"An actor of such a nature: as if you know a person for half a life."  The actor and director Sergei Puskepalis died.  Alexey Popogrebsky remembers a colleague for whom he wrote several roles


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On September 20, Sergei Puskepalis, an actor, director, Honored Artist of the Russian Federation and artistic director of the oldest Russian drama theater named after Volkov in Yaroslavl, died in the Yaroslavl region. Puskepalis had an accident while driving with a driver an armored Ford Transit minibus for the military of Donbass. Back in 2014, he supported the self-proclaimed LPR and DPR, in 2022 spoke in support of the war with Ukraine. traveled regularly to the occupied territories, took humanitarian aid to the Donbass battalions to friends with whom he introduced writer and politician Zakhar Prilepin (also actively supporting the invasion). Director Aleksey Popogrebsky met Puskepalis long before the start of the war in Donbass – and wrote several main roles especially for him (in particular, in the films Simple Things and How I Spent This Summer). At the request of Meduza, Popogrebsky spoke about Sergey Puskepalis.

Alexey Popogrebsky, director

In our debut film with Boris Khlebnikov “Koktebel” [в 2003 году] the son of Sergei, Gleb Puskepalis, was filmed. Then he was 11 years old. We were looking for a guy for the role for a long time, until they told us that in the Fomenko Theater the boy plays in performances and that he is the son of a student Peter Naumovich [Фоменко]. We met: he was brought by his mother, wonderful Lena, Sergey’s wife [Пускепалиса]. And almost immediately we realized that this guy would be filming with us.

We didn’t know Sergei at the time. I saw him towards the end of filming, when he came to visit his son on the set. We exchanged a few words, and for the first time we talked after one of the premiere screenings of Koktebel – at the Cinema House. Suddenly, I realized that I was looking at Sergei with some kind of film optics, that he holds, relatively speaking, a close-up very well – and it is interesting for me to think about him when writing the plot of the next film. The movie camera inside me went off.

plot [нового фильма] there was practically none, but I already understood that I would write it for Puskepalis. I wrote the role of a Soviet doctor, and then a post-Soviet, ambiguous one: he is a bribe taker and a womanizer, but we love him anyway. This was deliberately done. And only Sergey could play it – he has a big credit of sympathy with people. This is his important human property.

Sergei did not know that I was drafting a film script “Simple things”until I finished it. When he read the script, he said: “Lesh, well, you give. There are so many things that intersect with my circumstances.” And the second: “I have never acted in films. Maybe you will take someone already experienced? I replied that I would think about someone else, but in general I represent only him.

Sergei in the title role in “Simple Things” essentially made his film debut. Although at that moment he was already a venerable theater actor and director, who had studied with Pyotr Naumovich Fomenko.

It was a pleasure to work with him, we were very good friends then. I say “then” not because something quarreled between us … But it’s just that over time you begin to communicate less with people.

Filming The Simple Things, on the one hand, was a huge stress for me – it was my first solo film without [прежнего соавтора, режиссера Бориса] Khlebnikov. On the other hand, great happiness, because it was great to work with Seryoga. As a director, he clearly understood what it was like to be a director – and did not try to direct. He super-precisely did everything on some kind of organic matter and intuition. Better than I could imagine. And all the partners on the site appreciated it. It was easy, good and inspiring to work with him: what I wrote went through Sergey, became convincing and alive in volume.

We were very nervous when we had to shoot Leonid Sergeevich Bronevoy in “The Simple Things” This was his last role. We were worried because we knew that this is a great and popular actor, but he has a difficult character. I was in some kind of terrible panic: I’m afraid that I’ll be eaten by Bronevoy, I’m fussing on the site, I look into the kitchen and look – and there the sweetest spiritual tea party between Sergei Puskepalis and Leonid Sergeyevich takes place. They instantly found each other. It turned out that once Armor almost made his debut at the theater in Magnitogorsk, and Puskepalis was a director at the time of filming there. They found each other, and through this I connected to the correct intonation and note. [для фильма]. Sergey had an incredible ability to envelop people with warmth and win them over. This is one side.

And the second: his middle name is Vytauto – Vitalievich in Lithuanian. I joked that he was very vital. He has this vitality, incredible vitality. He played a doctor in The Simple Things in such a way that while we were filming in the hospital, patients came up to him, thinking that he was a real doctor. We finished filming this film, and I already had a story about polar explorers in my head.

At some point, I said: “Puskepalis, you will be in my next film as a polar explorer in Chukotka.” He pointed to the northern point of Chukotka on the atlas with his finger. He did not change his face, ran his finger a centimeter to the side and said: “I lived here for nine years nearby.” Such coincidences emphasized that everything we did was not in vain. As a result, two scenarios – “Simple Things” and “How I Spent This Summer”, where the main characters are also called Sergey – I wrote from beginning to end for Puskepalis, there were no alternatives. These are my favorite roles of Sergei from all the films where he played. And not because I am the director of these films. They would have remained loved anyway, because these roles were written for him.

