Seduced by Melpomene
Honored Actor of the Republic of Belarus Anatoliy Zhuk is a mature and successful man. The older generation of Minsk theatre-lovers must remember a 1970s outstanding play “Bambi” in the Young Spectator Theatre in Minsk. Three actors including Anatoliy Zhuk were nominated for and received Government award — Lenin Komsomol Prize
He is still working in the Young Spectator Theatre in Minsk. It is more than a quarter of a century between the “Bambi” production (directed by Yuri Mironenko) and recent premiere “Moth” (directed by Nikolay Pinigin), where Anatoly played the leading role of Colonel. There have been a hundred theatrical roles, starring in a movie, a number of published fiction books. Yes, Zhuk is also a writer. Publishing house “Mastatskaya Litaratura” (Fiction Literature press) has in waiting-list his new “theatre” novel “Boulevard” about the behind-the-curtains life of the theatre. I’ve read the manuscript but the author asked me not to publish my review yet. His poetry collection with the title “Tuga” (Melancholy) has been also published recently. It is hard to disagree that that all this inspires for a good talk with an actor, a writer, and a poet. Anatoliy Zhuk is the guest of the magazine “Belarus.”
— Creative writing must be taking a lot of time, how do you manage to cope with you work in the theatre.
— What are nights for (laughing)? To be serious, I might be cut-out in the way that I always manage to accomplish everything on time. When I was younger, I heard a saying, Beware of those who don’t have time. It became my favorite saying. A writer can work, wherever he or she is.
Moreover, after the demise of my favorite director Andrey Androsik (three years ago) I haven’t had a new theatrical role. This is how it happens in a theatre when no one chooses you. It is neither good nor bad — it is reality. The other director might not notice me and I can’t do anything about it. In the relationship with directors, the same as with lovers — love cannot be forced. During this “downtime” interim, I made myself think about theatre as of a hobby of some kind — it was my defense mechanism. I started writing a lot. Of course, I retained my job in the theatre, there are a lot of old productions where I take part.
— Job of an actor is very dependant, isn’t it?
— More than you even can think of. It is not a male job. Many actors tell their sons this, to keep them away from stage. A male human being must take, act, and what I am doing is waiting to be chosen. I am constantly waiting to be given a new part, to be invited in a movie, to the radio, television…
— What is the way out?
— There is only one way out — never to come in. Never to choose this job.
— But you yourself have chosen it…
— Yes, and it is my joy and my pain. I am trying to make up excuses for myself, contemplate in poems … And how one woman seduced me in my early years, a goddess Melpomene. I did not resist temptation, followed her. I for the last forty years I have been going and going…
— Literature for you, perhaps, is a means for self-reflection, finding your place in life. Is it so?
— You are absolutely right. Over the years this strive is even stronger. It is very important, as it seems to me, to understand humans, the way we exist in this life. This is the main theme of my poems.
— Why do you say “this life”? Do you believe in reincarnation?
— I really don’t know, but it is pleasant to think, that people don’t die completely, but can find continuation over centuries.
— Your book has a sad title. Why?
— I will answer with a question — is life easy? Is it a pleasure party? Is it really painless to go through life tests? Don’t we have pain and suffering in life?
— Buddhists say that human’s sufferings are mere illusion. It is because we can’t appreciate life as it is. Including ourselves in it. Do you always understand? What do you believe in and what or who you don’t believe?
— At this time, I do understand, but I can’t be sure about tomorrow. I don’t know myself of tomorrow. In school a could not rewrite three sentences, and if I were told that I would write a novel in handwriting and then retype it three times on a typewriter, I would never believe in it. Life is a chain of changes indeed. One day you realize one thing, the other — another. Also I don’t trust “proper” men, those who say that they know everything beforehand, don’t know how to drink or don’t fancy women. It is just like diet cuisine, with no salt and pepper, and not men. I am different. I need experience and I am not afraid of getting it, I am not afraid of making mistakes. As far as sufferings are concerned, I am convinced that you get deeper feelings, see deeper in things because of them. I think that Buddhists before completely overcoming emotions, before life without pain, suffer a lot. They are cut out of the same “human” material. They have the same tear-glands and the same red blood runs in their veins…
— Your Colonel in “Moth” also realizes that life without passions, without dreams is void… Is it true that Pinigin offered you this part at once?
