There is a Russian saying that “Nature ignores the children of geniuses.” Nothing could be less true in the case of Masha Mironova, 26. All the more so since her famous father, Andrei Mironov, was also the son of renowned actors.
Mironova’s grace, the sparkle in her eyes and her irresistible smile all evoke the charm that millions of Russians associate with her father and with her mother, actor Yekaterina Gradova. For some, such a heritage might have been daunting. For Mironova, it was simply her life. “Of course, I knew that I had a dad who was just amazingly talented and loved by everyone,” Mironova said. But she has never sought to trade on her family name.
Young Masha was first recruited to play children’s parts at Moscow’s Gogol Theater where her maternal grandmother was acting. By the time she was eight, Masha, who had “never seriously thought of an acting career,” was invited to play the role of Becky Thatcher in Stanislav Govorukhin’s film Tom Sawyer (1982). She fell in love with the camera and entered the famous Shchukin Theater School and later VGIK (after a short hiatus to give birth to her son, Andrei).
Soon after her graduation from VGIK, Mironova had several job offers, including from the School of Modern Plays, which guaranteed her several roles. Yet, she “realized deep down this was not quite what [she] wanted,” and applied to the popular Lenkom theater.
But there was a rub. Not only had her famous father acted in films directed by Mark Zakharov, head of Lenkom. But Zakharov and her father had been close friends as well. It would not have enhanced her career to have people thinking she got the job because of “blat” or connections, instead of talent.
“That’s why,” Mironova said, “I told him,‘I understand you are in a quandary... so I am ready to play whatever you give me, in mass scenes, in dancing scenes ...’ I didn’t want him in any way to feel pressure that he had to give me a job ... I chose this theater because I sincerely loved Lenkom and not because I wanted to work for a friend of my father.”
Zakharov spotted talent in Mironova but also gave her no special treatment. She started with small roles and worked her way up. Her first major role was as Mademoiselle Blanche in “The Barbarian and the Heretic” (based on motifs in Dostoyevsky’s work), followed by Verochka in “Two Women” (Vladimir Mirzoev’s interpretation of Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country”).
Her first adult cinematic role came in Alexander Proshkin’s critically acclaimed Russky Bunt (Russian Rebellion), in which she played the ill-fated lover of Pugachyov. But it was her role in Pavel Lungin’s film Svadba (The Wedding, 2000) which catapulted her to international fame. Lungin did not even ask Mironova to audition for the film’s leading role of Tanya, a Moscow model who returns to her provincial hometown and ends up marrying her childhood sweetheart. The film won the prize for Best Actor’s Ensemble at the Cannes 2000 Film Festival and since has gone on to tour France, Italy and Germany.
In “Two Women” and The Wedding, Mironova excelled in her roles as an innocent, romantic heroine. But the actor insists that she is not typecast: “I also like character roles. I like to play nasty women for a change. And girls with strong character too.”
True enough, behind her charming, seemingly soft exterior, Mironova has a very strong character. She turns aside most questions about her personal or family life, saying only that she is married and has a happy family life. “Let’s talk about a different subject,” she suggests, “about life, philosophy, love, books, anything …”
The subject is quickly changed to one of Mironova’s loves: the English language, in which she is very fluent, and the United States. “I love America. I have been there many times and I love this language ... This country means a lot to me ... But, after visiting many times and having had multiple entry visas, some seven years ago I was refused a visa ... Maybe they saw in my eyes my love for this country and decided I wanted to flee there forever ... They must have thought I was a potential refugee. I wasn’t even given a concrete reason why. It hurt me so much.”
It is a bureaucratic fate many of her compatriots have shared. But, in Mironova’s case, so much did it hurt that she has adopted Switzerland as her new, favorite foreign destination. Thankfully, Mironova never need fear such mindless rejection at home. Russia will not ignore this exceptional child of geniuses.
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