Yelena Yampolskaya

If Russia ever does acquire a national idea, it would have the face of Yevgeny Mironov. At the age of 40 (his birthday is today), he has earned that distinction. Sometimes it happens that way: the idea is still lacking, but its incarnation is ready and waiting.

Since celebrating one's 40th is considered bad luck, Mironov has simply escaped from Moscow and hid himself away. The anniversary he did celebrate was the 200th performance of The Passions of Bumbarash. He has a point: age is a poor excuse to throw a party. When the years of our lives are just so many numbers, we celebrate their quantity. Mironov can drink to their quality.

He has arrived at the turning point (since, no matter how you slice it, 40 signifies final and irrevocable maturity) not only as a People's Artist of the Russian Federation and the recipient of every conceivable award, but also as the director of his own theater company. Though the word "company" is used here in the sense of partnership rather than business. A partnership has no directors – unless it's Oleg Menshikov's "Partnership 814", to which the Mironov Theater Company is an unwilling competitor. On a different level, theirs is a longstanding rivalry. In Russian theater today there is only one "#1": Yevgeny Mironov. In Russian cinema there are two: Mironov and Menshikov. There isn't a hint of a struggle between them – they are two different planets from two galaxies a million lightyears apart; their fans are hashing it out. Both actors got advance credit as geniuses early in their careers; both are known for being unapproachable. But if Menshikov is literally unreachable – you can't get through his security – Mironov gets lost in the glamorous crowd. A light-haired skinny creature, his eyes cast down so as not to attract attention, he is usually tired and forever in a hurry – to rehearsal, to the set, to the play. Figaro here, Figaro there... But this Figaro's shoulders bear a heavy burden, invisible to the outside world.

The debut production of the Mironov Theater Company is to be, appropriately, Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro, Mironov's second time working with Kirill Serebrennikov, director of The Golovlyovs. It was to counterbalance the gloom of The Golovlyovs that the two wanted to try "something sparkling and joyful", Zhenya says. "We started rehearsing, and it instantly became obvious that the Beaumarchais play is nothing like champagne. It's heavy labor." Figaro opens in Moscow at the Mossoviet Theater on December 27 and at St. Petersburg's Aleksandrinsky Theater in early February. Mironov, of course, takes the title role. Dr. Bartolo, his newly-found father, is played by Zhenya's beloved acting teacher Avangard Leontiev [Burnt by the Sun, 1994; The Inspector General, 1997; The Metamorphosis, 2001]. Liya Akhedzhakova [Playing the Victim, 2006] is Figaro's mother, the flirty Marceline; Vitaly Khayev [Playing the Victim, 2006] is Count Almaviva; Yelena Morozova [His Wife's Diary, 2000] is Countess Rosina. Finally, there is the foursome that was Mironov's main reason for forming his Theater Company: Iuliya Peresild as Susanna, Aleksandr Novin as Cherubino, Anna Ukolova as Fanchette and Andrei Fomin as Basilio. Unfamiliar with the names? Wait till New Year's. Mironov wants to support young actors – it's his only concession to age. "The period of my artistic selfishness is over, it's time to pay the debts", he'd said over a year ago. Debts to one's parents, as we know, are paid to the children, the next generation. But while we were expecting the common turn of events – his return to the Moscow Art Theater School, his alma mater, to teach – Mironov put money where his mouth is. Not only the producers' money but his own.

Mironov has good reason to feel indebted and grateful. He has had help throughout. At first it came from his parents – a father with a perfect pitch and a mother with unrealized acting ambitions. They bear no relation to the great acting dynasty of the Mironovs, so they couldn't pave their son's way; but they could give him their support. They did so when he wanted to leave the small military town of Tatischevo-5 to study at the Saratov Drama School; they did so when he'd decided he had to go and "conquer" Moscow. Several years later they joined him there – with the help of Zhenya's nationally-famous teacher, the actor/director Oleg Tabakov. Vitaly Mironov passed away three years ago, but Zhenya's mother Tamara still works at the Tabakov Theater. Mironov can justly be called a mama's boy. And daddy's boy. And sister's boy – the ballerina Oksana Mironova has a staunch champion in her famous brother.

