November 01, 2002

Remarkable Political Actor

Mikhail Ulyanov, one of Russia’s most famed actors, turns 75 on November 20. Born in the Siberian village of Tara, 400 km from Omsk, he ran off with a Ukrainian theater troupe in 1942, a year after his father had gone off to fight at the front.

Ulyanov acted the role of Marshal Zhukov in 12 films, the most popular a series called “Liberation.” He also played Vladimir Lenin (with whom he shared a common last name) in six films. But he made his name on the stage in the 1950s, in a wide range of dramatic roles at the Vakhtangov Theater (of which he is now the chief director), especially those that showcased his ability to evoke the emotions and feelings of the common man, as in his breakthrough performance as Kostya Belous in “City at Dawn.”

Ulyanov’s many film roles included war films and films on the revolution. The film role that catapulted him to nationwide fame in the USSR was his Yegor Trubnikov in Chairman (1963), despite its propagandizing for the kolkhoz system. His most significant TV role was as Tevye in Sholom-Aleichim’s Tevye the Milkman. But arguably his best role ever was in Alov and Naumov’s film version of Mikhail Bulgakov’s play “The Flight,” where he starred as the poignantly flamboyant White General Charnota. The film’s tragicomic scene of a card game in Paris, with actor Yevgeny Yevstigneev, is a masterpiece of world cinema.

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