Ekran i stzena
Vadim Mikhalev

Can you imagine what it's like – to be a resident actor in a Moscow theater with a last name like Mironov?* Your only chance of attracting attention is if some idle critic starts waxing nostalgic to the tune of "where Greatness used to tread the boards, now that one walks..." I myself, while realizing the utter triviality of name comparisons, could barely keep from starting in on "Mironov-not-the-son-or-brother-or-any-relation-to..." Because it's tempting, because there's a vague physical resemblance, because...

But away with analogies. Let me simply state that a certain theater on Chaplygin Street employs a young actor by the name of Yevgeny Mironov, and if one doesn't write about him now one risks missing the rise of a new star. That's a big word to use in this dark day and age. Who looks to the stars when the streetlights are broken? But stars are born just the same. Our local gloom has no impact on the laws of the universe.

So I write the word, thinking of another thespian with a long artistic record and of his mumbled, embarrassed response to the label "star" applied by a fan: "Lord Almighty, what stars... Our country has no stars, we're all the same old workhorses..." That actor is 50, Zhenya Mironov is half his age, and I find myself desperately wishing that he get there: that he be known and loved not just here but in Hollywood, that he get film offers from all over the world, that he and his peers – all so talented – bear that proud title: a Russian star.

This wish is particularly urgent now, in a time without heroes. If people don't go to the theater and the movies to see stars, we will have no theater and no movies. This is certainly advance credit on my part, but for some reason it is this light-haired, slim young man of average height, with enormous stage charisma and artistic willpower, fanatically devoted to his sweaty and exhausting daily grind, that invites my nomination. Art does not distinguish between young and old: there are only those that create it and those that don't.

You're being honored. Daunting is a rite
Displaying you, a thing, from every angle.

Yevgeny Vitalyevich Mironov was born in 1966 in Saratov, the city of the famed dramatic stage that has been adding names to the list of prominent Russian actors throughout its history. One of these names has a direct connection to Zhenya. When he came to Moscow after graduating Saratov's theater school, he was accepted as a second-year student by Oleg Tabakov, whose impact on Zhenya's artistic development continues to this day.

The head of Moscow Art Theater Studio School who later invited Zhenya, along with three other graduates, to join his theater company, Tabakov is more than a teacher and stage director. He is a highly regarded yet still undervalued figure in the Russian arts. He is a marvelous actor whose performing style, modern technique, ability to create a character and to maintain a public image should serve as an example for newcomers to the profession. He is a director of original vision whose productions, both here and abroad, number more than most luminaries'. He is a phenomenal organizer whose power and connections are the stuff of Moscow's legend; the beloved Provost of the Studio School; and a most charming, kindhearted guy who possesses another talent known only to a select few – a talent for fatherhood and guardianship. This is the talent that had guided him, a man more capable and active than most, in skillfully creating an aura of glory around his peers at the Moscow Art and the Sovremennik theaters, while he himself chose more of a background role, refusing due credit and sacrificing many of his own interests. For him, the common goal is more valuable than personal ambitions, the life of another is dearer than the greatness of his own.

Here is a man who practically "dies in his students", dotes on them, protects them, educates them with strictness and care. Next to a teacher like that, who will not betrays his pupils, a young actor can never lose his path, or be humiliated, or feel like a peon or a charity case: Tabakov elevates his students by teaching them the craft, so that his praise is not flattery but a just reward. I write so much about the teacher because it is vital to understanding the pupil. When asked about the important people in his life, Zhenya named Tabakov right after his own Mom. And I was moved almost to tears because he said it so naturally and artlessly – which is just how his admission should be taken.

The Mom in question, of course, is no less remarkable. Without any artistic background of her own, she has brought up a daughter who is now a successful ballet dancer, and a thespian son. She and Tabakov share a faith in the power of one's nature, one's sense of calling, and they both have the ability to help bring it out. This unearthing of what is hidden within is key to the development of an actor, whose only tool of trade is himself. Out of the chaos of body, voice and feeling, he must create a well-tuned instrument for conveying the human experience onstage. That takes a talented tuner, and the instrument can be handled only by a sensitive conductor.

Tabakov had given Zhenya the role of Lomov in Chekov's The Proposal and a small part in Aleksandr Galich's My Big Land as his graduate project (as a resident actor, Zhenya now stars in My Big Land as David). These "grown-up" firsts made it immediately evident that Zhenya possessed an agile, well-trained, obedient, "lucky" body – a crucial asset for a dramatic actor. Both works showed an aptitude for character roles, dramatic as well as comic. Though Lomov was still a mask, a good choice of a stock character whose preoccupation with his dog and his Meadows landed him in a silly predicament, sitcom-fashion. Zhenya was using primary colors and broad brushstrokes then.

