Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA
By default, the public nature of acting implies an actor's desire to remain the focus of public attention constantly. But there are exceptions, of course. One of them is Fuad Osmanov of the Russian Drama Theatre (RDT), Honoured Artist of Azerbaijan. He does not like being in front of cameras despite his appearances in several films. His love affair with cinema did not stand long professionally, but he does not feel sorry about it, considering himself a theatrical actor. Because the Theatre is his everything – the second home, throes of creative searches, development of analytical thought, search for himself, and a chance to perform professional experiments. In short, the Theatre has long become the meaning of his life. Yet Fuad does not like being interviewed either. He believes that a journalist should not be a link between an actor and his audience, for an open dialogue between these two is possible through theatrical performances, which should tell about the actor everything that might be interesting for the audience. Professionally, of course. As for his personal life, this is a no-go area, which belongs only to him and his family and where he does not let anyone in.
"I graduated from the acting department coached by the People's Artist of Azerbaijan Shafiga Mammadova and, together with Andrei Balykin, assigned to the Russian Drama Theatre as scene-shifters. In this capacity, we went on tour to Odessa."
"And you agreed?"
"Nobody asked for our consent. At that time (1990), it was quite a normal thing. After a few months of hard therapy behind the scenes, we have learned about the creative process much more than during a year of work in supporting cast. In September, when we came back from vacation, we got the part of silent characters in a fairy tale. We were so excited, as we were allowed to perform on stage alongside venerable artists! It was like an initiation in a fraternity of the elect. It was an incredible moment of happiness when one realises that sharing the same stage with legendary actors, such as Melik Dadashov, Lev Gruber, Rakhil Ginzburg, Tatiana Gross, Alexander Sharovsky, is a bliss..."
"Which one of them did you consider the most reputable?"
"Each of them had a well-established personality. You would definitely learn something new from them. For example, I have learned deep analytical study of a character from Gruber and the subtleties of psychological acting from Melik Dadashov. I was really impressed by his performance. He was highly skilled in finding expressive details in his characters that would look so convincing and significant on stage. His performance was unforgettable. I still remember in detail the death scene of his character Mendel Krik in Закат (Sunset). And I do experience the same emotional shock that I used to feet during his performance."
"I have always been a little bit surprised that boys could dream of becoming actors. I still think that acting has a pronounced feminine side. And when I think that you dreamed of acting on stage as a child, it contradicts my impression of you – a celebrity avoiding interviews, filming and television."
"Well, actually, I have never dreamed of acting. It all happened unexpectedly. Now I realise that my incentive for expressing myself through dances and songs was my mother. She had a very artistic nature; she had a pleasing voice, loved dancing and played piano. She cultivated in me a love of art, although she was self-taught herself. This was the natural state of her soul, which I have proudly inherited. Our home has always been crowded with guests, and home concerts have been quite a common event. That is why singing and dancing was a natural phenomenon I was quite familiar with. The model of such communication in leisure hours also seemed quite natural and even routine. My mother wished that I became a great singer like Muslim Magomayev. When she once took me to the choreography school, I took it as a continuation of our improvised concerts at home."
"Why choreography and not, say, singing in a music school?"
"That was done intentionally to improve my physical health. Apparently, someone gave my mother good advice. Since I loved dancing, my mother thought that I would have a pleasant training experience. And I had indeed. Then I worked in the ensemble of choreographic miniatures coached by Farhad Veliyev, did my military service and in 1986 entered the M. Aliyev Institute of Arts (presently the University of Culture and Arts)."
"Why did you choose acting?"
"Out of curiosity. I found it interesting to feel like another person. That is how I was admitted to the acting class of Shafiga Mamedova and later became one of her favourite students."
"Did she help you realise that you had made a right choice?"
"She taught to love our profession and the theatre. I learned the secrets of scenic craft much later at RDT."
"Can you assert that today you know and are able to do everything that you should know and be able to do in this profession?"
"You must be kidding… (laughs). It is impossible to know and be able to do everything in my profession. Life does not stand still. It is changing, it is evolving. Same as the theatre and acting. I think I can, understand and know something about this profession. Sometimes I ponder what I have already gained from my previous experience. Sometimes I rediscover something. For example, I used to think that "working in theatre" and "serving the theatre" meant the same thing by definition. For me, the only difference was in the usage of verbs, when the modern "to work" replaced the outdated "to serve". But no! It was about the interpretation of these verbs. "To work" means to perform routine work, while "to serve" implies being constantly involved in the creative process."
"What do you mean by 'being in the creative process' with your colleagues on stage?"
"It means to develop that kind of interaction, which is otherwise known as partnership. Getting on stage with other actors, pronouncing your part of the script without violating director’s mise en scene do not mean being a partner. Partnership is a special gift."
"But not everyone on stage can be considered an actor. Some people like to think of themselves as actors, but they never become ones throughout their entire theatrical life. Knowing the script and walking on stage is not enough to be a professional."
"I'm talking about those who can be called actors. By the way, walking on stage is a different beast, which requires skills and knowledge."
"Agree. I suppose that a desire to 'play solo' is inherent in people not confident in their professional skills. Or do you think this is not a professional thing, but an ingredient of a human character?"
"I think both factors do matter. It is difficult here, and unnecessary, to separate one from the other."
"So what is a good partner on stage?"
"This is a professional enjoyment. This means breathing in unison, feeling each other almost like touching. This is the only way one can create a true art, as the theorists call it, on stage."
