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Ukrainian theatre today — interview with Anatoliy Khostikoyev, a leading Ukrainian actor
We fell in love with him when we were about sixteen. We — that is my friend Anya and me — went to see all the plays in which he appeared, some of the plays we saw several times; we always took seats in the first row of the stalls, and we could recognize each individual creak and squeak of each seat in our immediate vicinity. We brought along with us the ivory-coloured fancy opera glasses through which we peered at his handsome face. We never dared to rush onto the stage and give him flowers — we were afraid our hearts would jump out of our chests from too much of a thrill of seeing him at close quarters. Once, when he, doing a vigorous dance in the role of Aeneas, whirled close to the edge of the stage, a drop of his sweat flew across the distance that separated us and landed on my hand. I immediately raised the hand to my face and touched the wet spot with my lips.
Two decades have passed since then. I have been following this actor’s theatrical career through all these years. Now, Anatoliy Khostikoyev, one of the best actors in Ukraine today, is fifty. Vlada Antonova, a freelance journalist, interviewed Mr Khostikoyev for the Welcome to Ukraine magazine.
Myroslava Barchuk, Senior Editor
Before I ask my first question, may I congratulate you on the occasion of your fiftieth birthday that was recently celebrated?
Thank you, I accept your greeting.
They say that when men turn fifty they are prone to analyze their life achievements, to ponder again the meaning of life. Some men are known to say that they would never exchange their mature wisdom for the carefree youthfulness. Do you feel anything of the sort?
I don’t know about other men, but I personally do not find that men are getting wiser as they grow older. You just get physically older, that’s all. Look, there are so many fools in this world — they were fools at twenty and they remain fools at sixty, without acquiring any wisdom with age. I can’t say that turning fifty was of any particular significance for me — I did not indulge in any soul searching or assessments of what I’ve done in life, except, maybe, getting a new angle of vision on the thespian occupation. In my younger years, it was fun to go on stage and perform, and I did not indulge in any analysis of why I was doing it. But now I’ve understood that the talent for acting is a God’s gift. Probably it is one of the reasons why I do not like to give interviews — all those questions about what’s going on in the actor’s heart and soul when he appears on the stage, how he feels the world, how he finds insights into the image he wants to create, and so on. All of it is conceit, vanity and bluff. There is no actor who knows how he does those things on stage. I don’t think there’s a valid theoretical explanation to that. Either you’ve got the thespian talent or you don’t, and that’s all there’s to it. On the one hand, the actor is open to the public, and on the other hand he is all in himself, closed in. Acting is an enigma, and should remain an enigma. Why the actor who is going to appear in the play that is about to begin must not be seen by the spectators in the foyer of the theatre? Because nobody must see the actor in his everyday clothes, just as a regular human being. People must see the actor only on the stage; otherwise the magic of the theatre will be ruined. And right after the play is over, the actor must bow before the audience and leave the stage. Interviews, incidentally, are also ruinous for the magic of the theatre.
Coming back to being fifty — when you turn fifty, you just turn fifty, there’s nothing really special in it. Yes, it’s a good occasion to meet friends, to talk about things, to give a benefit performance, to throw a party and have a good drink.
Have you ever wondered why God gave you the talent for acting? Your parents were not into acting, were they? Your fate could have been quite different.
I do believe that people with some sort of charisma are those who are born out of their parents’ love. My parents loved each other beyond measure. They met during the war — my mother was a medical nurse and it was among the wounded she took care of that there was a man whom she nursed back to life, and who became her husband — and my father. He always showed great tenderness and affection towards her. When mother was away from home, he was beside himself with worry, he could not sit still, he was really on pins and needles waiting for her. He cooked dinner himself. I remember him sitting on a stool in the middle of the kitchen, wearing an apron, with a smoking cigarette in his teeth, humming a tune, and scaling a huge — in fact, what seemed to me an enormously big fish with an outsized knife. The scales were flying all over the place. But when everything was cooked and ready, he would tidy up the apartment, put on his best — and the only one — “Sunday” suit, and install himself close to the front door waiting for his wife — and my Mum. At last she comes in, takes off her shoes, shaking them off her feet — the left one flies to the right, and the right flies to the left, throws her purse somewhere else, and begins describing the events of her working day right there in the hallway and at the top of her voice, “Heorhiy, can you imagine? How could they be so…” My dad would listen patiently, waiting for the torrent to subside, and then would tell her gently, “All right, honey, all right, calm down, go wash your hands, dinner’s ready, have something to eat and tell me more.” She sits down to dinner, and while she’s eating and telling her stories, he silently listens to her, never taking his admiring eyes off her. The dinner over, he takes her to the sofa, and when she lies down, he says soothingly and gently, “What a beauty you are!” and kisses her legs — my mother had the varicose veins. This love that I witnessed was something absolutely natural and self-understood for me, and it never crossed my mind when I was a child, that there could be any other kind of relations between the parents. My parents gave me the greatest gift that a child can get — love for each other.
