Vertinskaya as Ophelia, 1964
|Born||Anastasiya Alexandrovna Vertinskaya
December 19, 1944
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Spouse(s)||Nikita Mihalkov (1967–1970)|
|Awards||People's Artist of Russia (1988)
Order of Honour (2005)
Order of Friendship (2010)
Anastasiya Alexandrovna Vertinskaya (Russian: Анастаси́я Алекса́ндровна Верти́нская) (born December 19, 1944, Moscow, USSR), is a Soviet and Russian actress whose mass popularity and high critical acclaim made her one of the most distinguished figures in the history of Soviet cinema. In the 1990s, disillusioned with the state of cinema at home, she went abroad to teach, spending 12 years in France, England, the United States and Switzerland. In 1988 Vertinskaya was designated a People's Artist of Russia; she is also a recipient of the Order of Honour (2005) and the Order of Friendship (2010).
Anastasiya Vertinskaya was born on December 19, 1944, in Moscow, soon after her father, the famous singer-songwriter Alexander Vertinsky returned from Harbin with his Georgian wife Lidiya Vertinskaya (née Tzyrgvava), a painter and actress. Anastasiya and her sister Marianna (one year her senior) spent their early years in the Moscow Metropol hotel; it was only in 1946 that the family was granted a proper flat at Gorky St., 14. Their childhood was happy: growing up in a bi-lingual family, Anastasiya enjoyed intellectually stimulating environment and the rich cultural atmosphere of her parents's circle. Both sisters attended an ordinary school; studying music and foreign languages were regarded as educational priorities by their parents.
Vertinsky never scolded his daughters for failures, of which there were many because, as Anastasiya later remembered, she was more concerned at the time with exploring her dad's vast library than with her school studies. Alexander developed his own, highly peculiar way of dealing with his daughters's problems. "He used to say: 'Now, the news of your misbehaviour make me suffer enormously' and I tried my best to somehow harness this nasty temper of mine – if only to relieve him from those sufferings," Vertinskaya remembered decades later.
Initially Anastasiya Vertinskaya was thinking of a career in linguistics, but things changed overnight in 1961 when the then sixteen-year-old was approached personally by the film director Aleksandr Ptushko for the role of Assol in Scarlet Sails. The romantic teenage drama based on Alexander Grin's novel became an instant success, making Anastasiya a national celebrity. Many of the future stars of Soviet cinema, including Vasily Lanovoy, Ivan Pereverzev, Sergey Martinson, and Oleg Anofriev, were in the cast, but, as critics noted, it was Vertinskaya's passionate performance that gave Scarlet Sails its timeless flavour. 23 million people viewed the film during its first year.
In 1962 Vertinskaya starred in the Amphibian Man, Gennady Kazansky and Vladimir Chebotarev's adaptation of Alexander Belyayev's book of the same title. Cast as Gutierrez, a young woman in love with an amphibian man, Vertinskaya had to go through difficult late Autumn underwater shooting sessions which she performed all by herself, without any stuntwomen. The film became the Soviet 1962 box-office blockbuster. "Vertinskaya was now a brand. People were going to the cinema to watch her, specifically," her future husband Nikita Mikhalkov later recalled. All this changed the teenage actress's life dramatically, not necessarily for the better. She later remembered:
In those days there weren't any bodyguards. I used to travel by tram to my studies. I had to queue for bread like everyone else. Not only was I recognized, they made a point of touching me too... It was in those days that I developed a fear of crowds... This immense psychic violence, it haunted me all through those years. – A. Vertinskaya, Express-Gazeta interview, December 2009
In 1962 Vertinskaya joined the Moscow Pushkin Theater troupe. This meant that from then on she had to continuously tour the country with the then popular so-called "theater brigades". In 1963, assisted by Lyudmila Maksakova, her elder sister Marianna's friend, Vertinskaya enrolled into the Shchukin Theatre Institute. The young actress's eagerness to act was, in her own words, "next to maniacal". Nikita Mikhalkov was one of her fellow students. They fell in love and married in 1966, only to be divorced three years later.