Nowadays Mironov avoids one-dimensional solutions in his stage work. He has learned to reconcile contradictions, to feel the depth and duality of existence onstage as a character and as a human being. We have only recently met, but the short time spent together showed me his capacity for being authentic. He doesn't act in real life, displays no tendency to pose but much that is childlike. You should have seen his grin when I praised his tastefully chosen coat. Such a kid! But that impression disappears when you feel the power of his will as he stands his artistic ground, defending his creative individuality from being suppressed. I don't know if he is always right; "now look – have any of us not been made of snowflakes and the secrecies of mist?"*** But his right to self-defense is obvious, especially in the context of the movie business, where the brief shooting period rules out a teacher-student relationship, and as an actor defers to his cinematic overlord he must be careful not to get crushed. There is that danger.

Zhenya's very first film role brought him together with director Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, widely known for his idiosyncrasies. Mironov appeared as the curly-haired lover of The Kerosene Seller's Wife, and for a third-year student's first time on the set he displayed remarkable finesse and what struck me as self-reliance. He had gone beyond portraying a specific frame of mind and tried to invest his character with a discernible biography.

I have not seen all of Mironov's movies, because some, like Aleksandr Mitta's Lost in Siberia, are yet to be released (the notable thing about his role in that film – the young prisoner Volodya – is that it is spoken in English, a language the actor had had to learn in short order). Out of what I did see, his every performance was professional and memorable, even in brief scenes. It's hard to forget his crippled vet in the first episode of Viktor Khramov's miniseries The Women That Were Lucky – so young yet so mature, a man who's been through war; truly, what an artist lacks in experience he makes up for in craftsmanship and vision. As for his appearance in Valery Todorovsky's new film Love – even if he'd had no star turns in stage productions like Gotcha and Biloxi Blues, no visible parts in films Before the Dawn, Ready... One! and The Kerosene Seller's Wife, I would have still devoted a whole article to Zhenya's performance in the leading role of Sasha.

Love is such a well-made movie that the feel of a seasoned pro's handiwork stays with you from first shot to last. Particularly amazing is the handling of actors: you would never guess that this is only the second directorial effort by Todorovsky, Jr., a screenwriter by education and experience. With the exception of Mironov, the young cast members are new to the cinema, so their accomplishments are the result of their director's talented guidance. And Mironov, too, is rediscovered in this film, where he stars as a Russian boy in love with a Jewish girl who is forced to leave Russia for Israel. Ideologically, I don't relate to the movie: despite its masterful representation of our existence, it is too straightforward an assessment of its problems. A number of issues it raises could, I think, have been analyzed more deeply, bearing in mind that "...death these days is in the very air: one opens up a window like one's veins."**** But our ideological differences have no impact on my admiration of the artistry which has marked Todorovsky's scripts, and which now emerges as the ability to reveal an actor's potential.

Mironov's primary achievement here is maintaining polyphony, which he does by defying the director's outline and his sometimes sketchy approach. At times Todorovsky's subtle irony calls for direct moves, intentionally blunt points which aggregate to form his overall design. At such moments the actor's mission is reduced to a flat illustration of the director's idea. It is one thing when that actor is Artmane, Durov or Ryazanova, film veterans who were cast precisely because the trail of their past roles follows their every appearance onscreen, no matter how flimsy the dramatic material at hand. It's a different story with the young players, whose work often has had to be tweaked in the editing room, for their screen existence is more representative of life than true to it.

Mironov's presence, meanwhile, is full of content: young as he is, he is an actor in the true sense of the word – that is, he is performing, working, creating a character. Instead of looking to himself for qualities he could display onscreen, he looks for, and adopts, the traits of his imaginary hero. He is skilled and effective at working with extremes, uniting polarities in an intricate harmony of purity and vice, of right and wrong. There is the golden moment of his subway ride, with Mironov as Sasha playfully pretending to be an opera singer or a pop star. A role within a role, it is a scene that is all about acting, delivered with a sense of timing and a comic touch worthy of cinema's greats. With his expressive face and articulate body, Zhenya is capable of nuanced, imperceptible transformation, fully aware and in control of the connection between his physical being and the stirrings of his soul.

Kudos to the director, who had searched far and wide for his star – and found him. If not for the quirks of our national distribution, which impact both the quantity and quality of movie theaters showing new films, I'm sure that Zhenya, as the saying goes, would wake up famous. His screen presence, unorthodox and unique, is capable of causing emotional upheavals that have been all but forgotten in our theater and cinema. Even in situations "where Art will endeavor in vain to enmesh facts of life in deception"*****, Zhenya remains convincing and real.

Alas, the word of a critic – the fault, in part, of the critics themselves – is rarely taken by our directors. So do not take my word for it: go and see Yevgeny Mironov's films and plays. They will speak for themselves. As for me, I address only my readers: Have you seen how stars are born? Look into the dark skies.

*Andrei Mironov (1941-1987) was a legendary actor of Russian stage and screen.
**From For Brusov by Boris Pasternak.
***From To the Memory of Larisa Reisner by Boris Pasternak, translated by Angela Livingstone, courtesy of poetrymagazines.org.uk.
****From The Break by Boris Pasternak.
*****From At the Cinema by Nikolai Zabolotsky.

[Translated by Vlada Chernomordik for the Yevgeny Mironov Official Website]