying." And hung up. During the next call, the conversation was more specific - the name of the director was mentioned, I was told about the idea of the film, about the film crew. I flew, passed the audition. And after the auditioning, the cameraman said: “I do not need anyone else except him.” The director replied: "Me too." They called me after seeing my photo. Apparently, on the Chamber Theater’s website. After you shoot in your first film, casting directors start working, they are closely connected. There is a database with characteristics and photos. And someone is constantly advising someone to someone. I will say without false modesty: I’ve never knocked on the doors of Mosfilm, I haven’t asked for anything. Although, it is wrong for our profession. That’s why my film track record is short.
– Would like to do more films?
– I just came from a shooting. But I have no right to say what it was for another year under the contract. Speaking honestly, I love theater the most. This is constant work with yourself, it is a transfer of energy. Each performance is different. And it is always an opportunity to live someone's life. Cinema is a more technological story. There, when you need to make several takes, you press other buttons inside yourself. There are no takes in the theater – it is hit or miss. Although when good actors, a film crew, and all the work are put together correctly in a movie, magic happens. But it is more often felt already at the release. And in the process is completely different. For example, a car comes for you at six in the morning. It brings you to the site, they make you up, you learn some text and you wait while they shoot something else, rearrange the cameras, arrange the lighting. And the shooting starts only in the afternoon. I recently re-watched the Soldier's Decameron by Andrei Proshkin and rediscovered it for myself. My partners there were people who had later become stars - Klava Korshunova, Yelena Lyadova, Alexander Yatsenko. And also those who were considered stars already then - Yulia Vysotskaya and Mikhail Porechenkov. The film has such a dense atmosphere, everything is very meticulously and carefully done. I remember how lamps were brought from Japan for just one night scene - it was necessary to penetrate the forest with a powerful beam of light to get a shot. Films look different over time. Time provides an opportunity to see how great the value of a work of art is.
– In The Miracle, you played together with Konstantin Khabensky and Sergey Makovetsky. Is there an opportunity to learn something from the stars on the set?
– I did not encounter Konstantin on the set. But Sergey Makovetsky is an absolutely amazing example of how an actor should behave and feel while filming. He seemed to be in character all the time. Perfectly prepared, knows the lines perfectly. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. It didn't matter if the camera was working or not - there was the magic of a man of art. As for learning from the stars - you need to understand what exactly to learn. It is impossible to peep something out and adopt it. But it is possible to analyze how this actor relates to life and profession.
“The Voronezh audience has become more advanced”
– How did you move to Voronezh?
– It was the end of 1987. Shortly before this, Mikhail Bychkov worked as a second director in the Irkutsk Theater for Young Spectators. At that time, the Voronezh Theater for Young Spectators needed a director, he was invited there, and he accepted this offer. And in Irkutsk, an unpleasant but typical for that time story happened. My teacher, chief director Vyacheslav Kokorin, was driven out of the theater by a communist director who did not agree with Kokorin’s course to create a youth progressive theater. Kokorin was then looking for a new theater, hosted workshops and trainings. We came to the theater as Western artists who work not under the Labor Code, and spent entire days there. In the morning we rehearsed, in the afternoon we conducted training, in the evening we played a performance, in breaks we analyzed plays and talked about the theater. We lived in the theater, we were dedicated and happy! Irkutsk was then very theatrical, many places had great performances, and the city lived by it. And when Kokorin was fired, eight actors left, simply in protest against "the wretched party line against the theater." Mikhail Bychkov invited five of them to the Voronezh Theater for Young Spectators. I was among these actors. But I did not accept the new city right away.
– Everything is different. Small rivers, low trees. People are different. I thought this was not my place. But after three years, the rejection dissipated. The profession always comes to the rescue. If the work is interesting, life is interesting. Pyotr Vail has a book, The Genius of Place, in which he talks about great people and links them to the place where they had lived. Voronezh is my genius of place. I've lived here most of my life. I fell in love with this city, I have relatives here, my wife is from Voronezh, my son was born here. I still love Siberia, when I go to the bank of Yenisei or Angara - my heart is pounding. But Voronezh is also mine. In addition, it is becoming more convenient. Good climate, six hours to Moscow. The airport is developing more and more flight routes. People, of course, change more slowly than the city. Although I am pleased to see young, beautiful, intelligent people who are not like the Voronezh people of the dark years. That’s what I call the period from 1990 to 2000. It is the time of my getting used to the city.
