‘Hollywood Producers Have Every Reason to Envy Us’

PHOTO by A poster of the "Viking" movie / Kinopoisk
Actress Khodchenkova on the much-anticipated Russian film “Viking” and on what sets good directors apart from bad ones

The long-awaited historical drama “Viking” (directed by Andrey Kravchuk) scheduled for release next week follows the story of Prince Vladimir the Great, a merciless pagan warrior who eventually converted to Greek Orthodoxy and brought Christianity to Rus’ in the 10th century AD. Lenta.ru presents an interview with Svetlana Khodchenkova, who appeared in the film as the Greek nun Irina who is kidnapped by Prince Vladimir.

“Viking” is one of the most lavish large-scale epics recently made in Russia. How do Russian movies compare with their American counterparts?

I would say, with total confidence, that many producers in Hollywood have every reason to envy the “Viking” project. The picture employs Hollywood-standard technologies; we have managed to keep abreast with the latest developments that are taking place in the global cinematic industry and are even superior to many international projects in some respects. “Viking” is a truly unique production, both in terms of organization and creative work.

What did you feel when you first read the script? What made you accept the part?

As soon as I first read the screenplay, I felt that it was impossible to refuse. The plot is based on documented historical facts from Russian history, not some fictitional story. There are no insignificant characters in “Viking,” and I was impressed by the drama that is present in each of them. We fully recognized that “Viking” is an important project rather than your average movie about bearded men in funny clothes.

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Svetlana Khodchenkova as the Greek nun Irina in the "Viking"

What do you think are the most interesting aspects of the character you play?

My character is torn between her love for God and her love for a man. It was really challenging to explore the inevitable conflict between these emotions. Betrayal in the name of love is still betrayal, so I had to explain Irina’s motivation to myself, even justify her. The part raised many complex, interesting issues.

Many historical films are accused of oversimplifying the characters and their sentiments. How did you avoid this pitfall?

We were fully aware that we needed to approach the story earnestly and emotionally. Otherwise, our project would have ended up as yet another meaningless action movie with cardboard characters, extravagant sets and galloping horses. The “Viking” team, however, was aiming for higher goals, for authenticity.

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Do you find it easier to work with directors that discuss or even rehearse each scene down to minute details, or with those who give actors the freedom to devise their own characters?

Freedom is an excellent thing in any walk of life. Yet, we need to understand that a film is ultimately the director’s project, so it is absolutely crucial for the director to communicate their creative objectives to the actors, if only in a couple of words. On the other hand, there are cases when the director’s elaborate instructions miss the point, which may be utterly frustrating. You immediately deflate, the intensity of the scene and acting are lost – this is a situation I hate. However, I am really lucky: I have always worked with great directors.

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What have you gained during the years spent with the “Viking” project, both professionally and personally?

“Viking” has taught me patience. I didn’t used to think of myself as a patient, persevering and industrious person before I took a role in this film. As an actress, I was happy to work with my fantastic partners, Danila Kozlovsky and Sasha Bortich. I first met Sasha during the filming and was simply amazed by her energy, by how genuine she was, both on and off screen. The cinema world is a very peculiar environment; many artists carry on acting long after they have left the set and disposed of their costumes. This can be extremely difficult to deal with. But Sasha is totally different – she is so bright, sincere and honest in everything she says and does. I am sure she has a brilliant future.