Olga Budina, actor

Olga Budina went down many blind alleys before joining the ranks of Russian cinema stars: she sang in a choir, worked as a school teacher, she sang in a pop group, and even won her city district’s accordion contest (she can interpret Bach on the squeeze box). In fact, the frail Budina still bears a light impression in her skin from the belt of her heavy accordion.

But acting finally claimed her in 1993. She was strolling down old Arbat street, soon to take her entry exams at the Gnesin Musical Academy (to enter the People’s Choir faculty), when she passed the Shchukin Theater School. She saw lots of jittery candidates waiting to be heard for their entry exams and decided to sign up as an applicant herself. “As soon as I entered the Shchukin school, I realized this is mine and that I would never leave this place,” she said. She was the only candidate in her class to receive three perfect 5’s.

The daughter of an electrician and a bookkeeper, Budina loved to perform from an early age, often putting on skits for family and friends. “I like to attract attention, but not any kind,” she said, “only when I get it because people realize what I am doing is unique.”

Russian film director Gleb Panfilov discovered Budina when she was in her third year at Shchukin and cast her in the role of Anastasia in his film, The Romanovs. “The Romanovs were very important for me,” she said, “because from the outset I began working with Panfilov and not just anyone—he made me set very high standards [for my work] … So if I see a film is not up to that level, I reject the offer.”

Today at 25, Budina already has 12 films to her credit, many having earned wide acclaim. She also acted in Alexei Uchitel’s His Wife’s Diary, in the role of poet Galina Plotnikova (see Russian Life, Jan/Feb 2001). In the film, one critic said, she played the role like no other Russian actress could: she played it “like American actresses do—without pedaling or trying to steal the show from the rest of the cast, but just within the needed role.”

Since then, Budina’s star has been on the rise. And while she has been profiled in many top Russian magazines (Seven, Ogonyok, as well as the Russian editions of Cosmopolitan, Elle and Vogue), she does not consider herself a megastar. (“I am no megastar, Putin is.”) Certainly she does not live the high life. She still has a modest apartment and shares a party line phone with a less-than-adoring drunkard of a neighbor  who curses her when she asks to use the line, if only for a few minutes.

“As for any actress in Russia today, money is short,” Budina said. On top of this, she must support her parents (both recently lost their jobs) and her 21-year old brother Andrei, who is still a student. The only luxuries she allows herself are good books, good films, and clothing of her own invention tailored by her favorite designers. Since she is always on the alert for film shoots, she said she can rarely afford a vacation.

Recent roles have included a doctor in the acclaimed TV serial Granitsa—despite previously being queasy about anything doctor-related, and the title role in a TV Film Salome, based on the biblical tale. She welcomed the latter anti-hero role because, she said, like any actress, she hates typecasting. “I am a Pisces and thus can swim in any water reservoir,” she said.

But there was one reservoir she decided not to enter recently. Director Vladimir Bortko offered her the role of Margarita in his new film version of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. “It is very dangerous,” Budina said. “The role has such negative energy … all those who worked in the previous film version of The Master and Margarita either suffered from diseases or injuries ... Yes, it is a novel of a genius, and I still reread it often, but if you don’t want to die after this, you need to renounce this role.”

For now, Budina said, there is no man in her life. But she speculated that the person filling that role would need to be “a mixture of the temperamental Othello, the reasonable Mercutio and intelligent Mycroft Holmes [brother of Sherlock].”

A very tall order for any man. But then she did say she sets her standards very high ...

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