'Green Book' star Dimiter Marinov on his 'Cinderella moment' and the timeless quality of a beautiful friendship set in the '60s
Dimiter Marinov, who plays the pivotal character Oleg in the film talks to MEAWW about working on the film and realizing early on that he was part of something special.
'Green Book' is one of the most popular movies of 2018, as it has received many compliments from the viewers and critics. It has also proven to be a favorite in the award show circuit, having won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. It has also bagged five nominations at the 91st Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
Dimiter Marinov, who plays the pivotal character Oleg in the film talks to MEAWW about working on the film, realizing early on that he has something special in hand and the joys of working with Mortensen and Ali. Check out the edited excerpts from our interview with Marinov.
Congrats on the success of ‘Green Book.’ Why do you think the movie has resonated so well with the people despite the fact that it is set in a time that most of us cannot relate to?
Thank you! The success of this film even though is set in the ’60s, a time that most of the audience today cannot relate to, is not a surprise. The issues of racism, polarization, and resistance do still exist today. Of course, the racism during the “segregation” period has no comparison to today, but it still exists and it is not as we all wish it to be - nonexistent. The ability to understand the other side regardless of one’s ethnicity is essential. So, to realize that what my character says at the end, “Genius is not enough, it takes courage to change people’s hearts!” is truly profound. But most importantly, to make the change within ourselves first, individually before asking or approaching others is what matters. So, all the above issues, to most extent, are tackled in “Green Book”. That is the true success! Mind you, it is a true story too.
Did you know when you joined the project that everyone would realize how special it is?
I knew that this project would be special after I read the script for the first time. I felt that this film will make history. The powerful story with the unique evolvement of relationships so controversial yet simply human convinced me that it is the film most needed today. The moment I start working with Peter Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie, I witnessed the remarkable faith those three had. They were genuinely instilling their passion and vision to the cast which everyone internalized. The process made this project more than special. Consequently, the film became special for the audience.
What was your reaction upon learning about the nominations?
It was overwhelming, though it started with the awards already won in numerous world and national festivals. For me, an award is a result of a job well done. I never think of awards or being much worrisome about the result. What matters is the process. If I focus and dedicate myself at my best, the result will be consequential of my work and efforts.
What according to you was the best aspect about the movie?
The evolvement of the relationship between Tony Lip and Dr. Shirley. The two absolute opposites - racially, socially and intellectually. The process of discovering each other and transforming while getting closer to one another with mutual comprehension and understanding. Learning to gain the courage to open their hearts and embark on a change – personal and mutual.
What was your response to finding out you will play Oleg?
It was “a dream come true”! As my friends call it: “Your Cinderella moment.” Even though “Oleg” is not as big of a role as many others I’ve had, I put in the most effort to it. “Oleg” was more important not as a role but as a vital link of a story: delivering the moral message - the key-line in the plot. With this very line, Oleg sees the last chance to “open” Tony’s heart and influence his mind to make the right decision and serve an honorable purpose. To become a part of a noble cause.
Most challenging and even crucial for Oleg was how to handle Tony without jeopardizing Dr. Shirley’s genius and its “mission”. That was the thrilling and provocative stimulus that kept me on the edge as an actor, to commit to and execute Oleg’s true demeanor and thoughts. In addition to the acting, I had to learn to play cello in five days. Yes, that was the time I’ve had before the final audition. I am a classically trained violinist, but the cello is a completely different instrument. So, I hired a teacher, rented a cello and with four lessons and five to six hours a day practicing, I played at the audition the cello solo of the theme song in the film, “Water Boy”.
Did you relate to him in any way?
Too much! The real cello player of Don Shirley’s Chamber trio is Yuri Taht (aka Oleg in the film). Yuri Taht is a Russian, who was born and raised during the Soviet era. He graduated the Leningrad’s Conservatory with cello. His father is Jewish, and his mother is a Christian. Yuri Taht defects to America. The story in the film takes place in 1962 when Yuri is 53 years old. I was born and raised in the former Communist Bulgaria (same as the USSR). I graduated from the Bulgarian Classical school with violin. My father is Jewish, and my mother is a Christian. I defected to America. At the time of filming the ‘Green Book’ I was 53 years old. Physically we are so much alike except that Yuri wears glasses and I do not - but in the film I do.
