I will be playing Tsar Fyodor, the son of Ivan the Terrible, at the Mossovet Theatre for a third season. I played Emperor Paul in Vitaly Melnikov’s production. And all the while I’ve been thinking: what do we Russians really want, what kind of government would we like to have? Paul I inherited the throne from his mother, who had reigned for 30 years. We are told that her reign was a golden age - except that, during that golden age, hardly a year passed without mutinies and fires all across the country. Which brings us to the question: what kind of tsar do we need? For us, anything would be at once good and bad. Perhaps this is the mystery of the Russian soul, wanting everything and nothing at one and the same time.
I was stunned by a historian’s interpretation of the reign of Fyodor as a period of stagnation. I thought to myself: so, when people have children, grow crops and live without turbulence – that is a period of stagnation. So by contrast, the strife, blood-letting and perfidy under Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov constitute real life? Under Fyodor, a lot of churches were built. At his funeral, rich and poor, priests and robbers turned up in their thousands. The sobbing in the crowd drowned out the church choir. People were bidding farewell to a period of stagnation.
Then the Time of Troubles came. Perhaps it is true that our people get bored when they live comfortably, love serenely and sleep calmly. They simply get fed up with a life of tranquility, whereas historians blame all the troubles on Godunov’s despotism and dodginess, droughts and crop failures. I have a hunch that the reason for the troubles was that Russian robbers could not stay out of business for long.
I am thinking of Vyacheslav Shishkov’s novel Ugryum Reka (The Gloomy River). Prokhor Gromov is to marry and his father gives him a box with earrings, which Prokhor presents to his bride. The bride puts on the earrings. Her father is furious. He grabs her by the ears and growls: “Where did you get those from?” “Prokhor gave them to me.” It turns out that Prokhor Gromov’s robber grandfather had torn the earrings off her grandmother’s ears.
Russian robbers… Today they have various ways of tearing earrings out of people’s ears. For example, by luring unsophisticated people to play the market. If I try blindly to play the market, I immediately run into a host of problems.
The players who know the true price of everything are politicians and economists. And their interlinks are amazing. Oligarch Prokhorov has bought his way into serious politics. His campaign motto is “Truth is strength.” Well, let the leader of the Right Cause party tell us the whole truth. But he never will. A statesman is someone who sees the world from above, in three dimensions, on a large scale and in a humane spirit. It is the mission of politicians to propose programmes. But how to devise a useful programme for the nation? If I benefit from the politicians’ games, I don’t mind the games. But if they are not useful, I will reject them.
Today they are ripping up the asphalt from Moscow’s pavements and replacing it with bricks. Passers-by comment: “Somebody has opened a brick factory.” They are laying bricks on one side of Bolshaya Bronnaya, while on the other side, in an underpass, there is a huge puddle. Nothing is being done to get rid of the puddle but the bricks are being laid.
I am currently rehearsing Tartuffe at the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre. The director, Pavel Safonov, treats the play as a farce. I go along with him but we argue a lot about how hypocritical or sincere the hero should be. I want to show a crook in disguise. It will look obscene and disgusting, against the background of sweet promises. On the face of it, Tartuffe is decent and says all the right things… But after making all the promises, the latter-day Tartuffe gets into his chauffer-driven limousine with a blinking light and drives away.
We like to live dangerously, we like to live in smoke: our country is at the juncture between Asia and Europe, the plate under us vibrates, turning some of us into predators and others into angels.
I am no longer tormented by questions about God. But I have Faith. If I have faith, I will paint Him in any guise, image or symbol. The Culture TV channel recently ran a series of programmes with photos taken by the Hubble telescope. I watched them and I sobbed for joy, because I saw that the Universe was infinite. God is everywhere and Hubble helped me see how infinite He is. He is even more boundless than I gathered from reading the Bible.
I am basically apolitical; I live among people and I use public transport. If there is anything I have understood by the age of 50 it is that everything has echoes, both good and evil. Trotsky’s death by ice-pick is in store for all of us, whether we live in the elite village of Rublyovka or in Mexico.
I have no illusions about myself but my life has followed a beautiful pattern. I was born under Stalin, I went to school under Khrushchev and served in the army under Brezhnev. Putin conferred on me the title of People’s Artist, though I never met him in person, as I got the title from the hands of the culture minister.
There have been many miraculous things in my life. I had dreams. A factory boy, I entered the GITIS drama school without any connections when there were 116 applicants to a place. I have no grudges against the army, although Major Kislov locked me up in a loony bin for two weeks because, as a Komsomol leader, I stood up for my subordinates. There were some rough patches but I have no rancour or revulsion about my Soviet past. Nobody muzzled the songs I wrote and performed myself. Today, my habit of dreaming sometimes leads to loneliness, but I do not fear it.
Once, I went to a teashop at a market. A respectable-looking shopper saw me and said, “Whom do I see but… Let me say hello. I‘d like to pay my respects. Only, it’s odd that I see so little of you lately, why aren’t they using you more?” I did not need to ask who “they” were. I know who they are.
Rustam Khamdamov offered me two parts in his film Yakhonty: St. Athanasius and the sick emperor. But we have no money even to start filming. More and more they talk to me about money, not art. Any excitement is generated by money not by creative or cultural rivalry. This may be why we are not even considered for being shown at Cannes.
My life has been full of adventure and drama. I have sacrificed some things, parted with others and given up yet others. I have a huge battlefield behind me. Now, you can throw any amount of problems at me, and I will say, as I push my way through these thickets: I am happy that I was born, that I am alive and that I am needed. As long as I am needed, I will love my country and my heart will ache for it.