"Have you ever experienced this state of artistic partnership?"
"Of course! It's like a drug, which you become addicted to over time – once it hits you, you strive for experiencing the same feeling repeatedly. That is why the expression 'my partner on stage' is not just an appraisal, rather a recognition of the skills of your colleague."
"You do not seem overloaded with roles in recent years. Do you regret choosing acting as your profession?"
"Not at all! My profession is a state of mind and soul all day long. If there is no new roles, I can always play in ongoing performances where I can always refine my characters adding to them something new until the title is removed from billboards. I feel the need to be in constant dialogue with my profession."
"Do you have roles which you think you still need to master until the ideal state of personification?"
"I do. I have many such roles actually. But the role of Cromwell in Sharovsky’s Королевскиеигры (The Royal Games) is my biggest regret. I could not get what I wanted from him. I still regret it. Now I would play Cromwell differently."
"Looking back in your almost thirty-year theatrical career, do you have roles that you have not played and will never play?"
"I did not have an obsessive dream or some hypertrophied desire to play Hamlet or Romeo. But when I was young, I wished I could play Ostap Bender and Othello. Why Othello? Because I have always been terribly jealous. I thought that no one could understand Othello's passions better than I could. I have played so many mature characters, that I did not have time left for younger ones! And now, due to my age, I can no longer play parts of those young characters. It is a worthless talk anyway… The only thing I would like to do is to have a part in an interesting play, like an unusual character staged by interesting director."
Then we recalled all the characters that Fuad have played in different years, leaving them in the past, making them a theatrical story: traveling salesman in Летоидым(Summer and Smoke), Fedya in Приятнаяженщина(Pleasant Woman), Louis Lamar inЛюбименя, дорогой (Love Me, Dear), deskman in Мой любимый сумасшедший (My Favourite Madman), Sir Toby Belch in Что угодно!!! (What You Will) and many others. Heroes of past years and heroes living on the scene today. Comedies, dramas, tragedies, melodramas are theatrical genres in which Fuad Osmanov feels quite comfortable. This short list does not include even a third of what was created by the actor during his thirty years of uninterrupted service to Melpomene on the stage of the Russian Drama Theatre, including numerous fairy tales, parody miniatures, and parody show performances!
"Tell me, do you consider yourself an actor who feels equally comfortable in any genre?"
"I cannot say 'yes'. My track record includes more comedies than other genres. I do not know how I would feel playing in a tragedy, say, Othello! But I am sure that I would know how to create my own Ostap Bender.
For a second, I caught a glimpse of sadness in his eyes, and maybe a slight longing for dreams that had never come true. I thought about the transience of the professional life of actors, about the dependence of acting on human factor, various circumstances and accidents. Actors are people who often go through life with bare nerves, as if they have no skin protecting them at all. They are vulnerable like children. And angry like children. And cruel as children. But in this anger and cruelty there is so much internal insecurity and desire to harmoniously merge with the world! Having so different souls, minds, and worldviews, they need only love of a director, audience, management. Only then can they create, hovering on the wings of creativity, like a bird leaping to the Sun! Actors are amazing and mysterious creatures. This is a different beast indeed. They can live happily only if surrounded with love, when they are demanded professionally and can speak with their audience in the language of art that is understandable, interesting, important and necessary.
"Actors not overloaded with repertoire performances very often express themselves in other, seemingly parallel professions. What about you?"
"I would not call movies, commercials or dubbing parallel professions. Neither am I inclined to visual arts as much as a professional, although I have infinite respect and even envy the artists working on canvas. Being a professional dancer, I am interested in the development of choreographic art both here and abroad, and I enjoy high performing skills, if what I see gives me aesthetic and professional pleasure. That's it. But sometimes I have a feeling that sort of limited in my profession. I would like to try to move beyond its boundaries."
"This is possible only if you want to try yourself as a director…"
"Why not? But this does not mean that I dream of changing my profession. I just want to try to create my own interpretation of the history of drama. To stage my interpretation of the story as I see, feel, and understand it. Both our directors, Alexander Sharovsky and Adalat Hajiyev, supported my idea."
"Was that difficult?"
"No. We have a democratic, tolerant, understanding leadership. They received it with understanding. So, if the idea of an experiment on stage is recognised as my attempt to engage in parallel profession, then it can come true thanks to help and support of the leadership of our theatre. I am grateful to them for understanding."
"There is still something childish in us. We wait for the New Year as something magical, hoping for a miracle. But actors, according to my observations, remain children even when their hair turns grey. Do you like receiving gifts?"
"Rather yes than no."
"Do you like giving presents?"
"Yes. But I like the process of choosing a gift more than the moment of its presentation. Perhaps, I also like the moment when I see joy in the eyes of the person I could make happy by giving him or her what they needed."
"You are forty-five years younger than your theatre. It is quite a difference. In 2020, RDT will celebrate its hundredth anniversary. What would you like to wish to your theatre?"
"A well-deserved and long-awaited award."
"You will turn fifty-five this year. What would you like to wish to yourself, your team, relatives and friends in this year?"
"I have simple wishes. First of all, I wish my fellow countrymen peace, health, well-being and joy. To myself and my colleagues, I wish love of the creative process and stage, an ability to appreciate art. I wish prosperity to our theatre and its management. I wish everybody love, patience, and mutual understanding."