Benito Di Fonzo
"For me," says Russian actor Vladimir Mashkov down the line from Moscow, "a real disaster was the man who died a couple of weeks ago: Crocodile Hunter."
"Yes, he's my favourite-in-the-world man, I have all the DVDs."
Perhaps he could play the Russian Crocodile Hunter.
"He's the only one in history for me. Please write, I want to play that part."
I'll start working on the script, then?
"I'm waiting, I'm prepared," he says with a hearty deep laugh. "I'll just go into the zoo to buy a big snake to do rehearsal with."
Until our Russian Crocodile Hunter gets off the ground, you'll have to settle for seeing Mashkov in three diverse roles at the Russian Resurrection film festival. They include a plump revolutionary in The Captain's Daughter, a terrorist in opening film Counsellor of the State and an action hero in the smash-hit Piranha.
Later this year Australians can see Mashkov opposite Robert De Niro in De Niro's Cold War flick, The Good Shepherd. De Niro will probably play De Niro playing De Niro, but you can never be sure what to expect from Mashkov.
"For me, first of all I must change myself, physically and mentally," he says. "I can't do two movies together, I can't go with the same face. For [The Captain's Daughter] I put on 20 kilos.
"I am from Stanislavsky school. My teacher Oleg Tabakov, most famous actor, director and teacher in Russia, he give me same advice Robert De Niro gave me: follow your instinct. All my life I lived in Siberia in Novosibirsk. That's very tough city, I saw a lot of different people with very strong character."
The late Irwin and Mashkov's other Australian friend, boxer Kostya Tszyu, epitomise the type of character he has made a career portraying in the former Soviet states.
"They are real men, because they have passion, they have destination," Mashkov says, deferring to the Russian word tsol or goal.
Mashkov's English is self-taught:
"I never learn English. I'm like man in the middle of river, somebody just put me in the water and I just swim."
Russian Resurrection organiser Nicholas Maksymow helps translate during the interview. Maksymow, born in Parramatta to a Russian escapee of a Nazi POW camp, says the Russian film industry "was certainly healthy in the old Soviet days". It took a few years to get back on its feet after the fall of communism, "[however] there were certain topics that were no-go zones".
One taboo was Afghanistan, where Soviet troops were fighting the
US-backed mujahideen. The topic was powerfully covered in Ninth Company, last year's Russian box-office hit and part of the festival program.
"I think it rams home what's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq today,'' Maksymow says.
Other highlights are First On the Moon, a mockumentary about Russia winning the space race, and top heartstring-puller The Italian. There will be a retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky's work, whose Solaris influenced filmmakers everywhere.
"What I think is strikingly different about Russian as opposed to Hollywood films is that they have a sense of realism," Maksymow says. "Most of the time they have sad endings."
Mashkov explains why: "Because Russians in real life don't trust happy endings. We think, 'After this happy ending something horrible!' Our country changes every three, four years."
Mashkov admits the Rambo-esque Piranha is Russia's attempt at Hollywood fluff: "You put your head in a freezer, grab a box of popcorn, sit and enjoy yourself."
Mashkov says that films such as The Captain's Daughter, based on the classic Alexander Pushkin novel, give us "the spirit of Russia". Which is?
He laughs heartily.
"When a person would give his last shirt on his back. The most important thing is that a Russian person never betrays anyone. That's what the spirit of Russia is, and that's the scariest thing in life: to know you've been betrayed."
I better get to work on that Irwin script, then.
Tuesday to October 1, Chauvel Cinema, Paddington,
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