Whom he just did not play: doctors, meteorologist, coaches, a million roles – not to list. I will not compare the scale of genius, but there were Soviet actors who served as a target for people’s projection, they could play anyone and people connected to them. These are actors from Mikhail Efremov and Leonid Kuravlev to the more intellectual and aristocratic Oleg Yankovsky, who could also play a locksmith. Puskepalis was – or rather is, because his roles remained – the same popular target for projection. This is a Soviet thing. Soviet in the sense of not the structure of the state, but in the sense of the era.

One of my colleagues said: “Puskepalis is a universal ‘our good man’.” He was able to do this by nature, and not because he did something special for this. He belonged to that galaxy of actors who do not need to play. They lay down on the role, absorbed it into themselves. Not all, but many and different [роли]. And it was the same in life.

We were very good friends with Sergey. The shooting day ended, we ran to the nearest grocery store, bought a bottle [настойки] 20-degree “cranberry” for two, they drank in the little garden. We were happy with what we do and how we communicate. Like everyone else, we loved to slander. Serega could blurt out something about his colleagues, but he always respected those who really work in the theater. He did not like something, but if a person works hard, then he treated it with respect. Our artistic tastes often did not coincide, but when we felt that this was happening, we simply did not talk about it.

I remember that he, as a film director, made the film “The Clinch” based on his favorite author Alexei Slapovsky. After the film came out, he said: “Lesh, it’s kind of a nightmare to be a movie director. I’m impoverished, I’ll go back to shoot.” I remember this with a laugh, he himself spoke about it with irony.

Star disease and Puskepalis are not compatible in their design. He had a healthy attitude towards awards. I remember that Kinotavr invited project participants, paying for accommodation for half a term. “Simple Things” was shown in the middle of the festival. We flew in, showed a movie, deadline [проживания] we expired two days before the final. We tried not to think about the result: it’s good that they showed it. And then people began to approach me and Seryoga: “What a wonderful film. How we have been waiting for it.

Our nerves turned on – you didn’t think so, and then they start to wind you up. Puskepalis and I, without agreeing, decided that we would not extend the term at Kinotavr and would dump it: come what may. And then off we go. There was even a scandal How many The prizes went to the film “Simple Things”. There was a psychosis, Puskepalis and I phoned each other, told each other that this was some kind of madhouse, some sort of overkill.

It was also funny when he was given an award for the lead role in The Simple Things. Out of the corner of my ear I heard a professional conversation: “Why did they give Puskepalis? He doesn’t play at all.” Doing nothing at all is an illusion. To act as if the actor is not acting is a great quality. Usually prizes are given when a person is completely transformed, his nose is glued, he plays someone else – and they give him an Oscar. Or when a person is so organic that you forget that he is playing. An actor like this. It’s like you know the person half your life.

Why Sergey supported [вторжение российских войск в Украину], I have no idea. I know about it, they told me about it. We didn’t discuss it with him. Artistic tastes have not always coincided with us. The nature of our friendship was such that we gave each other the opportunity to disagree and not argue. We are different, and God bless him, it’s good that it is. Therefore, when the polarization of everyone and everything began, we never talked about these topics with him. All this flashed in the news:Puskepalis, Prilepin”. I didn’t want to get into it. For me it [его взгляды] flowed in some organic way from his constitution. I do not presume to judge, but for me it is his organics. I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t say it, I wouldn’t think it, I can’t think like that.

The last time we spoke with him on the phone, he congratulated me on my anniversary on August 7th. I saw him for the last time at the premiere of the film about fencers “On the Edge” with Svetlana Khodchenkova in 2020. He hoped that we would stay after the film and have a potryndim, but he went to Yaroslavl: he had to go to the theater. We communicated much less when he returned to Yaroslavl. After all, he was again invited to be the chief director of the oldest Volkov Theater in Russia. He was the director twice. In 2019, he was invited, as they say, to the second trip.

It is very strange to think that from our very small expedition to Chukotka for the film “How I Spent This Summer”, and there were 15 of us there in total, two of the brightest and most unusual already dead. In Chukotka Sergey Puskepalis and [режиссер-документалист] Sasha Rastorguev liked to sit together, drinking tea and not only. They clashed with tongues and talked for hours. Our departments settled in cabins in a moss-covered barrack; so: they complained that they listened to talk shows all night long, as if on the radio, where Rastorguev and Puskepalis were talking.

So today I am able groggy. They say that there comes an age when you start to lose not your parents already … Everything is in the air now. I called a couple of people and texted. All we can say is not a very printed word. So far, no one has comprehended, because his patronymic is Vytauto. And the vital does not fit with this garbage.

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Source: meduza.io

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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