As the ambassador for this year’s Key Buyers Event, the annual showcase for Russian content and talent organized by state film promotion body Roskino, leading man Yuri Kolokolnikov, who was born in Moscow but raised in Canada, sees himself as a fitting spokesperson for an event designed to build bridges.
“Since early childhood, my life was between East and West. I witnessed how the world has become unified, in spite of all the existing disagreements,” he told Variety. “Our industry is at the cutting edge of this movement. We all want to get to know each other. And I would like to continue to be part of this connecting tissue.”
Kolokolnikov’s Hollywood career began auspiciously when he met casting director Nina Gold, who was in Russia scouting actors for “Game of Thrones.” She offered him an audition, and he was soon cast as Styr, leader of the fierce, cannibalistic Thenn tribe. It was the actor’s breakout role.
“That proved to be an amazing adventure, I can’t put it any other way,” he said. “Before that, I hadn’t had a chance to participate in such a massive project. But luckily, I wasn’t a great fan of the series; I hadn’t even seen a single episode by the time I started working on it. Otherwise, with all this pressure of this kind of project, I would have peed in my pants.”
With the global success of “Thrones,” Kolokolnikov’s star began to rise. The thesp has more than 80 feature film credits to his name, including “Tenet” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” and has made a splash in series such as FX’s “The Americans.”
Over the course of his career, he’s seen the industry’s embrace of Russian talent evolve. “The era of stereotypical ‘Russian bad guys’ is coming to an end,” he said. “Of course, there are bad guys, you can’t get away from that. But now you get to see more in-depth stories with multi-faceted characters.”
That trend will only continue as Hollywood delves deeper into the country’s rich talent pool, he said. “We have lots of talent; it’s cheaper to film here; we have lots of powerful, professional production companies, we are developing the system of rebates. Truly, it is a Klondike in terms of content creation.”
Up next Kolokolnikov will have a star turn on the Croisette in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Cannes competition title “Petrov’s Flu.” Later this year, he’ll star in a lavish adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita,” directed by Mikhail Lockshin, the helmer behind the Netflix original period drama “Silver Skates.” And he’s currently working on the third season of “Stories About Us,” a documentary series about Russian history broadcast on the local History Channel.
Despite the full slate, Kolokolnikov said he takes nothing for granted, citing an old Russian proverb: “Don’t renounce poverty or jail will always come your way.” “I guess it’s in our blood, a kind of a genetic fear because so many generations went through both, poverty and imprisonment,” he said. “Simply saying, it’s like, ‘Hey, are you relaxing? Be on guard! And don’t enjoy your life too much because any moment they can put a bitter end to it.’”
That mentality is one of the things that sustains his love affair with Russia. “Endless contradiction mixed with brutal natural energy, a huge multicultural, multinational territory [full of] unpredictability, paradoxes,” he said. “This probably creates the very Russian mysterious soul that everyone wants to comprehend, but no one can fully understand it. Even I sometimes get lost with the answers.”