Do you find the burden of fame supportable?
Fame is just another vanity. Fame has never been a goal I wanted to achieve. Besides, fame is a foxy bitch and it’s better not to have anything to do with her. I am an artiste, an actor. I know I’m a good actor but it does not give me the right to appear on stage unprepared for what I’m supposed to do. I must always be prepared to do my best. The more I’m praised, the harder I try, and the more I demand from myself. That’s the way it should be. On the other hand, it’s better to overestimate yourself than underestimate. It’s not helpful telling yourself that you’re no good — it’s a sign of weakness and lack of professionalism. There are enough of critics and ill-wishers to find fault with what you’re doing on stage. Currently, I have nine leading roles that I play at the Franko Theatre and all of them are in the plays which fill the house to capacity every time they are on, and this kind of thing is an incentive that inspires more than any fame. It’s a much more sure sign of success than anything else.
Being an actor means working very hard, hellishly hard. Now I’m all relaxed and talk in a well-balanced manner like a whiz, but when I’m in the process of preparing a role, I’m all nerves, I’m not as self-confident as I am now. I spend sleepless nights thinking things over. I do an enormous amount of brain work to get things right, the way I want them. I get up in the middle of the night and start going through my role for the umpteenth time. I get annoyed easily, I shout at people and my poor beloved Natasha (Natalya Sumska, Mr Khostikoyev’s wife, an actress in her own right) is the first one I try my new role on. Her reaction is my good guide.
I heard some actors tell that they go so deep into their roles that the personages they play, begin to exercise an influence upon the actors themselves.
No, it’s not true. Anyway it’s never happened to me. One must be a psycho to experience a thing like that. But there’s another thing that does happen — an actor looks upon the world only as the material from which to draw the things needed for a particular role. Lessing (Gotthold Lessing, 1729–1781, a German dramatist and critic — tr.) wrote about it in his “Tragedy of the Actor” — the tragedy of the actor lies in his sometimes failing to fully realize that the tears he may be shedding in his “real,” not stage life, are very real tears over a very real tragedy, sometimes we think at that moment, Ah, well, the tears crawling down my cheeks are well done, they look very real.
Would you be able to quit acting if need be?
Yes, I would though I don’t know how I’d feel about it. I love the life of an actor, I love everything in it. I enjoy what they call the range of a creative individual. Acting gives me the greatest possible satisfaction. But life is not limited to the theatre, to the acting, there are so many other exciting things in life. Those for whom there’s nothing in the world except the theatre usually ends badly. But acting ends, sooner or later, and what are you left with? It’s very sad and heartbreaking.
Being a popular actor, you could make a good career in Moscow where they pay actors much better than in Ukraine. Did you ever think of moving to the Russian capital?
I knew I could always do it, and that knowledge was enough for me. In fact, I had invitations from several prestigious theatres, the Taganka Theatre — arguably the most advanced — included. But frankly I do not think Moscow theatres are something that special. Being an actor is my occupation and vocation, and I could work as an actor anyplace, the main thing being the possibility to realize myself as an artiste. I’m quite satisfied with what I have in Kyiv — this city means so much to me, it gives me strength and inspiration. I have to admit though that there are fewer possibilities for an actor to find employment and achieve artistic goals in Kyiv than in Moscow. For a time there were practically no films made but now things have begun to be revived and films are again made. Recently, I finished work in the serial Atraktsiony. The work on it had begun quite a long time ago but as there was no money to finance it, it was suspended. At last, the financial backing was found and I think the film will be released this spring. There are quite a few other things going in the line of acting in Kyiv, so I have no wish whatsoever to leave Kyiv and go anywhere else.
Did you have such a wish in your younger years?
No, I did not. Besides, I was so much in love all the time that all I cared for was to be close to those I loved. And that meant living and working in Kyiv. It seems to me that we, Ukrainians, in this respect are very much different from, say, the Americans. Those seem to have few sentimental attachments and move freely from to place, without coming back to the places where they grew up, or where they experienced their first great love. I’m not like this. I’m attached to my sentimental experiences, I emotionally feed on reminiscences, I cherish the memories of the things past, I treasure them. If I was deprived of them, I’d wilt and suffer. There are many places in Kyiv which are very dear to my heart, particularly around the places where I used to live and live now. I know every little nook and cranny there. I must tell you I’m in love with Kyiv, there’s an aura of peacefulness and tranquillity in it that I thrive on.
