Previously I mentioned Solaris (1972 version) and how much I loved it. The lead actress Natalya Bondarchuk was just gorgeous and played the part so well. She was 18 years old.
Lucky me. I discovered that the DVD contained an interview with her; truly a highlight. She reminisced about the film and how she prepared for it. It was so fascinating! Great actors all have interesting stories to tell about the parts you played. And it’s so hard to get a great part.
She told a poignant story. just heartrending. Everyone loved the reclusive director Andre Tarkovsky, but apparently he emigrated to France for various reasons. Bondarchuk stayed in USSR, but her international reputation (gained in part by Solaris) allowed her to make frequent trips to other countries (if she traveled with KGB minders).
She learned that Tarkovsky had cancer (apparently a fatal kind of cancer) and when she visited Paris, she (and her KGB minders) passed the cancer ward building. She had wanted to visit, but her KGB minders said no, it was not allowed. (They were afraid that she would try to defect).
It recalled a disturbing scene from the movie where her character was separated from a man she loved; just awful. And here, she was finally in Paris, and she didn’t get to visit this man (an artist she knew from childhood). She felt regret, but it only hit her later on (after he had died) that by this time Tarkovsky had been abandoned by his wife in Paris and was living alone and destitute in this cancer ward. She admitted that if she had wanted, she probably could have managed to sneak away and see him; it would have been hard, but certainly not impossible. And she never got to see him before his death. That is one of the saddest things I’d ever heard.
But in the interview she glowed when she talked about the performance.
One day she went into the film editing room where the cinematographer (not Tarkovsky) was editing. She saw a beautiful outdoor scene and a lady standing there. She remarked that the scene looked beautiful. “Who is that woman?” she asked. “You,” the cinematographer replied, and so it was. She remembered doing the shot, of course, but it was just one of many, and she had no idea what the camera was focusing on. (This anecdote resembles another recognition scene in the film itself).
Another scene (one of my favorite). Her character and her husband are floating about in one of the rooms of the spaceship as gravity-liberated books fly past them. . They are holding each other and twirling about, brooding over the paintings on the walls.
Bondarchuk had the luxury of youth and beauty; she was a kind of sexual fantasy and no doubt became an object of worship for film lovers around the world. And yet beauty is just one prop that an actor/actress can put to advantage; ten or twenty years later the glow of youth may not be as strong, but the range of emotions tempered by experience may make it easier to slip on different identities and gain viewer sympathy.
And in this video interview I made an amazing discovery; this 50 year old actress still had the character Hari inside of her. Obviously, she had grown and gone on to other things, but she already had 30 years to ponder the part, to become the part. I realized something that probably is obvious to actors (though not to most people). Actors–the best actors–never leave behind their roles. They may no longer perform, but (especially if the roles are enshrined in celluloid), they recognize and accept their function as emissaries for the characters they once played. Caroll O’Connor may not be Archie Bunker in real life, but he must have realized that he was the custodian for the character and retained the power to bring back the character just for a moment. Characters may no longer be active, but the actors still are, although eventually they die. Then, the roles reverse. The tv shows become a way to remember the actors, to keep them from dying. When we watch All in the Family, what we see is not only Archie Bunker but also Caroll O’Connor at the peak of his form, preserved in celluloid, living on as an actor, a character, a legend.