Kevork Malikyan

Kevork Malikyan: ‘My Work is International; My Work is Global’


YEREVAN / ISTANBUL — Kevork Malikyan (born in 1943) is a British-Armenian actor and teacher. He spent seven years training for priesthood at the Surp Haç (Holy Cross) Armenian High School Seminary in Istanbul, then moved to London in 1963 for to study acting. He received his acting and teaching qualifications from Rose Bruford College (1964-1967). Since 1968, Malikyan has acted in more than 95 films and TV series, including “The Man Who Haunted Himself,” “Midnight Express,” “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “Minder,” “Doctor Who,” etc. His first major TV series was “Mind Your Language,” attracting 18 million viewers, weekly. During his career, Malikyan has performed in a number of Shakespeare play including “Henry IV,” Parts 1 and 2 at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in 2010. Malikyan also played in a number of roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company production, Arabian Nights, at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Currently he lives in Istanbul, where we met briefly in 2015. This interview took place in written form: I left untouched his special ways of writings, especially, some words with capital letters and ellipsis.

Dear Kevork, your first 10 years were in Diyarbakır, historical Armenian Dikranagerd. We know about the Armenian life of this city from Megerdich Margosian’s stories. What memories do you have from your birthplace?

So many, sad, and, happy, it would, perhaps fill a book…When your birthplace is taken away from you, or you from your birthplace, memories take all sorts of colors. The time I spent at St. Giragos Church, playing in the Courtyard, or praying in the Church, with my beloved Father, are probably two I search for most…

Do you remember what was your very first role at Surp Haç Armenian High School Seminary?

I started student acting, at the Tıbrevank doing plays in Armenian, in English, and, in Turkish.

What struck you most when you arrive first to London in late 1960s?

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The cold, the fog, the quiet…

Kevork Malikyan in “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”

Actors with an appearance and background like yours seems to be “condemned” always to act ethnic roles in British cinema and TV. Has this ever bothered you?

“Condemn” is a strong word, perhaps, misapplied. An actor is happy to play any part, especially, in his early years of learning his trade. Their ethnicity is irrelevant. What they tell, I’ve concentrated on. All roles are “ethnic,” don’t you think? An American is of an ethnic race to an Armenian, an Armenian to an American (laughs). In any case, a long, and, complicated subject to talk about, the place of “ethnicity” in our trade.

The first time I saw you was in the series “Mind Your Language” about a group of foreigners studying English. There your character is Greek. Why not Armenian or Turkish? Did you study the Greek pronunciations of English for that role?

Noooo… It was written as a Greek, and I played him as a Greek. Besides, Armenians are talented linguists. Given the chance, and, the time, they’ll speak any language beautifully, including English. I did do a little work on my Greek pronunciation, though, just to make him sound a little authentic…

Your role as the Turkish prosecutor in “Midnight Express” is small, but quite memorable. How would you describe that experience?

There is no such thing as a “small part” in my actor’s world… Forty years on the film, and, the Prosecutor, is, still, remembered. So, it could not have been a “small part.” Steven Spielberg remembered me in the film when I met him for “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.”

 How was it to work with Steven Spielberg?

We established a wonderful working relationship from day one, as he did with all the players. A great man, a great director…George Lucas, Robert Watts, the producer, too.

You worked with legendary film stars like Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Caine, Steven Seagal, etc. What kind of memories you can share with us about them?

Forgive me, but, Steven Seagal “legendary,” please !!!! I only worked on the film, because, I wanted to please my son, Sevan, who enjoyed his action work. Anyway, not a very pleasant experience, because, the man is not an “actor”… But, Connery, and, Ford, true legends, great humans and wonderful working actors…

You have performed in a number of Shakespeare plays, as well as in a number of roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company production. As far as I know, you are the first Armenian-born actor who has been involved in those theaters. What was special in this cooperation?

Indeed, my friend, I was privileged to have been asked to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare’s Globe, and, the Royal National Theatre, on several terrific classical, and, modern plays…Perhaps, the first Armenian to do so… Let’s say the first Armenian Actor from Dikranagerd to do so, anyway…

You acted roles of different ethnic background, including Armenians (“The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” “Pascali’s Island,” “The Cut,” “The Promise”). Could you please tell us about them?

It was of course a great chance, at the late stages in my acting career to have been given the chance to play in films, like “The Cut” and “The Promise.” Both, huge attempts to tackle the Genocide of Armenians in, 1915, in which my own relatives perished. We can go on talking about both films for endless hours. But, for me, neither, achieved the desired international effect, recognition, the full story of the Armenian Holocaust as, my favorite Director, Steven Spielberg achieved with his “Schindler’s List,” so emphatically.

 Have you ever visited Armenia? If no, you are always welcome.

Sadly, I have only visited Armenia once, very briefly, and, that was to arrange for Armenia (Sundukyan Theatre Company) to take part, to appear in Shakespeare’s Globe, “Globe to Globe” Festival, where Shakespeare’s 37 plays were performed in 37 different languages, including, Armenian. Another first, perhaps.

After a half century successful career in United Kingdom you decided to return to Turkey. Many perhaps have been surprised by this decision.

My dear Artsvi, my work is International; my work is global…It should not surprise anyone that I worked in Turkey. The country I was born in invited me to work with them, and, over a span of 5 years I worked on several major theatre, TV, and, film projects. This opportunity gave me the chance to give several, major TV, and, newspaper interviews, where I talked about my people, my past, etc. Thanks to the Hrant Dink Foundation, I ended up celebrating 50 years in acting over a three-day festival of my work. It was simply magical. I cannot thank them enough. For the record, I have never been invited to work in Armenia, not even as a juror on the yearly film festival there. But, no probs, work goes on, life goes on…

 And what do you do now?

Sort of semiretired now. But, still working, with some projects to be screened sometime this year, I believe.

Many thanks for this interview, dear Kevork. And I highly hope one day you will fill a book telling about your life and acting experience!

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