In real life, she looks younger and somehow more vulnerable than on screen. At some point, you’re almost wondering if it’s really her. But then you hear her slow, deep voice, so unlike her image of a jeans-wearing student, and all doubt is gone: this is indeed SVETLANA KHODCHENKOVA, the most popular blonde of Russian cinema.
Perhaps this is the supreme mastery of acting: never to be recognized, always to play on contrasts, take risks and tackle the most unlikely parts. There is an unfathomable distance between the naive, exalted heroine of Bless the Woman, her first film, and the scarlet-clad, ice-cold Countess Bathory from last year's Lady of Csejte. Or between the ‘frump' Kalugina in the remake of the Soviet classic Office Romance and the latex-donning mutant Viper in The Wolverine. Her latest film, for which filming has wrapped up recently, is The End of a Beautiful Era, a nostalgic drama based on stories by the famous Soviet emigre writer Sergey Dovlatov.
Then there is her promotional work for L’Oreal - all of which means she’s rarely to be found in Moscow, and keeps her Louis Vuitton suitcase packed at all times. That, however, is nothing new to her: early in her youth she was already a successful model who had walked miles down the most prestigious catwalks in Europe, America, and Japan. Hence her skill at bringing cosy domesticity to any hotel room she happens to stay at.
Looking at your filmography, one gets the impression that you're working around the clock Seven projects in 2011. seven more in 2012. five in 2013, six in 2014 and 2015. Do you ever do anything besides acting in films?
Wow! Is that how it looks like? I’ve never looked at my own filmography. No, of course I’m not filming all the time. It’s just that projects take a long time to complete, and then are released in one salvo. I’m no workaholic; I often go off on vacation somewhere with my friends, giving myself time to relax and start missing the sets and the theatre stage.
But you do seem to be in high demand.
Yes, I get a lot of offers. I turn down some of them because they’re similar to what I’ve already done before. I accept what I feel like doing. Unless I have an emotional connection to a character, I have no business embodying her. The audience, too, would be bored.
You probably don't have a 'type' as such.
That’s a compliment right there! After Bless the Woman, I felt stuck. All I was offered was more of the same. I read one script after another and it was all ‘cries’, ‘stands with sad eyes’, ‘waits tearfully’. I started turning them down, and it resulted in a long hiatus. And then after the Crash Course in Living Happily TV series, it went the opposite way and all I got was bad-tempered women. So after turning down all those roles, I ended up begging, during the auditions for Vasilisa: “Come on, let me prove that I’m good!”
Living Happily was the one that truly made you famous
Because it was so relatable. In some way's, an actual guide to life for women. All of my female friends watched it; even I did, though I don’t normally watch my own films. A lot of impromptu was involved; we often had our scripts taken away and were told to improvise our lines. That’s why it came out so convincing.
What about Hollywood? You were one of the few who made it there
‘Made it’, really? Just a couple of movies. Wolverine was an accident, like many things in my life. They needed an Eastern European girl, and I fit. The casting was crazy; I didn’t believe until the last moment that I’d be approved. The reply came after a month; when I went there, first there was more auditioning, with me having to change into different clothes all the time.Then I lived in Sydney for two and a half months. They need the actor to always be available even if they only have two days on set. And they gave me those crazy nail extensions.
Were you nervous?
Terribly! I felt such responsibility, not just for myself but for the whole country. My hands were shaking. I realized that I wasn’t there for my looks, that they liked my acting. I was proud. In a sci-fi film — and in English to boot — you have to try very hard to be convincing.
Did things go smoother for you in your next American film, Lady of Csejte, where you played the virgm-blood-bathing Elizabeth Bathory?
I was surprised a little — there weren’t even any auditions; the director, Andrei Konst, straight away said they wanted me. So I read a lot about that vampire countess, and watched a ton of movies about her. I stared at her portraits for a long time, trying to find some resemblance; I didn’t — thankfully. Early in the film, this lady seems positively angelic. But it did end up being a very' scary film indeed.
And what are your favourite Russian films?
I don’t watch depressing films. Not with my mood swings. And honestly, I don’t have time to catch up on the new releases. If I do go to the cinema, it’s mostly animations. In order to relax and forget everything.