The role of Ophelia in the 1964 Grigori Kozintsev's film Hamlet (starring Innokentiy Smoktunovsky) made Vertinskaya known internationally and proved to be a turning point in her career. The 20-year-old (still acting very much "on an unconscious level", as she later admitted) won universal praise for her performance. As Kozintsev later wrote, Vertinskaya's strength was her "fragile purity and this Renaissance look she had". It was this experience that became Vertinskaya's creative milestone, something she had to continuously look up to and prove herself against. Working next to masters like Smoktunovsky proved to be invaluable in terms of learning, introducing the young actress to many of what she called "this magic kitchen's secrets". "Ophelia made me realize for the first time that acting was indeed my destiny," she later said.
While still at the Shchukin Theatrical School, Vertinskaya played the role of petite Princess Bolkonsky in Sergey Bondarchuk's epic adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1966–67). It was her highly sensual, touchingly naive portrayal that gave this character a new, humane dimension, which was in fact the director's idea.
Sergey Bondarchuk suggested a new, [more] tragic interpretation of this character. She's neither clever nor in any way interesting. Nice, pleasant, home-bound... Had she stayed alive, we wouldn't have loved her. What could she amount to, next to Prince Andrey, her husband? And yet it was her death that prompted him to tempt fate with the question: "Why did this human being have to die, and what for?" What I think Tolstoy tried to warn us against was the tragic mistake we make when we neglect the love of someone who is close to us... A. Vertinskaya
Vertinskaya said it was War and Peace that taught her how to "create a deep tragic undercurrent in something that on the face of it bears no sign of tragedy whatsoever".
Less famous but still highly respectable was her performance as Kittie Scerbatskaya in director Aleksandr Zarkhi's 1968 adaptation of Anna Karenina. Among other late 1960 films Vertinskaya starred in, were Hold Your Head Up! (Ne goryui!, by Georgy Daneliya), The Polunin's Case (Slutchay s Poluninym, adapted from Konstantin Simonov's book, and The Preliminary Man (Prezhdevremennyi tchelovek), Abram Room's adaptation of Maxim Gorky's unfinished novel Yakov Bogomolov.
Vertinskaya in theatre
In 1967, after graduating from the cinema arts college, Vertinskaya joined the Vakhtangov Theatre troupe and spent there one season, before joining the Sovremennik Theatre in 1968, where she stayed until 1980. Theatrical experience was, admittedly, of the utmost importance to an actress who never felt confident enough while acting in movies. "I was a slow developer," she admitted years later. In Sovremennik she starred as Olivia (Twelfth Night), Ranevskaya (The Cherry Orchard) and Valentina (Mikhail Roshchin's Valentin and Valentina).
In 1980 Vertinskaya left Sovremennik for the Moscow Art Theater. "It was only here that I acquired the level of professionalism I was craving for," she said in an interview years later. At MAT Vertinskaya mastered two roles from Chekhov's repertoire, traditionally regarded as difficult: Nina Zaretchaya (The Seagull) and Yelena Andreevna (Uncle Vanya). Critics praised Vertinskaya's performances – "emotionally charged, yet perfectly controlled". Another stage triumph for Vertinskaya was her performance as Elmire in Molière's Tartuffe directed by Anatoly Efros. Highly praised were Vertinskaya's Liza Protasova (Lev Tolstoy's Living Corpse), Natasha (Alone with Everybody by Alexander Gelman), and Pat (Mother-of-Pearl Zinaida by Mikhail Roshchin). In 1989 Vertinskaya portrayed her own father in Mirage or the Russian Pierrot's Way, a show that she herself wrote and directed to mark the centennial birthday anniversary of Alexander Vertinsky.
