Yelena Morozova, actor

The non-descript coffee shop on Moscow’s Pokrovka street is a popular hangout for bohemians and young, middle-class Russians. When asked where she would be most comfortable (meaning near the window or at the rear of the café), 25-year-old Yelena Morozova answers, without missing a beat, “On Venus.”

You can’t help thinking this mystical beauty means it. But you quickly realize she is testing your sense of humor. Mironova loves a sarcastic twist, recently calling Nikita Mikhalkov’s blockbuster film The Siberian Barber “strong Russian tea in a bottle of Pepsi.”

But space has fascinated Mironova since childhood. She idolized Yuri Gagarin and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. “I was very serious about it,” she recalls. “I wanted to fly into space — not like those boys who dream of becoming cosmonauts and then end up working as drivers.” There are no Cosmonaut Training Institutes, so she entered the Mendeleev Chemical Institute. She also passed the entrance exams for the MkHAT Theater School, and so began an odd double life: studying chemistry and the stage in parallel. (“Even today I would love to engage in some scientific research connected to a military field, perhaps something with space alloys.”)

Morozova began taking theatrical roles while still in school, embracing the techniques of Mikhail Chekhov (who concisely summarized Stanislavsky’s acting techniques). She did not sign on with a specific troupe after graduation. Instead, a few weeks later, she began work with the American stage director Daniel Kleinfield, who had come to Moscow to stage “The Brides.” It was particularly appealing to Morozova, because it was the first time she worked with a director who also embraced Chekhov’s methods.

In the play, Morozova took on three different roles: the virgin bride, the woman disappointed after her marriage and the woman taking revenge on the “devil” she married. It was a play about the ying – the oriental concept of the female source of energy, and it was just the sort of mystical, unconventional theater Morozova yearned for.

“Typical theater is nonsense,” Morozova says. The MkHAT Theater, she said, used to be “a sort of castle on a cliff, evoking in me trepidation and awe ... But now it evokes only horror (uzhas).” The prestigious Moscow theater, she contends, has lost its trademark singularity. And it is a sorry development, as MkHAT is “the only stage in Russia technically equipped at such a high level … yet no one takes advantage of this.”

Morozova subsequently played in “Apricot Paradise” and “Laski” (“Carresses”). The latter brought the attention of two leading Russian directors — Vladimir Mirzoev and film director Alexei Uchitel. Mirzoev cast her in the lead in “The Taming of the Shrew,” and Uchitel gave her the challenging role of singer Marga Kovtun in His Wife’s Diary. This first film role garnered her wide acclaim and two awards for Best Debut Performance at the Kinotavr and Sozvezdiye festivals.

“She just killed me with her acting,” Uchitel said. “She has this colorful, gorgeous look, one that reminds me of a Dutch painter’s heroine … she is “covered by some mystical veil.”

This sensual nobility, combined with a mysterious mysticism made Morozova ideal for the part of Kovtun, the female singer who steals the poet Ivan Bunin’s mistress, Galina Plotnikova (played by Olga Budina).

“In the film,” Uchitel explained, “[Kovtun] is the only character intellectually on a par with Bunin; in terms of her actions, she is way ahead of him.” Morozova’s Kovtun brought just the right amount of “erotic tension” to the film, Uchitel said.

But Morozova’s creative passions are not limited to acting. She is a well-trained singer and has performed with American jazz musician Michael Ellis. And, in a recent role in a play based on Goethe’s Faust, she not only offers up a seductive performance as Marta Kleinfield, but also sings and dances with the Russian jazz group Chekasin and Guests.

The actress also loves horseback riding and is, well, something of a poet. A reporter calls and catches her answering machine, only to be greeted with the stirring words: “Oh, my heart, you beat like a falling snow, melting from the touch of a look.”

To the ever-surprising Morozova, “the charm of things is in their mystery.” Thus, she balks at defining her acting persona. “A definition is like when you announce: ‘The meal is ready and served.’ But my meal is not ready yet. The world has yet to savor what I have cooked.”

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