Arthur Haroyan (Photo by Leekyung Kim)

Arthur Haroyan: With Grandma’s Socks from Vanadzor to Brazil

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YEREVAN — Actor and director Arthur Haroyan was born in Vanadzor, Armenia and studied at the Russian Language and Literature Department of the Pedagogical Institute. From 1999 to 2008, he worked at the Hovhannes Abelyan State Drama Theater of Vanadzor, acted in the plays “Autumn Sun,” “Bolero,” “Don’t Keep, Don’t Throw Away,” “Forty Days of Ascension” and “Metastasis,” among others. He has been living in Brazil since 2008. In 2011, he studied at the Theater and Television School of São Paulo. In the same year, he founded the “Arka” theater group, which he is managing to date.  He has acted in Brazilian commercials, TV series and movies.

I had seen Arthur in an episodic role in the short film Dehatsi: I was Another Place” by Brazilian-Armenian director Tatiana Boudakian. Last July, knowing that he was in Yerevan, I did not miss the opportunity to meet him.

Arthur, they say, it is hard for actors everywhere. And if you work outside your own country, it is even more difficult.

That is right. Especially the pandemic showed that, unfortunately, the actor’s profession is not so necessary. It was difficult for everyone, but the pandemic period was especially difficult for actors. There were no shoots, no performances, and naturally, there was no money. That’s why I started presenting meals from my grandmother on the Mexican “Like at home” cuisine TV channel, before that already gained such experience on the Brazilian TV. Now I have started working again, filming, and my theater troupe, “Arka,” which has been operating for 12 years. I deliberately wanted to have a name related to Armenia, because in Brazil they do not know anything about Armenia, but they know about Noah’s Ark. We have a metro station in São Paulo named Armenia, but people don’t care why it has that name. After knowing where I am from, people sometimes ask: “Are you from Armenia station?” And I say: “Yes, I was born in a wagon, I grew up in the subway” (laughs).

Aracy Balabanian and Arthur Haroyan

And how did a boy from Vanadzor end up in distant and exotic Brazil?

I wanted to study at the Yerevan Theater and Cinema Institute, but according to the stereotypes of our traditional family, a boy should not be an actor; actors do not have a good reputation, they do not marry, they are alcoholics. Therefore, my parents forced me into the highway department of the rural technical school, where I was supposed to become a traffic cop! But I was already working secretly in the Abelyan theater. In the mornings my parents used to watch me from the window, I would take the road to the technical school, but then I would deviate and go to the theater. I did not go to class for six months, and when my parents learned about it, my father forbade me to go to the theater, so I ran away from home, lived in the theater for a while. After serving in the army, I was admitted to the Russian language and literature department of Vanadzor Pedagogical Institute, which was closer to me. But I dreamed of becoming an actor and being obsessed with Brazilian soap operas, it had to be only in Brazil. And it happened. I received acting education already in São Paulo. When I first went to Brazil, I only knew a few words in Portuguese, learned from TV shows and dictionaries – I do not even understand how I graduated.

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They say if you pursue your dream very consistently, you will definitely achieve it. Your life shows that this seems to be true.

It is really true. Paolo Coelho in the book The Alchemist constantly emphasizes the idea that if one wants something very much, the whole universe contributes to its realization. I was 24 years old when I went to Brazil as a tourist with one suitcase and very little money in my underwear pocket. The Brazilian embassy gave me a visa with difficulty, as if they understood that I would leave for permanent residence. However, consul Hovsep Seferian unexpectedly returned my passport with a Brazilian visa and said: “I only ask for one thing: be careful.” I told my family that I was going to study for six months. It was good they did not see the word “touristic” on the visa, otherwise it would have been a big scandal, which happened anyway when I said I am not going to come back. Now my father has come to terms with reality, he says: “Well, son, come back, work in our theater,” but it is already late.

How was your first day in Brazil?

A few days before I left, my grandmother made me socks to take with me to tropical Brazil. I did not want to take them, but we know what Armenian grandmothers are like. She said: either it will be as I said, or you should not go to Brazil! What would I do with those warm socks by the ocean? But when I got off the plane, I started to catch a cold: it was rainy and windy. It was June, which is a winter month in Brazil, ten degrees, which is not warm. The first thing I did was put on my grandmother’s socks. And I went straight to one of the Armenian churches in São Paolo, which has a school next to it. I met the director of the school, who was also the priest of the church, introduced myself, said that I have various diplomas, now I need a job and added: “You have only one option – accept me.” “Come in,” said the director and hired me. I had previously studied Western Armenian, and my first job in Brazil was teaching the Armenian language. They did not give me a place to stay. I lived in a big apartment first, with students from different parts of Brazil, and my Portuguese improved by learning their dialects. In the beginning, it was very difficult, I did not have permission to stay, but I was lucky. When I came to Brazil in 2008, the president granted amnesty to all those staying illegally in the country. There were people who waited for 10-15 years to be given legal permission to stay in the country. If I had entered Brazil a week later, the amnesty would not have applied to me. So, dreams come true… I worked in an Armenian school for five years, I also worked as a delivery man on the streets, a salesman, I gave private lessons of Armenian and Russian, I never shied away from work, but I did not tell my family they do not to worry. I also worked as a photo model: seeing my beach photos on Instagram, I was offered to take photos in an erotic photo shoot. It was difficult, I thought what my grandmother would say, what my father would say, but then I thought that I am not doing anything wrong, it is a kind of art, it is beautiful… Well, later I got many offers to shoot in adult films, but that is related to morality, I refused, it is not for me…