Along the way, Mironov has had help in many different forms: the help of Luck (which in his case was clearly a lady); of Chance; the help of Somebody Up There Responsible for the Fair Distribution of Acting Roles and Fame According to Talent. He was also helped by his small-town mettle. It's amusing to learn that Zhenya still feels like a kid from Saratov. We've got two of these "kids" – Tabakov and Mironov. The younger one declares almost militantly, "You Muscovites are hothouse children. You don't have to fight for a place in the sun." Though we should note that according to last year's ROMIR survey, it was the capital that named Yevgeny Mironov its favorite actor. In the rest of Russia he came in sixth. Let us not dwell on the politically incorrect theory that big-city tastes are rather more refined than elsewhere... Let's leave it where we began: it's just that Russia does not yet have a national idea which Mironov could personify.

But Mironov's best and most reliable helper is Mironov himself. He loves challenges. To him, if it's easy, it isn't real. When preparing for his role in Moslem, he went to the mosque and studied the prayers. For Ivan Karamazov, he entered a mental hospital. In order to realize Peter Stein's concept of Hamlet, he learned to play the sax – but couldn't handle working with a real skull: he snuck it out of the theater and buried it in a church graveyard.

In our commercial times, the words "I can't do it" sometimes have more value than "I can do anything". Refusals are rare. And the fact that Mironov had turned down the role of Jesus in the big-budget TV epic The Master and Margarita speaks volumes. I doubt that religious ardor had anything to do with it. He was simply – as always – listening to his heart. A famous actor has no business playing Jesus. It is the first coming of the Lord, and the audience should see His face for the first time. The right face can be found anywhere, even on the street.

That wasn't a very professional move. After all, somebody had to play Jesus. Well, somebody did, just not Mironov.

If there is such a thing today as the image of a true Russian – not from TV shows like Russia House or orchestrated political movements like the Russian March – it is the image of Zhenya Mironov. If the notion of national character is still alive, it is incarnated in Mironov's roles. They encompass the entire scope of that mysterious Russian soul – from the divine foolishness of Prince Myshkin [The Idiot] and the stalwart honor of Gleb Nerzhin [The First Circle/To Treasure Forever] to the absolute evil that is the albino monster Prokhor of The Hunt for Piranha. From the nerdy agronomist Khomutov with the wings of an angel under his coat (Anecdotes) to the fly's wings on the back of that syrup-voiced bloodsucker, "Little Judas" Golovlyov. More importantly, Mironov's roles reflect the path that the Russian soul must tread – from darkness to light, and sometimes vice versa. Like the young lieutenant in Pyotr Todorovsky's brilliant Encore Again!, who learns that there is more to life than kisses and tapdancing. Like Moslem's Private Ivanov, realizing that it's better to believe in someone else's God than in nothing at all. Like Lopakhin of The Cherry Orchard weeping while he takes care of business, his knuckles white as he declares that the orchard must be cut down. Like the naïve Konyok from Uchitel's Dreaming of Space [Space as Presentiment in the original – V.C.]... All of Mironov's characters live in anticipation of Space or something equally grand – even if sometimes they can't voice it.

Mironov is in his fifteenth year singing and dancing in Bumbarash, a creation of his buddy Vladimir Mashkov (lately of Hollywood). It is his sixth year playing the hilarious №13 [Out of Order], also directed by Mashkov. But Mironov the actor is better at tears than at laughter – and that, too, is the Russian in him. What will his Figaro be like? Clever, flexible, light on his feet. Tender, loving and touching. Quick-tempered and sharp-tongued, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders... Who said that the Russian Figaro is less tragic than the Russian Hamlet?

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