Vertinskaya excelled in her Shakespearean roles. First, in a unique theatrical experiment staged by director Anatoly Efros at Taganka Theatre, she appeared in two roles: Prospero and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest (premiered at the Moscow Pushkin Museum). Her Olivia in Peter James's Sheffield Theatre production of Twelfth Night (1975), better known to Russian audiences for the televised version, which premiered in 1978, is still regarded by many as unique and groundbreaking. This role, in which Vertinskaya was allowed to demonstrate her comic talent for the first time, remains one of her personal favourites.
I totally adored this production. Sovremennik was a theatre I always experimented in. This role was no exception. I stripped my skin of all colour and made a Renaissance kind of browless face, with colourless lashes. The freedom the English director Peter Brook gave us was unbelievable. He liked to show us 'how' – running about on stage, arms out, belly forward, long hair flowing – very funny and charming. To play comedy is always a pleasure, but here everybody was totally involved with what was going on, and what a troupe it was: Marina Neyolova, Oleg Tabakov, Yuri Bogatyryov, Kostya Raikin, Pyotr Shcherbakov, Nina Doroshina... With such stunning partners what you get is a fabulous atmosphere.
A. Vertinskaya. Izvestia, 2009.
The actress (according to the magazine 7 Days) portrayed her heroine "not as a sultry beauty but as Grace, infinitely charming and funny, full of boredom-related whims and flashes of sincerity, the product of her lively, inquisitive mind." Among the grand men of Soviet theatre who praised Vertinskaya's unusual versatility was Anatoly Efros who once said the actress was "so physically natural and yet artistically graceful" that it was "almost unbelievable".
1970s — 1980s: Vertinskaya in film
Having mass appeal and the respect of critics did not necessarily mean that Vertinskaya would always have a lot of work. She remembered how in Sovremennik (after Ophelia made her known internationally) she was shifted back to the mass scenes. Yevgeny Yevstigneev complained bitterly because the moment he (as the King in The Naked King) stepped on stage the audience responded in a hushed collective whisper: "Look over there, it's Vertinskaya in the crowd!"
Occasionally, Vertinskaya remembered, she had to artificially "simplify" her facial features (even to stuff her nostrils) so as to fit the Soviet "common heroine" stereotype. Even then, as one paper noted, "directors never knew what to do with this totally uncommon-looking girl". "In those times, they demanded a different kind of heroine: ruddy-faced cheerful 'activistkas'", – the actress responded when asked about huge gaps in her working schedule in the early 1970s.
| Nameless Star film fragment.
Glamour girl Mona (Vertinskaya) finds herself in the house of Marin Miroyu, a provincial astronomy teacher (Igor Kostolevsky) who introduces her to the hitherto foreign concept of having a library at home, 00:00–1:20).
Vertinskaya's next big hit came in 1978 when the film Nameless Star (an adaptation of Mihail Sebastian's play) premiered on Soviet TV. The film's director (and also a well-known actor) Mikhail Kozakov gave Vertinskaya (with whom he was having a passionate love affair at the time) total freedom of improvisation, letting the two – Mona the character and Anastasiya the performer – almost merge. The film (where her partner was the popular actor Igor Kostolevsky) remained one of Vertinskaya's all time favorites. However, with officials it fell out of favour instantly.
he Soviet Central TV chief editor Khesin was freaked out. He summoned us all up and with me had a dialogue which I found most peculiar: "Anastasiichka, how could you? Look how nice you look in reality. So smiley, so good-looking. Why do you have to have those curls in the film? And wear such a dress?" Me: "Listen, what's wrong with those curls? My heroine is a 'kept woman'..." Him: "What do your say your heroine is?.." And he shelved the film for years.
Her next two films were The Gadfly (1980), based on Ethel Lilian Voynich's novel, where she played Jemma (her male counterpart being the then debutant, Andrey Kharitonov, who later filmed her as a director) and The Theft, based on a play by Jack London, starring Innokenty Smoktunovsky.
