'Vampire Academy's' Danila Kozlovsky on Being a Russian in Hollywood: Cold War Is 'Still With Us' (Q&A)

Danila Kozlovsky Portrait - P 2014
Courtesy of The Lisa Richards Agency

Danila Kozlovsky Portrait - P 2014

The 28-year-old actor talks about his first English-language role and minding Russia's international image.

Danila Kozlovsky is on the verge of international recognition. Cast as Dmitri Belikov, a half-human/half-vampire character in Mark Waters' adaptation of Richelle Mead's novel Vampire Academy: Blood Sisters, he will star opposite Ukrainian actress and "Bond girl" Olga Kurylenko, who plays headmistress Ellen Kirova.

It's the first time a Russian actor has been cast in such a major role in a mainstream Hollywood film, where stereotypes still limit the availability of roles much beyond those of mafia hitmen and spies; for example, Konstantin Khabensky of The Geographer Drank His Globe Away also played a Soviet agent in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The son of Soviet-era Russian stage actress Nadezhda Zvenigorodskaya and applied science professor Valery Kozlovsky, Kozlovsky had a checkered career at junior schools in Russia -- and was expelled from several -- before his parents placed him in a naval academy in St. Petersburg, a move he says gave him the discipline to take up acting. His movie debut was as a military history nut in We Are From the Future, a hugely popular local hit that adds a news twist to the time-travel genre when a group of friends digging for wartime memorabilia find themselves transported back to the battlefield in 1942.

His recent role, playing Soviet ice hockey champion Valeri Kharlamov in Legend No. 17 -- a personal favorite movie of President Vladimir Putin -- made him one of Russia's top-billed stars.

Ahead of Vampire Academy's release, Kozlovky spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about crossing over to Hollywood, minding Russia's international image and excelling despite the language barrier.

How would you describe your first English-language role?

I would like to take a moment to thank Richelle Mead for writing such a great, interesting character as Dimitri. It is very important for me to represent my country in this movie, as a man who loves, who has a good sense of humor, is passionate, and is a very interesting person -- a really good guy. Dimitri has been living in America for a long time and speaks with a slight Russian accent. He is a very reliable and, at the same time, a quite mysterious person. He listens to old music and reads cowboy books. He is a man who people say has old-fashioned values. I really enjoyed playing him. This is not the typical Russian stereotype role where guys are doing stupid or bad things.

Why do you think so few Russian actors have "crossed over" to Hollywood?

I don't like the fact that there are so few Russians in Hollywood, but it is understandable because of the historic relationship between America and Russia -- the Cold War history, for example. It is kind of a cliche, but it's still with us. But at the same time I'm very pleased that American filmmakers are now beginning to change their perceptions and attitudes.

Does lack of exposure or the language barrier play a part?

Of course it is all about language. It is essential to speak English fluently. Maybe it is also lack of exposure. Remember, we are a very young film industry in Russia. It really has only developed in the last 20 years, after everything collapsed with the end of the Soviet Union. The relationship between Russian and European filmmakers is an emerging one, just now beginning to evolve.

What can Russia actors offers Western audiences?

That's a difficult question! As for me, I always strive to do my best. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that young American actors respect and use the Stanislavsky system, which is still being used to this day, and other systems that are based on this approach.

Using the possibilities of working with Russian and international actors will give us more opportunities, exposure and experience to learn and develop something new. We can exchange programs, methods and knowledge, to further improve the industry and, more importantly, everyone personally.

Will you continue to work in Russia while also developing your career internationally?

It's very important for me to be in Russia and continue working with Russian filmmakers because I am a Russian actor, and I am very thankful for having the chance to work with very talented people here in Russia. At the same time, it is very important for me to continue to improve and develop my career in the West. I enjoyed very much working on my first American film with such a wonderful cast and the great Mark Waters. Work globalization is here, and we have to use this for breaking barriers.

Russia has rarely been out of the international spotlight in recent weeks. Does the country's international image have any impact on you and your work?

I prefer not to discuss politics for one reason: I'm absolutely sure that I understand nothing about politics. I do not want to make a smart face and pretend that I am working in the Bely Dom [the Russian government's main administrative building in Moscow; literally translated as "White House"] but at the same time as a human being, I am pleased about the presidential pardons and to see that Pussy Riot and [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky have been freed. I have great respect for Khodorkovsky and feel happy when I see him as a free man.

Where you would like to be in five or 10 years?

I hope to be continuing to work in my current profession. I am a very lucky person because I have a job that I love doing every day.