Talks & Interviews — October 13, 2012 at 12:51 am

Exclusive interview with Dimitri Diatchenko from “Chernobyl Diaries”

Since becoming an actor, the U.S.-born Dimitri Diatchenko has been working hard to establish himself as an actor.

His work includes pretty much anything: numerous tv-series episodes (General Hospital), voice work (Call of Duty: Black Ops, Spider Man 2 video games), small parts in blockbusters (Indiana Jones 4), and the leading part in “Chernobyl Diaries”.

In fact, for some time, Diatchenko will be recognized for this film, as its subject is controversial to say the least, and Diatchenko’s presence is definitely one of film’s positive points.

Diatchenko might look like your typical “Russian bad guy”, yet his talents go beyond that – the man is a prize-winning classical guitarist and a former national Tae Kwon Do heavyweight champion. By the way, he is a first generation Ukrainian-American on his father’s side.

After seeing “Chernobyl Diaries” and writing a review on it, we’ve decided to talk with Dimitri, and let him reveal some details not just about the film itself, but his own life as well.

Read on, as Dimitri Diatchenko talks about his start in the movie business, recalls shooting of “Chernobyl Diaries”, and explains why he never really wanted to be a stunt-actor.

TAE KWON DO, GUITAR AND SHOWERING WITH DEMI MOORE

In your opinion, has the Hollywood changed its approach to portraying “Russians” in movies? A lot of such actors in the U.S. today suffer from being typecasted…

That’s a interesting question. I often pondered this exact question over my 16 years of being a working actor in Los Angeles. In my opinion, the parts that are written for actors playing “Russian” roles are very limited in range and genre. I find myself playing the same types of roles over and over again, which are “the bad guy” with very little room for developing any kind of depth and contrast.

I of course try to bring out a little something different, an extra layer of comedy or back story that gives the character more depth, but more often this is not portrayed in the text. It’s something that the actor must manifest. The last year has brought a few fresh roles to me though.

“Chernobyl Diaries”, “Clubhouse” and “Company of Heroes” has allowed me to be a good guy, finally and in the case of Clubhouse, I actually get to play guitar in a scene with the lead female character in a very intimate, sexy moment in the film. I like where these roles are taking me. If I am going to continue to play “Russian roles”, I’d like to be a good guy more often or at least a bad guy who you have to like…..a la Tony Soprano.

Speaking of music…You are a prize-winning classical guitarist, and you, as it can be assumed, combine music and acting. Still, what comes first, so to speak, for you? Music or acting in movies?

I find that my years of playing guitar and other instruments like the drums, bass guitar, sax, piano and 5-string banjo, contribute to my acting approach. To me the melodic line of a song and/or the structure of a piece of music like a sonata parallels quite seamlessly with the spoken line.

There is the thematic material, the development and recapitulation that expresses a musical idea as does the same relative material in a monologue or scene. I use this all the time when preparing for an acting role. And the one thing that my guitar professor at Florida State University, Bruce Holzman, always would tell me, especially when preparing for performances and competitions….”Never judge yourself while you are performing…judge during preparation.”

When you judge during performance, it affects your interpretation and limits improvisatory responses to the life of the scene. Since shooting “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, I have dedicated most of my energy to my acting career. I do not regret this choice. Music will always be there to perform and I still teach and practice to keep myself sharp, but to get to where I want to be as an actor, I must keep my priorities committed to my acting career. It pays better too.

There is a big need in today’s action movies for men with martial arts background. You fit in well, being ex national Tae Kwon Do heavyweight champion. And yet, judging by your career choices, it seem like you rely more towards real acting, despite having the right looks and skills for an action man. Why so?

When I moved out to Los Angeles in 1996 I was involved with the feature film, “G.I. Jane”. I started as a featured extra, got bumped up to a day player for a little naked, shower scene with Demi Moore and later got signed as a utility stunt player. After experiencing the stunt world and the acting world in the same project and having a few discussions with stunt coordinators about this very topic, I chose to not market myself as a “stunt-Actor”, but as an actor who could do fight scenes when necessary.

I am in this business for the long haul, not the quick money, which is what I could have gone for when I first moved to LA. I had lots of opportunities to stunt double some big actors and hustle stunt work. I chose the longer route as a pure actor. There were times that I thought I made the wrong choice, but now I am very happy with my approach. And I can be doing what I do till I am in my 90′s or whenever I decide to call it quits. My body will not decide when I retire.

Some say you learn a lot by working on set with great actors. Since you’ve been in quite a lot of movies, did you ever have one such experience of learning something on set? Anyone in particular you loved working with?