As time went by, Vertinskaya was changing, feeling more and more dissatisfied with what was going on around her – on stage and beyond. Twenty years later one critic called her a "symbol of the decades": "In the 60's she was a dream-girl, in the 70's – a style emblem, in the 80's – a movie idol". The feeling of frustration that was in the air, touched her as well. Vertinskaya's later work, including Margarita in The Master and Margarita (directed by Yuri Kara which for many years was officially unreleased, 1994), another of her personal favourites, was made against the background of general decline in national cinema and culture in general.
When in 1989 an invitation came from the Oxford University for her and Alexander Kalyagin, another well-known Russian actor, to give master classes on theatrical craftsmanship, she accepted it without a second thought. The actress spent the next 12 years teaching in England, France and Switzerland. Vertinskaya has never come to regret her decision to quit the stage. "I realized one had to reinvent oneself literally seven times during one's lifetime, otherwise one wouldn't be able to fully realize oneself. Why should I sit and moan about good roles eluding me? You need to learn to turn your back on the scene that doesn't suit you," she said in an interview, speaking also of how relieved she felt at having dropped this 'everlasting worry' about the need of being continuously in demand. "This eternal actor's anxiety, it had finally left me," she said, talking to TV Kultura.
After Oxford Vertinskaya taught drama at the Comedie-Francaise (Theatre de la Republic), at the Chekhov's theatre school, and at Switzerland's School of European Cinema. Her play Chekhov, Act III, compiled of third acts from the Russian playwright's three classic plays ran successfully at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers. She spoke most warmly of the her European students' passionate love of the arts and their determination – two qualities she said she seldom met with in Russia.
In 2000 Vertinskaya returned home. Since then she has performed on stage only once: in the 2002 play Imago after M. Kurotchkin's interpretation of Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion directed by Nina Tchusova. In her 2009 Izvestiya interview Vertinskaya expressed regret about how little worthy roles were there to be found in the modern Russian theatre and said she'd rather stay away from the stage at all rather than start playing 'hitmen's mums' (one such suggestion she had received). "I have no immediate plans concerning the stage and see no personal drama in it. What upsets me more is that actresses like Marina Neyolova or Lena Koreneva are out of work," she said.
Vertinskaya's major concern these days is the functioning of the Russian Actors Foundation charity she herself founded in 1991. She's been busy restoring and producing her father's records (three of them have been released in 2000s in France). In 2010 Vertinskaya published a book of poetry she'd been working on for five years. She's also involved in her son Stepan Mikhalkov's restaurant business in Moscow, her passion for culinary art being well known.
Part of Vertinskaya's appeal has always been her unconventional good looks; the actress has been described variously as 'the Soviet Vivien Leigh' and an 'anti-Soviet-looking Soviet beauty'. Vertinskaya's sensational 1961 debut left both cinema fans and critics equally enchanted, the latter being exceptionally lenient to the fifteen-year-old, hailing her as a future star of the Soviet cinema. "No other Soviet actress could have played Assol. Her eyes, her profile, her thin arms... her flying gate – she was a real-life 'dream-girl'", actress Natalya Seleznyova remembered. The young girl's slight clumsiness looked natural on screen, while her strengths – 'gracefulness', 'youthful charms' and an 'aura of other-worldliness' – went undisputed. "It was as if some kind of young flower blossomed before our eyes in the Soviet cinema," film critic Andrei Plakhov recalled years later.
Ophelia in Grigory Kozintsev's Hamlet marked an important change in Vertinskaya's career and made critics scrutinize her more closely. Most agreed that what the director cunningly managed to do was turn the young drama student's obvious lack of self-confidence into a strong artistic statement. In their assessment of the overall result, though, specialists were divided. According to L. Nekhoroshev, "cast into the directorial ideas, like they were the iron corset of her Elizabethan dress, the young actress couldn't breathe freely in the atmosphere of high art she'd been submerged in." He had to agree, though, that "hidden within this rather mechanical Ophelia, certain inner logic and harmony have glimpsed through." Conversely, critic E. Dobin regarded the young actress's work as a high artistic achievement. "This fresh ingénue's natural helplessness was used by the director as a distinctive feature of Ophelia's meek, vulnerable character... There wasn't a single dim or erratic note in young Vertinskaya's performance. Ophelia's image is crystal clear, as indeed is the actress's work, its deep transparency reminding one of a river, the bottom of which this heroine is destined for", he wrote. In retrospect, this latter attitude prevailed. "Vertinskaya's Ophelia is probably one of the best in the history of theater and film. This role is extremely difficult for being seemingly unsubstantial next to those of Hamlet and other grandiose figures. Vertinskaya succeeded perfectly in making it fit in," critic Andrey Plakhov wrote.
