Alexader Petrov: “it’s a roller coaster with free-falling into Gogol’s character”
Mysticism, adventure, detective, and love story. One of the long-awaited summer premieres Egor Barnov’s Gogol: the Beginning was released on the 31st of August. It tells the story of a young writer Nikolai Gogol who tries to help investigator Yakov Guro solve a series of mysterious murders. After the premiere, viewers can expect three more films, and the filmmakers are sure that fans will impatiently look forward to the sequels. Alexander Petrov who played the lead in the film gave an exclusive interview to our newspaper and shared some of the most interesting facts about the project.
Alexander, did you grow your own moustache for this part?
That’s my biggest pain. I hated that moustache. Initially we planned to attach one before each shooting. But when I arrived for the first shooting, I had an impressive beard, so we decided to leave my moustache simply to see how it would all look like. We shaved off the beard, left the moustache, and dyed it. It made it possible to film very detailed close-ups, which lead us into Gogol’s inner world. When I took off all the makeup after the first day of shooting, I knew that my moustache was bound to stay until the end of the entire project, even though I hated it.
And how did you deal with your wig?
A wig and a moustache are capable of completely changing your facial geometry. When you don that wig (which was very good, it’s important to say!) your features change dramatically. Besides, our very experienced makeup artist Tamara Frid put on special shadows so that my face would transform completely and everything fell into place.
Still some people say you don’t look like Gogol…
We weren’t trying to imitate him. Our first and foremost goal was to discover his inner world. Of course, Gogol is immediately associated with this hairstyle, moustache, and big nose, so at the very beginning we tried to put on a prosthetic nose. But, on the one hand, it looked terrible, and on the other hand, it was unnecessary because we were making a stylized movie, which relied on some facts from Gogol’s biography but it was far from being a biopic. The task that Gogol set before itself was to use a modern approach to show his inner world, something that still excites all his readers.
What genre is it?
It’s a mixed genre: mysticism, adventure, detective story. Egor Baranov called it a gothic film. For me, it was a real roller-coaster with free-falling into Gogol’s human nature. What kind of person was he in real life? What was going on in his head? How did he live? Who did he love? What was he like? Even when you just start talking about it, you already feel your skin crawling. He was an incredible person.
Is Gogol a project about Nikolai’s inner world?
It is. Of course, there is so much else going on there. It is not a dream made up by Gogol. This story could just as well have happened in his world, in Nikolai Gogol’s world where he suddenly found himself. How did he become Gogol? How do people rise to such greatness? What do they need to live through? What pain do they have to suffer and what is the price of a genius? I don’t know a single person from that unique list whose life story was simple and easy.
How did your journey with Gogol Begin? Parts such as this one don’t just happen
Nobody even considered me for this part, they auditioned other actors. But once in St. Petersburg, when we were shooting Sparta, I was approached by Alexander Tsekalo who asked: “Do you want to play Gogol? You have 15 minutes to decide.” I immediately answered: “Of course, I do.”
Can Gogol be called Baranov’s artistic film?
Sure, it is both artistic and spectator cinema. It’s Egor Baranov’s artistic view of Gogol. Egor knows everything, he is ready to answer any question. His brain in like a super-duper computer, he can see a finished film, already edited, color-corrected, and sound mixed. I am impressed by how fast he can make a decision, and a very important decision at that.
Is Egor Baranov a leader who is very sure about what he wants?
Absolutely. He is an example of a modern leader. I am sure that a few years from now Egor will leave to make films in Hollywood. I can see it even now. The world film industry is looking for people like him, people who are ready for water or fire, but also people who have their own vision and opinion – because Alexander Petrov looks nothing like Gogol, and Evgeny Stychkin’s character wears a weird tricorn hat… This is our view of Gogol, we don’t imitate anything: Why? What for? Gogol keeps to the stylistic effect – in the biography, in the text, in his silhouette, even the angles of his nose that we found together with Egor and our director of photography Sergey Trofimov.
How did you find working on the same set with Oleg Menshikov?
It was pure joy. He has a unique intuition, he knows exactly what is going to work out, and what is not. I learned simple things from him, things that are very complicated really. When you start understanding all the nuances that he sees, you start growing yourself. Oleg brought a lot of important details into the Gogol movies. I hope I can work with him on sets of other movie projects and hopefully on a theater stage.
So who is Gogol?
He is a very complicated and not an ordinary person at all. He could not have been ordinary. Like all geniuses, they are all a bit unconventional.
What actions make Gogol accessible for understanding?
Imagine a person burning something of his… I was so shocked and still am. How does it feel – to burn something very dear to you? For example, you take something valuable, like a letter, a photograph, or a script that you wrote, with all your notes, and you burn it. I don’t understand how anyone could do that. It was something extremely important to him: his dreams, his fantasies, his thoughts, it was himself. But he simply burned himself. That is the true Gogol, I think he was burning himself because of his own insecurity and fears. At some point, he managed to overcome that, and due to that we all now know the great writer Nikolai Gogol. But it is simply beyond any understanding. We rarely come across a thought of tearing something up or throwing it away, but he was ultimately destroying his personal things. Of course, it defines so many of his character features: his intelligence, pain and love, his inner world which was tormenting him. A stupid and not so talented person would not do such things.
You said you find it interesting to play people on the edge of sanity – being an actor who keeps his state of mind under control
And this is exactly the case. It is an interesting degree of such weakness. When we see a weak person in front of us who does these things for the sake of some universal mission, for honor. Gogol has moments like that, especially at the end – I don’t want to spoil anything – when you understand what human traits are being revealed. It’s all very confused – he seems like a weak person, but there is something strange in him, something psychotic, he has a permanent “nervous eye,” and yet all his actions are logical and reasonable. He is honest with viewers, with us. and with himself. He is boiling in his own fears and tries to overcome them. He is not just a protagonist, he propels both himself and the whole story forward.
Can Nikolai himself be the heartless and ruthless murderer from Gogol?
Certainly. After the first film you would suspect everyone, even Gogol himself. No one knows what is going to happen next and what direction the plot is going to take. Gogol is a detective story with a touch of mysticism and adventure, but viewers need to first understand what is going on, what happened. This is terribly exciting. I don’t envy Gogol fans (I would have become a fan myself!) waiting for the next films to be released.