— Right. Pinigin is a professional and he has only one authority, it is his view of the actor, who is capable of accomplishing on stage what director wants to see. After he has given me the leading part, I was very happy, felt passions (laughing).
— What is Pinigin’s secret as a director? Why do actors love him so much?
— Any good director, before starting to work on the play, knows exactly how his production will look like. The only thing he or she does not know for sure is actor’s play, because an actor is always a mystery and always able to bring unexpected results. On the other hand, Pinigin has always known and will know. And he directs very precisely. He also always hears when an actor sounds false. Perhaps, this skill can be developed, but in case of Pinigin, it is more of, I guess, natural quality, as they say, he was blessed with it. Moreover, Nikolay was able to develop it. It is a great pleasure working with him. My personal artistic experience of working with Pinigin is priceless. The production was made in 15 rehearsals. On the first rehearsal, having 60-page Colonel’s role script in my possession, I came out on the stage and, according to one actor, went off like Schumacher, the others “drove like made” as well. I would like to boast a little bit, already at the fifth rehearsal Pinigin told me, “Calm down, you’ve got the part.” It meant that I was going in the right direction.
— Does an actor always know if the part will work for him or her?
— Not always really. Sometimes you are just beating around the bush, the part does not go well — it is martyr’s torments. My colonel, though, went well from the very beginning. I understood this persona at once. Sometimes funny, egocentric military-man, who is dreaming about General’s regalia. Peter Gladilin’s play is not about military life, not about vicious hazing on younger soldiers by the older ones, as critics sometimes argue. It is about human soul. About human’s tragedy after illumination… My Colonel heard angel voices in his heart and realized why his wife had left him, recalled that he used to dream about theatre. With the help of private Lebyodushkin he realized that he was living a wrong, dull, gray life, always trying to follow some stereotype. He has never bothered to think about the meaning of his life, was unable to answer the question — what is important for him in life… I’ve never had a role like this. Sometimes it seems that I will never have a role like this again…
— Are you still working as an actor in movies?
— The last TV-series where I starred was called “Clinics”. I had a role of a physician-in-chief. However, I will never take part in B-movies like before just for money.
— Who do you like to be compared with from contemporary actors?
— Al Pacino. Yes, yes, to this cinematography genius of a short stature. From Russian actors with Boris Andreyev, to my regret he is no more. His roles of elderly people, his tractor drivers from Stalin’s times! Such deep psychologism, oh my god! Maxim Gorky has once named Sergey Esenin — pipe organ of poetry, and I would like to name Andreyev — pipe organ of theatre. Also with Frunzik Mkrtchyan. Do you remember movie “Mimino”?..
— What about Belarusian actors? Don’t we have talents?
— No, not at all. There are good actors. My class mate People’s Actor Valeriy Filatov. He could play equally well anything ‑ comedy, tragedy, drama. It is a pity, that we have to speak about Valera in past tense. I admire Honored Actor of the Kupala Theatre Victor Manayev. He is a professional of the highest quality…
— What is your definition of theatre?
— Theatre is a great deception. If deception works for good, bless this deception. It must be beautiful, graceful. An absurd transformation takes place — private Kolya Lebyodushkin becomes a young lady, who is played by wonderful actress Anya Hitrick. Here it is a good example of an elegant deception of a playwright and theatre! And of an actress. And mine in some way.
— Did you enjoy working with Anya Hitrick?
— I think that there is no comparable actress in all the Belarusian theatres. So deep, so charming. She is so delicate and emotional; she grasps director’s remarks and does everything in the best possible way.
— One of my younger colleagues says that for people from the audience what is important is after-taste after performance. Do you have it?
— My after-taste as of an actor is constituted by the audience. When I come out for curtain calls and see a lot of eyes that look fascinated at me, I am established in my thoughts — I did not lose again.
— What are you afraid of loosing and what do you not intend to acquire?
— Whatever clichй it is, but I am afraid of loosing my health. We used to drink a lot for it in my youth, but we did not really understand how important it is in fact. As far as the things that I do not want to acquire are concerned… Dante’s ninth circle of hell, as you know, has traitors in it. I, personally, don’t want anyone to even think that I am a scoundrel, a traitor. I don’t want to be notorious for this for sure. It does not matter that I am not one, but, god bless me, I don’t want anyone to think like this…
— Why didn’t you get married? There are legends in theatrical circles about your love to one famous actress…
— Matrimonial life is full of give-and-takes. And I don’t like to loose.