Praised initially for her teenage charms, Vertinskaya quickly evolved into a versatile and original actress, garnering praise from all quarters, home and abroad. Vertinskaya's next, miniature but significant role, that of Princess Bolkonskaya in Sergey Bondarchuk's epic War and Peace garnered even more accolades. Critics noted a rare virtuosity with which "such a tragically fleeting, intrinsically unfulfilled character [had been made] strikingly vivid" and, even more extraordinary, continuously developing in the course of just four short scenes. "In Princess Liza there is a lot of inner dynamics and total integrity, the latter being achieved by... leading [this character] through totally diverse scenes, united only by an inner concept," according to the Actors of Soviet Cinema (1967) almanac.
Vertinskaya's progress in theater was impressive. Her work in Sovremennik (The Cherry Orchard, Valentin and Valentina) made critics speak of "...the special gracefulness of a stage existence where outward technical virtuosity of every movement and a sense of deep psychological insight were perfectly combined." Critically lauded were her classic heroines from Russian literature, including Nina in The Seagull and Elena in Uncle Vanya. Vertinskaya's Elmyra in Tartuffe was also well received. There, according to Soviet Theater magazine, she elevated her heroine "onto on an enormous aesthetic pedestal, presenting her as a kind of noblewoman of old French canvasses, inapproachable in her beauty and grace..." The same critic spoke of the combination of technical virtuosity and "a craving for artistic perfection", and of her unique ability to create "beauty devoid of frustration; gracefulness without flaw, based on emotional fullness and self-enjoyment." To Shakespeare's The Tempest (produced by Anatoly Efros at Taganka) the actress (according to a critic) gave a "seal of beauty", having achieved in her performance "a harmony of gesture, sound and movement". Generally most critics agreed that the progress Vertinskaya made during her 20 years of stage work, "from the charming but one-dimensional Assol-Ophelia" to the versatile multi-faceted master of many genres, was enormous. The fact that, unwilling to join the Soviet cinema's mainstream, she preferred to remain a slightly enigmatic, out of the spotlight persona, only added to her charisma. Later Vertinskaya has maintained her reputation as the nation's "most secretive movie treasure", managing for years to avoid journalists and TV cameras, making her private life the subject of rumours and insinuations.
| The Twelfth Night (1978, fragment)
Countess Olyvia (Vertinskaya) reveals her face to Cesario (Marina Neyolova) to first recount her own charms narcissistically, then become infatuated with the girl-dressed-as-a-boy and send Malvolio (Oleg Tabakov) forward with a ring. (02:00–10:00)
One of Vertinskaya's creative high points of the 1970s was Countess Olyvia in the Peter Brook-led Sovremennik production of The Twelfth Night. Buoyed by the English director's democratic, improvisational approach and the energy of the star-studded cast, Vertinskaya demonstrated her potential as a comedy actress (ignored by theater and film directors before this). Konstantin Raikin, though, thought Vertinskaya's success as Olyvia was natural because what she had played was actually her own self. "She is a very funny, ironic and naughty person, so for once her own personality fitted into a role perfectly," he said. Some critics expressed regret that this comic side of hers had been previously ignored. Vertinskaya's Mona in Mikhail Kozakov's Nameless Star was natural and organic. The film itself had problems with the Soviet censorship but later was rated #64 on Roskino's list of The Best Russian Films of All Time It was then that Efros spoke of Vertinskaya as being "so physically natural and at the same time so full of artistic grace that the combination seems unbelievable". The otherwise acerbic actor Valentin Gaft marvelled at her ability to "harmonize gesture, sound and motion."
