From “Big Change” to “Spiderman”: how Ilya Baskin became his in Hollywood
The first thing that for some reason caught my eye when I was parking at the house of actor Ilya Baskin was a mailbox. The one that so often appears in American cinema and is associated with a green lawn, a swimming pool, smiling neighbors and, of course, the house itself - cozy, large, tastefully furnished - a symbol of success and the American dream come true. In this sense, the actor's house fits perfectly with a number of other houses in one of the quiet areas of Los Angeles.
The difference is already felt inside, thanks to the host and outstanding hospitality. Our conversation does not begin until the coffee is prepared and the table covered with sweets.
Ilya Baskin is one of those actors who are “betrayed” by their face. Even without knowing the name, many probably remember the face of the curly-haired student from “Big Change”, Mr. Ditkovich from the blockbuster series “Spider-Man”, the failed defector clown Cherkasov from the movie “Moscow on the Hudson”. In addition, Baskin worked in the films "The President's Airplane", "The Name of the Rose", "A Space Odyssey of 2010", in the series "Deadly Force", "MacGyver", "Castle" and many others.
Baskin was born in 1950 in Riga. In Moscow, he graduated from the department of conversational genres of the circus school, worked in the theater, acted in films, was awarded an award as the best young actor in the Moscow Comedy Theater. But, despite the bright start on the Soviet screen, in 1976 the actor decides to leave for the USA. To do this, they had to “buy out” themselves from the state: they had to pay 700 rubles for their right to leave - an amount equal to the actor's salary for several months. Thus, those who left renounced Soviet citizenship and the opportunity to return.
What are your expectations and hopes regarding the acting profession going to Hollywood?
I didn't go to become De Niro. I just wanted to leave. I am very disgusted with life in the USSR, where you cannot be yourself. You must think correctly, behave in a certain way, must be loyal to the authorities. Back in Moscow, I was friends with Savely Kramarov: this man was then such a star that you couldn't go anywhere with him, everyone harassed him, harassed him. But even he was so dependent on them that, for example, coming to the store, he was almost forced to arrange a concert for the director in order to get some scarce products. It was so humiliating and disgusting that when I found out about the possibility of leaving, I left. I was afraid that there might not be such an opportunity anymore. I drove and hoped that maybe something would work out, but there was no certainty.
So you were ready for the fact that you may have to part with the profession of an actor?
Yes. In addition, during the transit, everyone said to me: “Forget it,” “immediately change your profession,” “the actors have such a competition.” But you listen, you listen, but you still hope and know that you will try anyway.
For the next seven years, the young actor “tried”: he learned the language, went to auditions, starred in small episodes. The accent, limiting the choice of roles, added to the difficulties. For a long time, in order to support myself, I had to earn extra money where I have to: wash dishes in a restaurant, sell insurance and even publish a newspaper.
How did you manage not to be disappointed, not to quit trying?
There were moments. I then had a newspaper, I thought at all to break with my agent and leave. And tore it up. And then I realized that I couldn't live without it. I can't - that's all. I went back to the agent and said “let's try again”. And it all started.
It began in 1984, thanks to the painting by Paul Mazursky "Moscow on the Hudson". Baskin plays the clown Anatoly, an ardent opponent of the Soviet regime who dreams of fleeing to the West. Ironically, his colleague escapes during the troupe tour - saxophonist Vladimir (Robin Williams). Further, the picture tells about the fate of Vladimir, about how the hero adapts and tries to find his place in capitalist America.
How did this role come about?
By chance. The character was originally written differently, and they wanted to take on the role of Alexander Godunov, a dancer - he was a defector (a defector - Auth.). But Godunov did not want to, since the role is not the main one. When i met with Mazursky, then he offered to make my hero a clown, showed him some of his tricks. He laughed - and so it went, we completely remade this character.
This picture is very dear to me. Mazury Is an amazing director, Robin is wonderful. We filmed in different places: in Munich, New York, and there were always wonderful people and atmosphere around. It was a celebration of life.
Saveliy Kramarov, who had also moved to the USA, also participated in the film. Friends of coincidence met in the picture, which for both was decisive. For Ilya Baskin, this role served as a stepping stone to a full-fledged acting career. After the success of “Moscow”, he finally was able to abandon additional work and live solely through filming.
In general, in the actor's fate a lot depends on the circumstances. If Mazursky didn’t shoot Moscow on the Hudson at that moment, maybe today I would run on some small roles. But this is how the circumstances developed, once - and off it. They began to invite me a lot, I got a very serious agent.
The next big picture was 2010 Space Odyssey and the role of astronaut Brailovsky. After her, Baskin began to be invited to all sorts of talk shows: among others, he was with Johnny Carson, David Letterman. Awareness came too: the actor was stopped on the streets.
How did people react to you? Asked for an autograph?
They came up, said some words, some asked for an autograph, some didn't. Basically, these were very pleasant moments, and I will not lie - I really liked it.
