Photo: Vlad Volkov.
Many people in their youth are dreaming of becoming famous and to change the world to the better. Oleg Taktarov started realising his dreams having become a participant, and then a winner of the UFC championship – the first and the only Russian at present. He took part in the films together with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as well as in those shot by Robert Rodriguez. Then he returned to his Motherland and is now in big demand in the home film-making industry.
Oleg, you are from Sarov, where the nuclear arms development programme had been carried out. Did you dream of becoming a nuclear scientist?
— From the fourth to the sixth form I not only dreamed, but could not even imagine a different future for myself. During the additional classes in physics I used to solve exercises which were devised for the second year students. When my classmates had been reading adventure stories, I was mastering textbooks on nuclear physics.
What motivated you to get engaged in wrestling?
— I wanted to protect the weak ones and to fight the injustice. The club where Vitaly Mikhailov was teaching Sambo and judo to children was situated in the very place where my pals could see me during the training sessions right from the street. This motivated my intesive training. When I was in the ninth form, I tried my power on the street having overcome the two worst hooligans of the town. Then I realised that I have a strong blow.
How old were you when you came to the club?
— I was around 10–11, although children normally start at the age of 7–8. I was not a supertalented one, however, I had some strength and stamina. And I trained really a lot. By the way, I was the first whom Michail Burdikov, a founder of Sambo Academy in Kstovo, invited from another town. I lived in the halls of oil-processing plant. A terrifying place, I must say. Workers were from different places and very often had involved in drunk fighting. But I was young and I believed that I will become the World champion.
I started competing in the ju-jitsu in the tournaments convened by Joseph Linder. Sportsmen from Russia and neighbouring countries took part who were eager to try themselves in the full contact style. Any activity was permitted, we performed wearing kimono, points were awarded for throws, one minite was given for wrestling on the ground. When I was 26, I have already won four championships, and went to Riga where I won my first tournament in fighting without rules - «The White Dragon». Those days these bouts had no rules at all. When I came to look at how they are performing, I saw that one fighter was striking his opponent's head by the barrier …
This was like in the film?
— Yes, it looked terrifying. There was so much blood split in this tournament, that I had no idea why the referee was ever required. I was totally scared and therefore won all the bouts. I put together a collection of videos of my bouts. I thought – when I come to Hollywood, and show this to producers, they must say: «Just look at that, all our fighters carry out their bouts for fun, not for real, however, this guy looks like a real thing. Let's get him in to take part in our films».
That is, you went to America in order to be shot in the films, and not to take part in UFC?
— I joined UFC because I had nothing to eat, and it is also a great way to carry out a personal PR-company. I was advised to follow this route by my acquaintance with whom I stayed in the Hollywood. He was looking at my round-about ordeal and said one day: «In so far as you a Sambo wrestler – now go and win the UFC championship». This is what I did. I got a green card, money, permanent employment – convened seminars and was paid quite a good money for them. Then I entered the Playhouse West Acting School.
How long have you been competing in UFC?
— Just one year. I won the sixth championship, the last one that was convened according to the authentic rules – three bouts during one night (nowadays they restricted this to one bout per night) and without any restrictions (with the exception of eye piercing and tooth biting). I was awarded a belt that was covered with real gold. During the next championship some limitations were introduced, and they did not cover the belts with gold anymore.
You often say that you were training at the limit of your íà èçíîñ. Why did you need that?
— This is how I was trained in the Sambo Academy. I was told: if you are not going to train more than the others you will not achieve anything. Possibly, there is no necessity in èçìàòûâàþùèõ training, since the bout lasts between 5 and 15 minutes. However, such competitions in which I took part had no restrictions in terms of time, therefore the ñèëà âîëè and stamina were extremely important.
Have you tried to describe your methodology, and teach it?
— I had some logic in my preparation, some kind of system, however, I did not want to get involved in some academic reasearch. At the USA seminars when I won the UFC championship, I had to deal with all sorts of audience — some people were trained in karate, some in ushu, some practised something else. That is, they had to be retrained which is always more difficult. I learned how to apply most effective approaches, including psychological and technical ones, in order to attain the best possible result. Not so long ago in Rostov I taught children how to fall down, and I invented a soft toys approach: we only had half an hour of our session, and the kids «played» imitating this falling technique at home long after we parted. And they were keeping to the technique — the chin was embosomed.