The Master and Margarita (1994) brought another part of the actress' credo forward that had been unknown before. According to V.Plotnikov, Vertinskaya (before this) "was a victim of her origins: everybody saw in her a little countess or a little princess, while she herself often referred to herself as a natural-born witch... [Prior to Margarita] she'd had just one such role in Soviet theater, that of Victoria in Vampilov's Provincial Anecdotes: That was stunning: a totally credible Russian folklore witch," he wrote. The cinema critic Tatyana Moskvina agreed that "the infernal shadows of Bulgakov's novel" perfectly suited Vertinskaya, a "natural-born Margarita", neither "good nor evil, just totally otherworldly." This 'hidden fire' of Bulgakov's heroine "was burning throughout all of Vertinskaya's characters one way or another," the critic wrote.
In 1981, Anastasiya Vertinskaya was designated a People's Artist of the RSFSR. In 2005 she was awarded the Order of Honour. She also received the Order of Friendship in 2010. On December 19, 2009, her 65th birthday, both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin sent her personal telegrams, speaking of her "bright individuality", and her never waning popularity and "unique roles, extraordinarily powerful and deep".
Family and private life
Vertinskaya's husband was Nikita Mikhalkov, now a renowned Russian film director and actor, then a fellow student at the Shchepkin Actors' Art College. They married in 1967, half a year after their son Stepan was born. Three years later what some journalist labeled the "Soviet cinema's prettiest couple" divorced. Later Vertinskaya was romantically linked with actor Mikhail Kozakov, then had a three-year long relationship with Russian rock singer-songwriter Alexander Gradsky whom, contrary to popular belief, she's never oficcially married.
- Scarlet Sails (Алые паруса, 1961) – Assol (leading role)
- Amphibian Man (Человек-амфибия, 1962) – Guttieres
- Hamlet (Гамлет, 1964) – Ophelia
- War and Peace (Война и мир, 1966–67) – Princess Bolkonskaya
- Anna Karenina, (Анна Каренина, 1968) – Kittie Scherbatskaya
- Hold Your Head Up! (Не горюй!, 1969) – Princess Mary Tzintsadze
- Enamoureds (Влюбленные, 1969) – Tanya
- Case of Polynin (Случай с Полыниным, 1970) – actress Galina Prokofyeva (leading role)
- A Shadow (Тень, 1972) – Princess Louise
- The Preliminary Man (Преждевременный человек, 1972) – Olga Borisovna (leading role)
- One At One's Own Place (Человек на своем месте, 1972) – Clara, architect
- Domby and Son (Домби и сын, 1974 TV play) – Edyth Granger
- Nameless Star (Безымянная звезда, 1978) – Mona (leading role)
- The Twelfth Night (Двенадцатая ночь, 1979 TV play) – Olyvia
- The Gadfly (Овод, 1980) – Gemma
- Theft (Кража, 1982) – Margaret Chalmers
- Days and Years of Nikolai Batygin (Дни и годы Николая Батыгина, 1987) – Liza Paltseva
- The Lives of Don Quixotes and Sancho (Житие Дон Кихота и Санчо, 1988) – Duchess
- New Adventures of a Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Новые приключения янки при дворе короля Артура, 1988) – Queen Morgana
- The Tempest (Буря, 1988 TV play) – Prospero/Ariel
- How Dark the Nights Are on the Black Sea (В городе Сочи темные ночи, 1989) – Dunya
- Tartuffe (Тартюф, TV play, 1989) – Elmyra
- Thirst of Passion (Жажда страсти, 1991) – (anonymous, leading role)
- Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита, 1994) – Margarita (leading role)
- Town Musicians of Bremen (Бременские музыканты, 2000) – Atamansha
- Casus Belli (Казус Белли, 2002)
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