– How could the Chamber Theater appear in those years?
– This is a unique phenomenon. Bychkov and Voronezh are another example of the “genius of place”. He then realized that the only way to survive in this fog was like Munchhausen — one had to pull oneself out by one’s own hair. Culture is exactly what can help you maintain a human inside yourself. Through the moral tenets that are spelled out in literature, drama. Jerzy Grotowski has a whole concept - poor theater. This is the theater Bychkov began to build, but it was poor involuntarily. A small room, a minimum of scenery. The first performance was Berenice, there was enough money only to make costumes and a red table on which the drum was standing. That's the whole scenery. In a Chekhov-based play, there were just three pictures, and that was all. We had a slogan: "The Chamber Theater is the territory of your soul." Now I meet 40-50 year-old people in the street and hear: “I’m so grateful that you existed. I went to your theatre and understood that we would survive, that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.” And I feel the same gratitude towards Bychkov. I can't imagine how he walked around the offices of officials in the 90s and tried to convince them that Voronezh needed such a municipal theater. This is a heroic deed.
– Can you formulate what our Voronezh identity and uniqueness is?
– I can’t. I do not think that we are unique. In general, all my life I wanted to be a man of the world. And ideally, there should be no borders at all. But there is no way around them, unfortunately. If we try to characterize the citizens of Voronezh, St. Petersburg or the French, we will inevitably begin to use stereotypes. Yes, there is a difference between people. Some are self-contained, others are prone to irony - but these are psychological differences. And national uniqueness hardly exists. But the Voronezh roads are unique – you have to hand it to them, drivers will understand me. For me personally, in Voronezh, it is important that I feel the trust of the audience, and this brings certain freedom of search. Our audience has become more advanced - this is where our identity and uniqueness is being outlined. This is a great merit of the festivals that take place in our city. The course for culture is always ennobling the environment. And the environment forms consciousness. And our consciousness becomes somehow more progressive, modern, global, maybe. And how else can it be, if you can see the performance of the Berliner Ensemble or the performances of Finzi Pasca in your city? People watch the play and discuss it, and from it move to discussing universal values. This is amazing.
– But not so long ago there was a discussion about the interference of the Department of Culture in the programming of the Platonov Festival. Is this the other side of our identity?
– It’s not my place to talk about the inside scoop of this process — I don’t know much. Let me just say that it is natural. If you pave the way, there will be obsticles. No one promised it would be easy. You cannot demand from people that everyone must be like you. Everyone has the right to their own vision. But personally, I am always in favor of arguing your point of view - explain why you don’t like a show, a concert, an exhibition. Join the debate. Art cannot be unambiguous, it requires a dialogue. Now, as far as I know, everything has changed for the better. Everyone understood each other, a favorable mode has been turned on in relation to the festival.
– What makes you happy in Voronezh?
– I would tell you, but I think that you need to be happy modestly, quietly. You can not be proud of your happiness, boast. Firstly, it is ugly. Secondly, it always leads to you ending up in some kind of failure or something even worse. There are things that you need to live quietly alone. And I do not want to scare happiness away.
– And what if someone tells you right now: “Kamil Irikovich, buy two tickets for me and yourself. We're leaving"?
– Oh, in those days I was a passionate dreamer. But now I’m a realist - over the years this happens to everyone. You think, you estimate. If I was invited to Broadway, I would refuse. The age is not the same, I don’t speak the language, my acting arsenal is not what today's time demands. But if I was told that there was a house on Lake Baikal, and there I had to work for a year with ten children who wanted to do theater, I probably would have gone. Although I have a more universal phrase to answer this question: I would go on reconnaissance.