What was your first success in Brazil?

Topics: Books, film, Theater

With the performance “1915” staged with “Arka.” It became the founding performance of our theater troupe and also the first performance in Latin America, when the Armenian Genocide was spoken about on stage for the first time. I wrote the play myself in Portuguese, although my knowledge of the language was not that good at the time. I must say that I have always had writing skills, my poems were published in the press and in books, I even worked as a journalist in Vanadzor press. I continue to write, but in Portuguese. My last play, “Benjamin,” is about the protection of animal rights. At the end of each performance, we brought a stray dog on stage that the audience could adopt. More than 15 dogs were adopted by the audience during three seasons.

However, playing in the theater will not make you famous. A theater lover goes to the theater, a TV series watcher does not go to the theater. Maybe it is a global trend. In Brazil, they started to recognize me when I was a guest on the talk show “Joe’s program” of the “Globo” TV station, which is hosted by a famous actor and showman in Brazil, Jô Soares (who died last year) and which is watched by everyone. We sent the press release of the performance “1915” to Globo TV station, and I received an invitation for an interview. I was told that Soares wanted to conduct an interview about my life. I was very worried, I had to take a very responsible step, Soares does not invite everyone. But everything went well, and two years later he invited me again to his program. That is how they started inviting me to act in films and TV. Basically, my income is from advertisements, there is no money from theater and cinema. Serials pay relatively well, but I will not get as much as, say, Aracy Balabanian..

By the way, did you meet that famous Brazilian-Armenian actress?

In the 1990s, our family lived in the city of Omsk, Siberia, for some time. There we watched the Brazilian soap opera “The Next Victim” on TV. I was surprised to see Aracy Balabanian as Filomena Ferretto in that series: I did not know there are Armenians in Brazil. And I decided that one day I would definitely get to know her, which became a reality after 18 years. During the first interview with Jô Soares, I mentioned Aracy’s name, and later it turned out that she watched the show and wanted to meet me. A girl working with her wrote to me about this: at first, I did not believe it, but soon I was invited as an audience member to attend a TV show where Aracy performed. I was told that Aracy would be waiting for me in her room at the end of the performance. Globo and other TV channels came and made a report about this under the title “Arthur is looking for Aracy.” When I entered Aracy’s makeup room, she greeted me in Armenian: “Arthur jan, parev, lav es?“ (Dear Arthur, hello, how are you?), then we switched to Portuguese. She told me once: when we go to Armenia, you will be my guide! However, due to health problems, she never visited Armenia.*

Arthur, you have mastered Portuguese so well that you have already published your biography!

I wrote it on my friends’ advice. The title is O Armênico (“The Armenico”), the subtitle is “I learned Portuguese to write this book.” The book presents my life in Armenia from birth to the year 2020. One of my followers, the artist Marlon Thor, offered to illustrate the book and he suffered a lot at my hands, because I am very meticulous. The drawings are black and white, only my socks are in color. The book became a bestseller, the first printing was sold out in three months, and then it had two more printings. They have asked me to translate it into Armenian; I will have to find the time for it.

I should also say that in Portuguese, “Armenian” is “armênio,” but I invented a new word for myself, “armênico,” which became a kind of nickname for me. By the way, when one of the themes of the 2019 São Paulo carnival was Armenia, I participated in it on the culture car as “armênico,” sitting under the Aracy Balabanian’s portrait. I felt great pride in representing Armenia in front of my biggest audience, 20,000 people, especially when we took third place and Globo (TV station) talked about it for an hour. So, in Brazil, I always promote Armenia (and here – Brazil): in any show, regardless of the topic, I introduce something Armenian, I do not give up my light foreign accent, and I always speak on Armenia in interviews. I also have ideas for professional cooperation with Armenia, which, I hope, will also become a reality one day…

* Two weeks after the interview, on August 7, Aracy Balabanian passed away in Rio de Janeiro at age 83.

 

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