What was working with Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali like?
The entire experience was indescribable! But I will try… My first encounter with Viggo was the scene where I rat him out for stilling the stone. Before shooting, Peter Farrelly told me, ”Do your thing, Dimiter. Don’t take your eyes off Tony and follow Oleg’s purpose.” So, I did. After the first take, Viggo watched it and then came straight to me: “Your looks and demeanor are priceless!” And he gave me such a strong friendly hug. I was floored!
From this moment on, well not only because we were the only two cigarette smokers in the cast and are European, but professionally, we clicked. Viggo would always make sure I was ok and most sincerely will ask about my opinion before and after every take. We did improvise a lot. And yes, we did spend much time in private, having red wine with a cigarette, in a small local bar talking for hours about the craft and ourselves as people.
That very first scene when Tony meets “the band” was absolute improv between Viggo and I – the cigarette bit. Peter gave us the freedom to come up with an “original” way to establish the “relationship” but with a warning: “I do not want funny!”. After a cigarette break with Viggo, in the back of the building, we created that scene. The whole cast and crew laughed hysterically, and Peter said: “It is so funny but in fact, it is so real and true without even trying to be funny!” So is the whole film – it makes you laugh so many times but in fact, it is not funny, it is just the way real life is, the way people are.
With Mahershala it was different on a personal level, he would not hang out like Viggo did, but he is the most tender, caring person/colleague I’ve ever worked with! Mahershala is that person that we all dream to have not only as a friend but even as an all-time colleague. He was little stressed out about the Russian scene we were to film. The day before, he approached me and asked if I can spend time with him in private to work on his Russian. I was honored. I will not go into details what exactly happened but will share that this man without any prior knowledge of the language or even experience, nailed those few lines, literally in less than 30 minutes.
Not only did he remember them perfectly well the next day, he would consult with me about his behavior as a pianist from the actor’s perspective even though I am not a pianist, but he had enormous respect for me as a musician. Of course, most work on that subject was done by the brilliant composer of the film and his piano double, Kris Bowers. Mahershala is one of the few people in my life that will have a very special place in my heart forever! Viggo and Mahershala are not only “big stars”, they are big humans!
What was your reaction on learning about their individual nominations?
I expected it and I knew that they are going to be nominated. Considering the past works of both, the characters they portray in this film are so close and true to themselves that it is just mind-blowing. And I allow myself to say this because I’ve had plenty of time to get to know them personally enough to do so. Of course, there was tremendous work that Viggo and Mahershala put into their characters to be as truthful and honest to the real Tony and Don Shirley.
And still, I can see and feel the actors underneath speak and act themselves. That is a rare chance in our industry, to be a character that is so close to your personal beliefs and understanding of life. Being the antagonist in the story as Tony, Viggo was expressing his own outrage and anger towards the character’s racial upbringing and beliefs by acting the exact opposite. By transforming Tony throughout, Viggo is making the greatest statement: yes, it could be done, and it must!
On the other hand, the protagonist character of Mahershala, Don Shirley, is embraced and loved from the very first moment but let’s not forget: he was “not black enough, white enough and man enough so, who is he?” And that was the greatest challenge for Mahershala as an actor and a person to be able to find who his character truly is by applying his own experiences. And he does it spectacularly because he speaks his own mind and follows his true heart while portraying Don Shirley. For those two actors, in my opinion, it was not as much as to present the “true story” per se. It was the moral contest to embark on a journey of two opposite characters who cross paths under the circumstances given by their trades. They get involved regardless of the “segregation” of the times to encounter existing personal and later mutual conflicts they are forced to deal with. Thus, those nominations are well deserved not only as actors but as honorable people as well.