Vic Bagratuni

Actor Vic Bagratuni Is Looking for His Own Hollywood

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YEREVAN/BERLIN — Actor and writer Vic (Vahag) Bagratuni was born in 1990, in Yerevan and raised in Germany. He studied at the Lee Strasberg Film and Theater Institute in New York, attending master classes with Anna and David Strasberg and Vincent D’Onofrio. At Strasberg, he was the lead actor in “Carnal Knowledge” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

In 2011 he became a professional observer at the legendary Actors’ Studio and appeared in off-off Broadway plays such as “A Hatful of Rain” and “Killers and Other Family.” He is an Alumni of the Baron/Brown Acting Studio in Santa Monica, CA.

Vic Bagratuni has appeared in 14 films and TV series, including Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the series “Boardwalk Empire,” and the documentary series “Inside the American Mob.” His most recent credits are “Men of Granite,” “Scorpion,” “Brothers in Arms,” and the Sundance hit “After Her.” He is also author of two plays, “The Strasberg Legacy” (performed at The Lee Strasberg Theater in New York) and “Sunrise Surprises” (performed at New York’s Monroe Theater in 2016).

Vahag, I think we, all movie lovers from around the world, for some time dream to appear in the main film dream factory, Hollywood, but most of us even do not reach a remote corner of it. You also had that dream as child and made your best to make it happens. In what part of that road you are now?

It’s been a fun and a life altering journey, I have to admit. However, I left that life behind me. You have to grow up and realize that at the end of day the “romantic idea” of Hollywood is bogus and is to be experienced and navigated with caution. At least in my opinion. It’s natural to be young, wild, careless and free to choose this privileged profession, move to Hollywood to “make it,” hustle jobs, auditions, managers or agents, whether or not to join the actors’ union Screen Actors Guild and if yes, how, get the “attention” of casting and many, many other catch-22 like issues young artists are faced with in a relentless and cruel town such as Los Angeles with no real and well-intentioned guidance. The nature of artists is a soft one, a vulnerable one, a somewhat naive and hopeful one, which shouldn’t be exposed to the “business” side of acting.

Everybody is hustling and grinding to make meets end and for that, you need a thick skin and a huge portion of endurance to overcome the literal bullshit people in the acting world are trying to sell you, whether it’s a useless workshop of some kind, where “desperation” is imprinted on each actor going by the motto of “I’m gonna fake it until I make it,” or fake parties with fake people, pretending to be a big time producer or whatnot, or even one’s own talent manager or/and agent not fully believing in you, but trying hard to just get you a job no matter what it is, which is noble, but totally without strategic intentions toward a long-lasting career. It gradually took me away from my art, my self-value as a human and artiste, but that is not an excuse. Nobody is going to give you a manual. Want less, live more. Maybe that was my mistake. I should’ve, could’ve, must’ve… but at the end, who cares?

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And although all the above sounds negative and sour, it’s actually very positive. To me. It shaped me, my character, my judgment, my expectations and goals. So I’m very thankful and appreciative to have had the privilege of that kind of crazy journey. So, if you ask me on what part of the road I am right now, I’d say I’m at a point in my life where I feel good and contend with my work. Obviously Berlin, where I live now, was as effected by Corona as the rest of the world, with the entertainment world on an indefinite hiatus, but now it opened up again and we shall see where my journey is headed to.

Vic Bagratuni in “Sunrise Surprises”

They say that being an actor is not a profession – it is a lifestyle, a state of mind, 24-hour work. Is this true for you?

It is indeed. We actors are a weird and eccentric breed. You have to be different, outgoing and curious about life, so you can breathe it in as it is and breathe it out with your artistic point of view and message in it. The hard work on your instrument such as vocal range, physical presence, sharpness in observation and mind is indeed a 24/7 requirement. Most of actors and artists are misunderstood and socially awkward, but that doesn’t mean to outcast them or label them as weird. If one makes an effort to look behind an artists’ curtain, they mostly will discover shyness, reticence and lots of vulnerability and love. But yes, it is a constant process of mind, matter and interaction that make us grow and, hopefully, lets us reach a balanced realm of being at peace with oneself and the world and people around.

In an interview you said that having a small part in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and working closely with Leonardo DiCaprio, made you a better actor. Could you please specify?

