I called Mister Ivanov a few days ago, waiting unpatiently for him to answer so I could invite him for an interview. I was a bit nervous, I didn’t want a negative reaction as he is one of my most appreciated and favourite actors. I have also heard he doesn’t like interviews sent through e-mail which meant inviting him to our new hub, that isn’t quite ready for visitors yet. Mister Ivanov said yes and the whole story from my head turned out to be true, so two days ago I was inviting him on our brand new coach bought exclusively for interviews in our not-so-ready hub. I told him he’s our first guest in this new home we’re about to open. We talked a bit about our activity at ADFR and then jumped straight to our subject. Before starting, I asked him if he’s ready. “Of course!”
Mr. Ivanov you are probably the quintessential example of wishing hard for something and succeeding. Was your relocation to Bucharest a rebellious act?
Not at all. I return gladly to Botoșani every time, I owe much to that city. It was rather a necessity. I graduated the School of Arts where I had two absolutely fantastic professors (Silvia and Teodor Bărdescu) and I was lucky enough to meet Dan Puric who was a trainee actor in Botoșani. At that point I was in a pantomime group and because he was passionate about it, he came to see us, which led to the formation of a pantomime team. We had two shows and went to Bucharest with the second one. He was the one who advised me to stay in Bucharest if I wanted to be an actor further on.
And so you got to Bucharest, where you tried for three times to pass the exams at the Theatre and Film Academy, but did not succeed. Fourth time was a winner. How were your first years in the capital city?
It wasn’t easy because Bucharest was a very active city compared with Botoșani which was (and still is) a peaceful city. I was seriously confused when I got here. I had the chance to meet two great people who remain friends to this day, that offered me a job for one year at an art gallery within the Northern Railway Station. In the meantime, I was taking acting classes with Dem Rădulescu who was a teacher back then at the Theatre and Film Academy. He was a wonderful man, from whom I learned what acting is really about. I realised I was the one to blame for not passing, I wasn’t very open and mindful to what the teachers from the committee were telling me. A year later I was passing the exams and becoming a student.
Do you think that your past experiences have turned you into a better actor?
As I said in other interviews, I think an actor should absorb emotions and happenings like a sponge. On my way here, I went across the market and stopped to observe the people at the stalls. I am fascinated by people’s figures, faces and gestures. I keep an eye on everything that happens around.
You worked with several Romanian directors – Cristian Mungiu, Radu Muntean, Corneliu Porumboiu, Bogdan Mirică are just a few, and you had the chance to participate in the majority of the world-famous film festivals. How would you describe success?
First of all, without sounding hypocrite, for me it means modesty. When it comes to success, you have to know where you stand. There are many people who do not know how to manage it and automatically something changes inside of them when they win a prize in a well-known film festival. For me, the awards are like a bonus that I receive for my work. The most important thing is the message we send through our characters. We don’t make films for us, we make them for the public and I think we are very lucky we can make people feel something through our work.
The last two collaborations were with Daniel Sandu and Anca Damian. In the directing debut of Sandu – “One step behind the Seraphim” – you have the role of Father Ivan, a blackmailing priest who seems to be well-meant but always uses the wrong ways. How do you get inside a character?
For me to accept a role, the script must be exciting, this is the basic rule; developing the character has to be a pleasure. Afterwards, certainly, it comes to discussions with the director about how we see it. It’s such a pleasure to gather information about the character you’re going to play: how would he walk the streets, how would he move, behave, what would he think and how would he live when he’s not in front of the camera. And I think your imagination should be vivid so you can build the whole character even though the audience does not see parts of him. I wouldn’t describe Father Ivan as a blackmailer; it’s true he sometimes uses blackmailing as an educational method, which is wrong but it doesn’t defines him. I would say the film is about faith, authentic moral values, about choices and friendship. Father Ivan has a particular way of defending his faith, and only his pedagogical methods are wrong; but I think the evil has not fundamentally got him.
I read somewhere that this character was written with you in mind.
No, I don’t think so. It’s true that they proposed it to me before anyone else. I got a phone from Ada Solomon one day, who told me about Daniel Sandu and his feature film debut. I knew him because I’ve seen his short film “Horse Power” that I totally enjoyed. She told me about the character, saying “only I can play him”, which intrigued me. I read the script and liked it, especially the character’s inner wealth and his sinuous path along the film.
I have noticed your attention to complex characters which I wouldn’t necessarily describe as good or evil.
I am glad you think that way. Most people consider the characters I play evil ones. Generally speaking, yes, you can say that they are negative.
In Anca Damian’s film you have a supporting role, a person from the past. How was your experience on set?
Someone asked me if I remember a special moment during the shooting and I answered that I felt very appreciated by the entire team (technicians, actors). I have two scenes, one with Cristina Florea, the other with Olimpia Melinte. I felt the people’s warmth and it was an absolute delight to be part of the cast of “Perfect Healthy”.
What attracted you the most to this character?
The relationship between father and son; the way that my character wishes to communicate with his child. He dreams of a closer relationship with his son, besides the humour they share. Something that doesn’t materialize by the end of the film when he truly discovers his father.
How is Anca Damian as a director?
She is someone that makes you feel good as an actor, on her set. A warm-hearted person and a director who thinks very deeply about her characters and scenes. It was a pleasure to work with her and the discussions about the character were very helpful.
You could say that acting is more about talent and instinct rather than something which can be learnt in school?
No. I was talking about an actor’s talent with my teachers, right after graduation, and especially with Misses Sanda Manu, a professor that I really care about. She generously opened the door to real life acting for me. Anyway, Misses Manu was saying that even if your talented this talent that you have should be cultivated, otherwise, it will fade away. Being an actor is a job that requires a lot of work. Some say that it is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I remember Dem Rădulescu saying: the student is a nightingale, I just arrange his feathers. What he meant was the student is talented but he needs to learn acting techniques and widen his way of thinking, and that was what he was going to help him with. I believe acting is instinct and talent, but also technique.
How would a film about Vladimir Ivanov look like?
I have no idea (laughing). I hope I won’t become a character such as Ion Creangă, and have a movie made about my life. I don’t think my life is so attractive to someone else. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, I do feel the people’s recognition. The other day I was talking with some friends about how people perceive me as someone they like. This thing scares me out. I think you have to surround yourself with people that can moderate you, in order to keep the balance. I always do this with myself without losing sight of the joy of life. Beyond what I do on stage, I want to be a normal human being, with his happiness, pain, sadness and delights; a balanced person with a healthy mind.
Your debut was on stage and you’re still acting on stage, while doing movies too. Which are the most recent plays that you are part of?
The latest play directed by Andrei Șerban is called Carousel and will be played on October 5th, 21st and 22nd at Izvor Studio, at Bulandra Theatre.
I remember seeing King Lear by Andrei Șerban, with a cast made up of only women. I was quite little and my mother used to take me to the theatre a lot. It really fascinated me, this play, and I became a fan of Andrei Șerban ever since.
Now I understand perfectly how old you are (laughing). I met Andrei Șerban in 1990.
I wasn’t even born then…
I know (still laughing). He came to the National Theatre of Bucharest and was directing “Troienele”. Thanks to Dan Puric I was going to work at the National Theatre and I could stay and watch the rehearsals. I was fascinated, it was such a cultural effervescence in the theatre back then. For the first and last time in my life I saw a group of young actors who did not want to go home after rehearsals.
When we finished our interview, I walked him out. I realised in front of the main gate we haven’t took any picture together and I didn’t have my phone with me. He offered to take a selfie with his phone and send it over.