Tarkovsky’s favorite actor – Anatoly Solonitsyn

Course #4 / The World of Tarkovsky

In the view of Andrei Tarkovsky – Solonitsyn was a perfect actor. On the opposite, Solonitsyn was an admirer of Tarkovsky’s vision and talent. Both of them being perfectionists, dedicated to their cinematic passion, they formed a great director-actor duo. The famous director was even jealous when his favorite actor had to work with other directors. Nevertheless, whenever Tarkovsky had an idea for a new movie, it meant that Solonitsyn would definitely be a part of it. No matter, leading role or not – they always worked together since the breakout movie Andrei Rublev.

It is fair to say that Andrei Rublev might be the most significant work for both – Tarkovsky and Solonitsyn. It was a long-awaited chance to enter the competitive world of cinema for a then-unknown amateur actor from Sverdlovsk theatre. After photo shoots and several auditions, Solonitsyn was chosen for the role of the famous icon painter and relatively mythic figure of the 15th-century – Andrei Rublev. Soviet bureaucrats initially were against such choice and they had a great skepticism about this unknown actor, but Tarkovsky eventually got the needed permission. Solonitsyn turned out to be a perfect fit for this movie that depicted the struggles that Russia went through in the 15th-century. Internal conflicts between rival clans and bloody Tatar invasions were depicted with all the cruelty. The movie carries that heavy and chaotic atmosphere of this era. In the middle of this – there is the figure of Rublev, who is wandering around, creating his famous artworks and trying to find answers to existential questions.

There is one, final episode of Andrei Rublev that fully showed the dedication Solonitsyn had in his work. His movie character took a vow of silence and remained silent for several years. In the final episode, Rublev finally had to break the silence. Tarkovsky wanted to hear a hoarse and tired voice. To make this happen, he wanted the other actor to do the dubbing. Solonitsyn declined such idea and took a 3-month long vow of silence by himself to get the voice Tarkovsky wanted to hear. He explained himself with gestures all these months and never said a word. Few days before filming, he took a step further and tightly pulled a scarf around his neck to block his vocal cords. It caused weakness, headache and actor seriously risked his health, but the end result was exactly how the actor and director expected.

Solonitsyn was very interesting to watch in this cynically thoughtful role of The Writer in another highly regarded movie – Stalker. However, this movie had a terrifying impact on his life. Solonitsyn, Tarkovsky and his wife Larisa – they all died from the same disease – lung cancer, caused by the poisoning from the chemical plant that was nearby the location where Stalker was filmed. It is tragic, but very symbolic fact. Stalker left such a powerful legacy and an honorable place in the history of cinema but took away the most important its creators had. There is definitely some mysticism in this.

When Solonitsyn was battling lung cancer, he continued to work and he was one of the main heroes in the 1982 movie The Train Has Stopped. Interesting is the fact that another key role in this movie was played by Oleg Borisov, who also had serious health issues. Despite feeling weakness and dealing with pain, both actors acted very manfully and viewers would not even notice the consequences of their struggles outside the lens.

In many interviews of Solonitsyn’s Soviet-era colleagues, you can hear the same facts; they all agree that he was a genuinely humble person. Open minded, charismatic and with a great sense of humor. As an actor, he had a special aura and great transition into his movie character. No matter, if the character was a good or bad, Solonitsyn took the role and made it look realistic. No falsehood.

In addition, despite working with Tarkovsky and other well-respected Soviet directors, Solonitsyn never was a flamboyant celebrity or a fame-seeking persona. He did not have any significant wealth, his own apartment in a good neighborhood or a fancy car. Theatre and cinema was his element and passion, but he never really got any material benefits out if it. He worked in different theatres around the Soviet Union throughout his career, but whenever there was a chance to work with Tarkovsky – Solonitsyn was ready to go. They had unique director-actor chemistry and it is no surprise their collaboration converted into some eternal cinematic masterpieces.

«You never know what you miss the most in your life and only within years you understand – time»

Anatoly Solonitsyn

Sources | Андрей Тарковский. Мартиролог. Дневники (2008) | Майя Туровская. 7 1/2 или фильмы Андрея Тарковского (1991)

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