You decided to leave for the USA and started it all from the scratch, although you were quite a rich man in Russia at the time. Why?
— This was the time when I won all my wars and I got bored.
It turned out that you are a romantic person?
— This is no romantics, it is the feature of my personality. If I did not change my life in a radical manner, I could have died already from obesity or something else. I have chosen the kind of job which permits me to keep myself fit. I was ready to start it all over again. I always like people who keep looking for something new. Not many people remember such films as «Moby Dick» starring Gregory Peck and «Bridge on the river Kwai» with Alec Guinness. And I like them a lot.
Your actor's career is now 18 years?
— Yes, if we were to count not from my first role, but from the moment when I started learning the skill of an actor.
What kind of person do you feel you are — a sportsman or an actor?
— A chancer. There is no difference between the sports and the film. You need a lot of training here and there. In sports, likewise in the film, one needs to feel, hear and see all around. Sports is the intuition. You do your homework, work through every minor detail, but on the mat one requires intuition. In the film you approximately know what is going to happen – there is the text, the plot – but your partner all of a sudden decides to do something different and carries this out in a good way. It is quite improbable that you are going to follow the script closely in this situation. Here one needs to work from one's own personality – this is called acting.
What system have you been taught in the Playhouse West Acting School?
— There was Stanislavsky system brought over by Michail Checkhov and developed by Sanford Meisner. In the States it is called «Meisner's technique». One must say that the study at the School was like a Hollywood Kstovo – the survival school. I was discontinued three times – once I was late, second time I did not behave properly, at the third time I did not work well enough. The students who worked more that the others were supported.
Who are you playing in your last film?
— A person with a difficult life, a deceived husband.
You started your film career as a sportsman who can fall down and shoot?
— No one ever – believe it or not – asked me to do that. As far as my sports form is concerned, it would have been easier to play with the healthy back spine – by that stage I was totally wrecked. My day at the shooting studio started with the application of various exercises and tricks in order to pull my neck so that my back spine could be operational. In the «Predators», for instance, I had to carry 80 kg on myself.
Many actors admit that it is not so easy to work with Robert Rodriguez.
— I was quite comfortable with him, he was able to work and relate things with humour.
Does he show or trust an actor?
— He just puts the actors in the right places. He never shows how one had to blow the nostrils, show anger, shout, where to look... The director's job is to tell the actor what is going on around him, all the rest he has to feel himself. It is not professional when the actor is prompted what kind of feelings he has to experience. Even John McTiernan, a tyrant at the shooting film set, always gave me a green light. He used to say to the role performers: «You are doing so-and-so, and you – so-and-so. And what is our great Oleg going to do?» That is, he left me with my freedom for self-expression.
Do you want Sambo and judo championships? What are your feelings from how are they wrestling nowadays?
— Yes, I watch. It seems to me that previously Sambo exhibited a better style of wrestling. At present, the bouts are a little bit boring to watch. However, the modern judo is even more interesting that it used to be.
They changed the rules, it is now more dynamic…
— One could see that they have some talented lads there, who are good at carrying out tricks with interesting holds. Judo has very much progressed, but the rules, in my opinion, limit the personal efficiency of the sportsmen.
Whose manner of wrestling do you like?
— The only person whose seminars I attended was Yasuhiro Yamashita.
In UFC, you have 14 victories using strangling and painful grips. Seven leg locks and seven strangulations. Somehow you did not carry out an arm lock.
— Precisely, in ÌÌÀ I never carried out grapevines and arm locks, although this was not my fault. Yet, at the ju-jitsu championship all I used to do were the arm locks.
From your point of view, is there a lot of cruelty in your life?
— Everything that is embedded in a human being, it comes out earlier or later. For instance, children are very cruel beings, yet the world and education bring them down to earth. For some reason, it is the good natured persons who enter the world of martial arts. I always provide an example — which modern day sportsman can step by and give his opponent in the semi-final a chance to straighten a dislocated knee? At the point of winning 150,000 dollars and star fame ahead of him? And a Brazilian fighter Marco Ruas did this in the bout against me.
What do you value in the human being most of all?
— Simplicity, natural character, being one true self. Public persons very rarely obtain such qualities. I remember when I talked to Spielberg in his office and was impressed by his sincerety. If you are not natural in life, it could be very noticeable on the screen. When you see De Niro's work at the film set, you understand what the organics of the actor's profession is.