Dreams come true…
[b]I simply call him ‘The Big Man’. This nickname suits Andrey Sviridov, describing his generous nature, kindness of soul and herculean build. He stands 2.12m tall and weighs 160kg. The former famous basketball player is today a very successful actor[/b]We first met in 2004, when I was preparing an article about the victory of the Belarusian junior team at the European Basketball Championship of 1994. I was digging into the lives of the winners, seeing what they had achieved in the intervening years, and easily traced everyone, except central player Andrey Sviridov. Nobody could tell me precisely what he was doing but his teammates and coaches were united in telling me that he was trying to make a name for himself as an actor in the United States.
He stands 2.12m tall and weighs 160kg. The former famous basketball player is today a very successful actor
We first met in 2004, when I was preparing an article about the victory of the Belarusian junior team at the European Basketball Championship of 1994. I was digging into the lives of the winners, seeing what they had achieved in the intervening years, and easily traced everyone, except central player Andrey Sviridov. Nobody could tell me precisely what he was doing but his teammates and coaches were united in telling me that he was trying to make a name for himself as an actor in the United States.
I don’t remember quite how I managed to find his e-mail but I sent him a message, which he answered. It turned out to be a very exciting article and we’ve kept in regular contact ever since. Over time, we became friends. Sviridov has now swapped Hollywood for Russian cinema and has moved to Moscow. It’s time we shed more light on his complicated path through life.
On the basketball court, Sviridov was always an instigator and a charismatic leader. God gave him not only broad shoulders but also initiative. Sadly, he was obliged to retire early, due to injury, at the age of 25. He explains, “The injury spoiled my game. I had to quit sports because of it. After the European Championship of 1994, for two years, I studied at Washington University, preparing for an NBA debut. I had a real chance of entering the best league in the world. Moreover, I had a contract with Michael Jordan’s agent! However, I already had some minor problems with my back. I never went to the doctor’s, simply ‘curing’ it in the gym. Later, during a game, one lad about the same size as myself jumped on me and one of my spinal discs slipped. In the States, nobody wastes words: if you’re broken, you’re released from your contract. I faced a dilemma: have an operation, involving lengthy recovery, or quit. I hesitated, trying to find a club in Europe or Asia, but soon realised that I wouldn’t be able to play at full strength — not ever. This is how basketball ended for me.”
At that moment, perhaps from hopelessness, Andrey decided to go to America. “My path to the States began at a Mogilev cafй, where I was celebrating my forced sports career retirement with friends,” he tells us. “Suddenly, two men approached our table. You can imagine my mood on that day. They began asking some stupid questions, making proposals that we were almost forced to repulse. After a few moments, I realised that they were inviting me to Germany to work as a bouncer for a Russian night club. What other choices did I have? It didn’t take me long to accept the offer. However, it was a case of out of the frying pan into the fire. There was a huge dance floor and my fellow security guards were unreliable. I feared to turn my back upon them, as they were quite capable of leaving me alone to fend off an aggressor.
There were no metal detectors at the entrance, so anyone might bring in a knife or, even, a gun. Regular visitors included Russians who had sampled the free spirit of capitalism! They came in groups: 20 people from one village, 15 from another, 25 from a third. They’d get drunk and start questioning each other’s origin. There the fun began, heading for a fight. I managed to work there for just 9 months before leaving. My life was more valuable than the money! What to do next? Suddenly, a thought I’d had since childhood flashed across my mind. Back at home, I told my mother I’d go to Hollywood to star in movies…. and I left again.”
Today, Andrey recollects his early days in America with ease and humour. The passing years have smoothed all worries, leaving them pillowed in his memory. However, at the time, he had no idea where his ‘American dream’ would take him. “Los Angeles is a city of actors and waiters,” he recalls. “Thousands of people dream of acting while working as dishwashers and waiters. Most never achieve their dreams, remaining in their day jobs their entire lives.”
Thousands of agents and hopefuls comprise this dreamland. He found a job as a security guard, escorting actors to parties and presentations; it was paid a good wage, so he had no worries about the future. Moreover, he was always in public. He attended several dozen castings, hoping for any role, but, as ever, chance ruled the day. In the street, he bumped into two men who were looking for a big character. They invited him to show them what he could do.
“I was very scared, but also very excited,” recollects Andrey. “I passed the casting and was given a major role in a mystical film called `Tales from Beyond.` It was my first role ever!”
The process had begun. He starred in music videos for Enrique Iglesias and Robbie Williams and played monsters and Russian burglars in a few films. Now, those days are in the past. He moved to Moscow and now works in Russian cinema. “To date, I’ve had about 54 screen roles. Unfortunately, most have been incidental parts,” he laughs, noting with irony, “Obviously, having played so many gangsters and scoundrels, I won’t be able to get rid of this stereotype.”
As I understand your heroes are mainly those who die in the first minute of the first series. How do you feel about it?
It’s a trial to be endured and, certainly, there’s much to learn from such roles. For instance, Anthony Hopkins’ path to fame was also long. His appearance suits well the role of a villain but his first main role was only in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, which brought him an Oscar. Holding the statuette, he said, “My previous 85 roles were worthwhile to play this one alone.”
You’re not far from Hopkins’ record. I won’t ask about your most recognisable role.
The ‘Univer’ series.
Andrey is very ambitious, climbing towards his dream. He has already achieved much, showing determination where others would give up. “During my first years in Hollywood, when I was still dreaming of how to reach the big screen, I met a famous producer at the bar where I was working as a guard. I told him that I wanted to be in films, so he looked at me and asked the best way to eat an elephant. I was dumb-founded, thinking he had gone mad. What had an elephant to do with anything? However, he then explained: one bite at a time. He was absolutely right; you can even eat a giant if you keep at it, step by step. Don’t hurry, just pursue your goal, move forward, and don’t sit idle. This is all you have to do: just have a dream and apply effort. This is my motto in life.”
Who knows, perhaps Andrey Sviridov, like Anthony Hopkins, will one day receive his Oscar. I wouldn’t be surprised, having known The Big Man for so long…
By Sergey Kanashits