Every time I work on a film or TV show or even in the studio doing voice over for video games and commercials or animated series’, I have a recording button that I press as soon as I walk on set. Sometimes I learn by screwing up in one way or another and make the correction my self and remember not to do THAT again.

Or sometimes, like when I was working with Tom Sizemore on “Company of Heroes” last March, I actually asked Tom how he thought I should approach this particular scene. I accepted his suggestions and either use it or don’t use it, but regardless I remember his advice and keep it stored in my actor’s vault. I may draw on a particular element that he brought to my attention that day that five years from now I’ll revisit and use on another film. I find that the best actors are the ones who are the most generous and giving.

More often than not the things that are most difficult for me are things outside of just the dialogue and the “ACTING” part of the scenes. Complex blocking and finding the best light, staying in the light or using it as an effect or fight scenes with marks tend to be the parts of the anatomy of a scene that I find to be the most frustrating or problematic. A great example of this is when I was exiting frame in this scene in “Clubhouse”.

When I walked a straight line, camera left, the lights blew me up because of the tightness of where we were shooting. So Peter Bloomfield, a brilliant director and great guy, suggested that I exit straight into camera until the very end of my cross out of frame. This way it took a good amount of that harsh lighting off of me while keeping the attitude of the scene. It’s a simple thing, but one that made a lot of difference.

Trusting yourself and your instincts and being able to live in the moment is probably the most important advise I have gotten and given to other actors. My acting coach, Steve Eastin constantly keeps me aware of living in that empty space where everything and anything is possible because your “Cup is empty”.

ENTERING CHERNOBYL…

Let’s talk a little about your participation in “Chernobyl Diaries”. How were you approached for the part?

“Chernobyl Diaries” was just like any other role I have auditioned for, at first. My agent and manager set up a meeting with casting. Where it took a departure from the standard audition was that there was no script, only scenes that started at one place and led to another.

How we got there as actors was improvisatory, which I love because I’ve always been very quick witted and able to live in the moment without any rehearsals or a set way of doing a scene. So after three auditions, the last being a chemistry meeting with the other actors, they booked me and the rest is history.

IMDB says the filming locations for “Chernobyl Diaries” were Serbia and Hungary. Despite this, in the film, Pripyat looks ridiculously real, as if it was shot in Ukraine! How did the filmmakers manage to achieve this?

Well, first off, Belgrade has so much rich history that is easily accessible because the Serbians hold their history, both good and bad, with high regard. All the wars and battles that were fought over the span of several hundred years are carefully documented and in some cases like with the fortress, Kalemegdan, are still standing strong. The scenes where we shot the underground passages are all in an actual labyrinth of tunnels under Belgrade. These were actually used by the Nazis in WWII. The scenes that were supposed to be Pripyat were shot on a semi-abandoned Russian military town about 60 km outside of Budapest. To this day the Russians still “own” it.

We shot the abandoned apartment building scenes there. Architectually it worked perfectly because these buildings were built around the same time, by the same government that built housing in Pripyat for the Chernobyl Power Plant workers and their families.

C.G.I. filled in the gaps…e.g. the power plants in the distance that we could see from the balcony of that one apartment that my character Uri took our guests. The famous ferris wheel actually was built on the outdoor set of the apartment building complex and enhanced by C.G.I. as well. Having Brad Parker as the director ensured that details were treated with priority and skill.

Many bashed the film for exploiting the many victims of the nuclear catastrophe. How true is this point of view, in your opinion, considering that this is just a movie?

I found those claims to be vacuous. At least from my point of view, I approached the role of Uri as a man who had lived through that time when the disaster actually happened. A disaster which for the most part has not been discussed in the mainstream of American news and culture.

With Fukushima nuclear disaster being so fresh in the international community’s memory and the horrors of that situation which are still unfolding, I felt that our story would bring the Chernobyl disaster to the forefront of the news at least for a few months.

These accidents are horrible and in most cases could have been prevented. We, as a global village, must be reminded of how and why these accidents happened and how we can prevent them from recurring. For me I prepared Uri’s character as one who had lost relatives to this disaster and even though was making money taking tourists to the site, had part of his heart still there. From what I’ve read in reviews, I think I accomplished this, and I feel the movie was able to reveal the storyline while having respect and presenting a bit of a cautionary tale.

There are in fact real extreme tours to Chernobyl that are available to tourists. Do you think this is acceptable, or should be banned as some other extreme tourist guides hazardous to human health?

I’m all for pushing the limits of one’s mind, body and spirit. If a tourist wants to visit Pripyat and knows that they are putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation, by all means, they should be allowed to do it. For myself, I would rather not subject my body to whatever the radiation levels there are in Pripyat. I’d rather scuba dive with sharks in Mexico or sky dive.


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