Although it was ages ago, that experience stuck with me for years. We all are impressionable when we are young. Especially if it’s something you are madly passionate about. It’s nature, you can’t help it. Back then, I was proud not to have fought being impressionable. Now I look back and see it was partly founded on insecurities and the wish to be seen or recognized. So seeing a superb veteran actor acting next to you, or in my case, with me, you pick up a lot of technical things they do toward the camera such as waiting a couple of seconds when you begin the scene or end the scene to give the editor room to cut around or counter-move when it’s a 360-degree shot or even conveying emotions or text within a single gesture or look. Those observations made me better, because they weren’t taught to me. That doesn’t mean to stop being impressionable. It just means that there is so much to learn from everybody on a set, but also don’t forget to have your own self-confidence and insurance, that you are worth it.

Some years ago “Men of Granite” was announced, based on the book of the same title by Dan Manoyan, an American-Armenian author, who died last year. The film had in its cast Academy Award Winners Shirley MacLaine and William Hurt, and you were also in the cast. But we have not heard any more about that film. What happened to it?

Topics: acting, film

I had no knowledge of the passing of Dan Manoyan. What a terrible loss! My sincere condolences to his family and loved ones. He was such a generous, passionate and kind soul, whose book not only gave voice to those who seemed forgotten, but also a significant contribution and valuable piece of documented American history. As to what happened to the feature film, I don’t have the slightest idea. We were ready to start the project, but it never happened. At least I had the privilege to have had visited Granite City, seen all the original places from the book and started my research. I still remember it being a brilliant movie script and I hope it will get made whenever, with whomever and by whomever. For the sake of Dan, Granite City and all fans of American underdog sportsmanship movies.

You were born into a family of musicians and you have artistes among your ancestors: great-grand father Vache Bagratuni and his brother Arsen Bagratuni were actors, great-grandmother Violeta Vardanyan was opera singer, while your grandfather Vahagn Bagratuni was an actor and renowned opera director in Armenia and Russia. When years ago we met in Yerevan, it was also nice to know that your maternal grandfather is Karen Svasyan, an eminent philosopher, now residing in Switzerland, an author of many studies in German and Russian. How has this heritage influenced you?

My artistic passion does have its roots in the past actions of my ancestors, for sure. Though I’ve never met any, besides my maternal grandfather, I’ve heard they were quite good at what they were doing. But I know they’re watching from high above. But moreover, I would definitely like to highlight the vast influence of my grandfather, whose guidance and never-ending support and unconditional love, have carried me through some rough patches in life. His knowledge is awe-inspiring, and his contribution by lecturing and writing books to educate a nowadays slowly mentally ill-falling society, has been a true source of inspiration and influence to me.

Is your being a descendant of Armenia’s Bagratuni royal dynasty a family legend or is it true?

As far as I know there’s evidence, but I wouldn’t go and dwell on it. It’s a cool fact and some might find it interesting or fancy to stand out with it, but I personally don’t sweat it. I know who I am, the people I love and care about know who I am, and that’s the most important.

You left Armenia when you were child, however along with English and German, Armenian and Russian are also among the languages you know fluently. How did you manage it?

That’s true, we left Armenia in 1992, but my parents taught never stopped talking to me in Armenian or Russian so that stayed. German I leant from a very young age on, so I was fortunate, considering how hard that language can be, and English I learnt in high school.

Now more Diaspora actors come back to Armenia to make films. Have you ever participated in Armenian projects?

No, I haven’t, although I recently connected with a young aspiring Armenian director, who is majoring in directing at the Babelsberg Konrad Wolf Film Academy. Who knows what will come out of it in the future.

My second son dreams of becoming a film actor, rather a film star! What would you advise him to do?

That’s a tricky question. It would be wrong to say becoming a movie star is a silver lining in the sky, nor would it be a bad thing to actively pursue. It depends what you want. Everything is possible, lots of paths lead to success and everybody’s journey is different. What stays the same though is a deep-rooted passion you need to have, which is vital to gain a thick skin to cope with rejection in a healthy way. The glamor, wealth, carpets, awards, pictures, stardom and whatnot will come. It’s rather unhinged collateral damage. It’s cool and enjoyable. But that’s about it. Let your work speak. Have a voice. Don’t get intimidated by the industry which will constantly diminish and reject you, try to mold and manipulate you to their own advantages and try to compartmentalize you, so it’s easy for them. But it’s about you, not them. Have faith. You are worth it. They are not. That’s what I would recommend to your son and anybody who has the desire and guts to try and follow their dreams.

Your Instagram name is Mr. Hollywood. I really wish you to be Mr. Hollywood in real life!

Although I disregarded that ridiculous insta handle a long time ago, I very much appreciate and regard your wishes. It’s a constant shifting and changing. Then young and childish, now mature and reflective. But especially after experiencing a worldwide pandemic, one was reminded that there are more important things than one’s own career and well-being. So, although I’ve wished myself to be Hollywood, I actually never was, but I always will aspire to be my own Hollywood.

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