Later there were roles in such large Hollywood projects as “President’s Plane”, Austin Powers - International Man of Mystery, Spider-Man, Transformers and others. During his career, Baskin took part in filming of various scales and got the opportunity to see the work of the mechanisms of the "Dream Factory" from the inside.
It's no secret that Hollywood is a system aimed primarily at making money. Does the actor manage to realize himself creatively?
Yes, Hollywood is a business. If you're lucky and you come across an interesting director, you will find yourself in an interesting project. But in principle, we are playing the fool. We change clothes, we make up, we become different people. Of course, if the project is ethical reasons do not suit me, then I will not be busy in it, but in principle, I have much less really interesting paintings than any nonsense. And there is more nonsense, because they pay for it, and then in any case you do what you love. After all, actors are actors. It's a pleasure for us to transform into other people.
Is it possible to improvise and compose on the set? Or is everything clear and according to plan?
Again, depends on the director. For example, everything that you saw in "Spider-Man 2" and "3", I improvised, in the script none of this was. I came up with this little image with my daughter (Ursula, daughter of Mr. Ditkovich - approx.), And he was completely left. And sometimes it's the other way around. I remember at the beginning of my career, when I still didn’t understand how it worked, there was a movie “Being there” with a bunch of stars, with Peter Saylers, Shirley McLain. I began to invent all sorts of things on the set. Everyone laughed, everyone liked it, they took everything off. But then it all ended up in the basket. Then the same lesson was taught to me by the wonderful actor Jamie Farr from the “MESH” series. We played the scene together, and I also began to invent. And he says: "You understand that nothing of this will be in the film." I ask: “Why? This is ridiculous! ” He replies: "Yes, it's funny, but it has nothing to do with history."
Colleagues of the “stars” during his career, Ilya met quite a bit, with some he still maintains friendly relations, and speaks of one with particular warmth.
Humanly special relationship I had with Robin (Williams. - Author). We communicated pretty closely. Except for his last 4 years, when he was already very sick.
Who of the stars with whom I had to work, made a big impression?
Each in its own way. I really liked Sean Connery as a very kind-hearted, simple person. But, basically, he made an impression, of course, because of its magnitude.
I am friends with Richard Dreyfuss (winner of the Oscar, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Degree - Ed.) - also a simple, warm person.
What is, in your understanding, “successful actor”?
Someone who can do what he loves and feed himself with it. If fame, success and big money come, this is a bonus. But I always wanted to just do my job well. It didn’t always work out, but when it did, it’s a great pleasure. I have never had this: "he has a bigger house, I want the same."
And “he has a bigger role, I want the same”?
That was it.
Well, you never know what I want. I realized that I did not get it, but that. I was glad and that.
And it got not so little: the complete filmography of Baskin has more than 90 roles in movies and on television. The actor and now continues to be removed. Roles are often offered with one call, without the need for casting.
Ilya, you have been working in Hollywood for about 40 years, has your perception of it changed over the years?
Hollywood has changed. He became more corporate. When i came here and I got to my first studio "Twentieth Century Fox", I had the feeling that I was at "Mosfilm". The atmosphere was more familial. Then the studios were owned by people who loved this business and put their soul into it. And today they are owned by huge corporations who are interested in one thing - profit (profit - Auth.). So now, mostly these creepy comics. Because it is guaranteed to be profitable. Why risk it? He has a salary of several million a year, he is the director of the studio, and if he removes something that does not collect money, he will immediately be thrown out. And then - these people grew up mainly in television and video games, they just don't know anything else.
Yes, it's sad.
Sadly But, on the other hand, there is a whole army of people in Hollywood who read everything that goes into literature. Even the most insignificant. Looking for what to cling to to make a movie. That is, the process still goes on, and along with the garbage, absolutely beautiful, humane pictures suddenly appear on the screen.
Is it true that Russian and Soviet actors more often play “bad guys”, bandits?
Yes, such roles are, in principle, the most, nowhere to go from this. Often call and offer "mafia boss", the killer there is some gangster. But I have a lot of other roles, the bad ones are definitely smaller than the good ones. My face just is not villainous. And that's bad. (Smiles).
In general, I was probably lucky: I managed to get rid of “Russianness”. I played the Germans, the Dutch, the Romanians, the Bulgarians, even the Irish played the French director Jean-Jacques Annaud.
Jean-Jacques Anno shot the picture “The Name of the Rose” based on the novel of the same name by Umberto Eco. Ilya Baskin plays monastryr herbalist Severin, and in the role of William of Baskerville - Sean Connery. Baskin considers this picture to be one of his most interesting works.
Ilya, you make an amazing impression of a person in full harmony with the world and yourself. What's the secret?
There is such an old Jewish saying: “It could have been much better. But it could have been much worse. So thank God. ” (Smiles).
That is, the risk paid off?
Yes, I think so. I am very pleased that I made this choice. I have no negative feelings towards Russia, but back then I had a lot of them towards the USSR. And since my main life was spent here, this is my home - here are my friends, here everything is mine. When I come to Russia now, I come to visit. And, as the saying goes, “visiting is good, but at home…”.
And home is better.
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