Frankly, I can’t quite agree with you about Kyiv being a peaceful and tranquil place.
I did not mean it as a generalization. It’s just the way I feel. And of course I realize it’s a bustling place of a very long and tragic history. All those invasions, wars, revolutions and wanton destructions have taken a very heavy toll in human lives and architectural and cultural landmarks. So many prominent cultural figures were persecuted, imprisoned and killed in the Soviet times, so many great churches were levelled to the ground. Or take the never-ending menace of Chornobyl. As a Kyivan, as a Ukrainian, I feel this menace particularly strongly. I’ve been to many places in Africa, Asia and Europe but I’ve not seen anything that compares to the beauty of the area around Chornobyl. I used to canoe down the rivers of the Chornobyl area and enjoyed every minute of it. And now that area is a dead zone. Sometimes, I wake up at night, stare into the darkness, and grieve over the land that has gone to radioactive waste. Will it ever come back to normal life? Once I read somewhere that after the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl, the roe and fallow dear in the local forests went blind. They roamed the devastated and contaminated woods and finding the abandoned peasant houses, they put their heads close to the windows and peered inside with their unseeing eyes in a silent plea for help which would never come. I was emotionally devastated when I read about.
You’ve mentioned your love of Kyiv, your very emotional attitude to it… Does not Kyiv seem to be losing its specific character? Do you approve of the changes the city has been going through in recent years?
It does seem to me — and it hurts — that Kyiv is indeed losing its traditional appearance. Those high-rises which are built in places where they should not be built are a plague. The city of Kyiv stands on the hills and those high-rise buildings interfere with the traditional cityscape which gives Kyiv its unique appearance. It’ll be tragic if Kyiv loses its distinctive look. Also, those signs in the streets, on the shops and restaurants should be in Ukrainian, rather than in Russian or in English.
Do you feel that the Ukrainian language continues to be in the need of protection and promotion?
I think that the Ukrainian language must be the sole language of official communication, at all the levels, from top to bottom. What language people use in their private life is their own private matter. But I’m a patriot of Ukraine, I love this land and care for it, and I would like the Ukrainian language to be the vehicle of everyday conversation as well. It’s a very fine, melodic language. Things seem to change for the better these days. In my young days, people who talked Ukrainian were looked upon with contempt. Thank God, the situation is very much different now. My children speak Ukrainian, as do the children of so many other families. But still a lot has to be done in order to impress upon people the understanding of the importance of knowing and protecting the language of the nation they are part of. It’s a great shame not to know or not to use the language of the country you are a citizen of. Language is much more than just a vehicle for communicating thoughts and ideas. To feel the language of your nation is to discover your national identity. Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher, wrote that “Language is the house of my being.” A very apt remark. My father was an Ossetian — Ossetia is in the central Caucasus — but he lived all his life in Ukraine, he spoke Ukrainian, but when his heart was heavy or when he grew particularly nostalgic, he would retire to his room and listen to the Ossetian songs on tapes. Your native language is part of your soul.
Let’s go back to the theatre, if we may. I heard an opinion that there are many talented actors in Ukraine but no established school of acting. Can you comment this?
Unfortunately, I have to admit that we lack teachers who are qualified enough to train actors properly. In Kyiv we have a couple of establishments of higher learning which train actors. One of them is the Institute of Culture and in recent years it has made a good progress. The Theatrical Institute has not been doing too good and its lecturers and instructors do not constitute what you might call “a national school of actors’ training.” There’s a lot to be done in this respect. In Moscow, they do have several schools of acting. Say, the Shchukin School of training actors is different from the Vakhtangov School of training actors. At the same time, when Ukrainian theatrical troupes go on tours, Moscow included, the critics and the public are impressed with the high professional level of their acting. We, Ukrainian actors, and our performances invariably enjoy unqualified success. Few attempts are made here in Ukraine to explain this phenomenon. I wish the Ukrainian critics would work harder to study it and analyze it. I don’t think Ukrainian art in general, and the Ukrainian performing arts in particular are well known in the world but whenever Ukrainian performers go on tours they enjoy a critical and public success. Unfortunately, there’s no promotion of the Ukrainian theatre, there are no promoters who would purposefully make the Ukrainian theatre better known in the world. There’s very little knowledge on the international theatrical arena, theatre festivals included, about, say, the Ukrainian National Academic Drama Theatre named after Ivan Franko. But I do hope that sometime soon we’ll get lucky and have an opportunity to become a better known presence in the international world of theatre.[Prev][Contents][Next]