Alexander Nevsky is one of Russia’s most beloved figures and one of indie action cinema’s top filmmakers today. As a bodybuilder, his books on bodybuilding and fitness as well as television appearances have inspired millions of Russians. Since moving to the United States in 1999, he had mastered English and studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. He soon lived his dream of becoming both an actor and filmmaker, meshing Hollywood production values with his native Russian flavor. His earlier films, Moscow Heat and Treasure Raiders, gave him a following. His latest film, the murder mystery Black Rose, which also marks his directorial debut, comes to theaters on April 28, followed by a VOD and DVD release on May 2 from ITN Distribution.
World Film Geek had the opportunity to speak with Nevsky about the film.
Thank you Alexander for taking the time to talk about Black Rose.
Thank you so much and I have to say this. I am a geek also. I may be an actor and filmmaker, but I am also a geek so it’s great that I’m talking to World Film Geek (laughs).
Before we talk about the film, I would love to know what inspired you to come to Hollywood to start your film-making career.
As a young man in Russia, I was really skinny and I took up boxing because of Sylvester Stallone and his Rocky movies and I took up bodybuilding because of Arnold Schwarzenegger. So I started to work out and in 1993 I became a star in Russia. I was 6’6” 360 pounds from bodybuilding and it was interesting because in the former Soviet Union, it was illegal. Can you imagine that?
It was because Arnold and Stallone, they had movies where they killed or beat Russians. And when the Soviet Union collapsed it was good for a while but there was one problem. I wrote books and did TV shows, everyone knew who I was. But, because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, they stopped making movies. In 1999, the total box office for all of Russia was 2 million dollars. Now, it is about 2 billion dollars but back then, it was only 2 million.
And that inspired me to go to California in 1999. I learned acting, I studied English at UCLA. I’ve always wanted to do international films so I did my first big film, Moscow Heat, in 2004. I decided not to do it in Russian but in English with a Hollywood cast and crew. It starred myself and Michael York and it was a success. It was very successful in Russia. So I kept making movies and with Black Rose, it is a dream come true because I directed it, I star in it, I produced it and came up with the story. The only bad thing was I didn’t have time to work out (laughs).
Black Rose was actually a really good movie and your character reminded me of a modern version of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s character in Red Heat, Ivan Danko. What inspired you to make this film?
I came up with the story and thought of a plot about Russians coming to America. I wanted to mix genres, and I know that it can be very dangerous to do that. This was my directorial debut and I had a very good cast and crew and the executive producer is Sheldon Lettich. He did Double Impact with Van Damme and Rambo III with Stallone.
He wanted to make sure for my directorial debut that I was going in the right direction. I have mystery, thriller, action, horror, and even comedy if you can spot it (laughs). For me, it was important to make it look right. And I really need to thank everyone. I have to thank [co-stars] Kristanna Loken, Robert Davi, Adrian Paul, and Matthias Hues. They really supported me on this film.
Speaking of Kristanna Loken, what was it like working with her? You two brought something different in terms of being partners where one would usually expect a romance but this was clearly more of a showing of respect between the two of you, not to mention the fact she was kind of “badass” in the film?
You’re right. She’s an amazing actress. I first saw her in Terminator 3 and then I saw her in BloodRayne and she is amazing. And the thing is she can do it all. She is an actress, action star, she does a lot of her own stunts. Now, she is a really good friend too.
When we talked about doing the film, that actually was an idea. I wanted to do something different and make it more of a partnership based on respect and not bring that romantic element in the film. Maybe they will get romantically involved in the sequel (laughs). But that was an idea. She is fearless yet at the same time, she is sensitive. She ‘s a great actress and it was fun.
She was very supportive because she understood everything I was going through as an actor, director, and producer at the same time. She’s supportive even now as she’s also doing interviews for the film. It was fun shooting the film with her and we are now good friends as a result of the film and now, we are actually talking about doing a sequel.
I am a fan of Matthias Hues and I know you have worked on Showdown in Manila with him. How did you get Matthias in his cameo as the bank robbery leader?
(Laughs) Here’s the thing with Matthias. He’s a big guy. He is always working out and I didn’t have the time to work out during the film because at the time I was doing pre-production. I was doing casting and script supervising and Matthias, he was always working out. So when he showed up in Moscow, he was huge. I saw him and I said, “Matthias, you can’t show off your muscles. You’re bigger than me.” (laughs) and he said not to worry.
Matthias is a really good friend. We met in 1998 at the Arnold Classic [Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding expo] and it was actually my first trip to the United States. It was my first time meeting him and I was a big fan of his. We work out together and we have been doing movies. We did Black Rose, Showdown in Manila, coming in October, and Maximum Impact, directed by Andrezj Bartkowiak [the director of Romeo Must Die] that is in post-production right now. When I do movies, I love to work my friends because it just feels so comfortable and very supportive.
Exactly. You can’t have it any other way. The film also had Adrian Paul and Robert Davi, two veterans of the business. What was it like working with them because it all felt so smooth and comfortable rather than forced and I really like that about the movie.
Thank you so much for saying that and exactly, you are right about that. I didn’t have to push them at all. And Adrian is great because not only was he an actor, he too was a director. He’s directed episodes of his television series Highlander. So he knew what I was going through. He’s not just an action star, he’s also a very good actor.
And Robert Davi, he is another good friend. We worked on Magic Man together in 2010 and he directed some films himself as well. So I was happy, so happy to be working them. These guys are great actors and they gave me some advice, some very good advice. I felt very lucky to have my friends work on this film with me.
Finally, as you mentioned, you recently completed Showdown in Manila and Maximum Impact. Do you have any other new projects in the works?
With Showdown in Manila, we released the film theatrically in Russia and sold it to many international countries. It’s scheduled to come to the States in October. Then we have Maximum Impact in post-production and it should be coming later this year. But the big project we are going to try to develop next is yes, Black Rose 2. And I also want to do a Die Hard-type movie. Maybe we will be doing that after the Cannes Film Festival.
And I want to say thank you to everyone, all the fans, for supporting me, supporting Kristanna, and supporting action movies. And I want to say this. It was not easy, but I made it. If you have a dream, go for it. I came to the United States, learned English, and am now living my dream of being in movies. If you have a dream, do it. Don’t wait for it to come to you. And thank you and I will be more than happy to let you know when my next project comes out.
I look forward to that. Black Rose is coming to theaters on April 28 then a VOD and DVD release on May 2. Thank you again Alexander for taking the time to talk about the film and I hope everyone will enjoy the film.
And thank you for the support!
A special Thank You goes out to Katrina Wan PR and Alexander Nevsky for making this interview possible.