Milan Ondrík • Actor, Let There Be Light
“I didn’t want to show off; I just wanted to be a gear in the machine that was precise and refined”
- Milan Ondrík, voted Slovakia’s best actor of 2019, talked to Cineuropa about his award-winning and critically acclaimed role in Marko Škop’s Let There Be Light, eligible for the European Film Awards
Slovakian actor Milan Ondrík is a fixture in the Slovak National Theatre, and he has also been carving out a busy career on the small and the big screen alike. He was recently named the best actor of 2019 during the national Sun in a Net film awards (see the news), where he netted yet another accolade for his performance in Marko Škop’s drama Let There Be Light [+see also:
interview: Marko Škop
interview: Milan Ondrík
film profile], for which he received the Best Actor Award at the 2019 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Škop’s film was subsequently chosen for the European Film Academy Feature Film Selection (see the news). Cineuropa talked to the actor, who has been dubbed the “Slovakian Joaquin Phoenix”, about his role and why the film resonates so strongly with audiences across Europe.
Cineuropa: The creative industry has been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. How did you cope with the situation?
Milan Ondrík: I was used to being in a theatre or shooting a film, so I was getting acclimatised to being with my family. That happened pretty fast, so I had a hard time going back to work. Plus, I had some time to practise my original vocation – artistic woodcarving. Though I did manage to shoot a film during the summer, Black on a White Horse, in Slovakia.
Let There Be Light had an incredibly rich and vital career. Did you expect the film to resonate to such a degree on an international level?
Honestly, I did not expect such reactions. Although, in hindsight, I might have expected that outcome because the topic of burgeoning fascism is very timely, everywhere. We are currently preoccupied with the coronavirus, and we may have forgotten about fascism. We cannot find a cure for the coronavirus, and we haven’t been able to do so for about a year, but we have not been capable of finding an antidote to fascism for decades. That’s why I believe the film resonates so strongly. Furthermore, the movie is about a family, and family is the foundation of a state. If a family is dysfunctional, the state and society are dysfunctional as well. And the script for Let There Be Light taught me to focus more on my own family.
You netted many awards for the role. Did you expect that your performance would receive such high recognition?
I did not, and I really appreciate each and every award. However, when I read the script, I just wanted to be a cog in the whole machinery of the story. I did not want to show off my craft or how I could perform in the role; I just wanted to be a gear that was precise and refined. My objective is not to exhibit how I can act; my objective is to be precise, and that is my main motivation.
Was this character somehow special for you?
I had a great time collaborating with Marko Škop. He did not allow me to burst into big emotions, since I am a rather emotional person myself. On the contrary, I have to hold myself back a bit when it comes to emotions. And this character was handled well because Marko kept me grounded. This character is Marko’s creation. My contribution is that I played the role, but the biggest credit belongs to Marko because he invented Milan, wrote him and brought him to life through my interpretation.
The protagonist of Let There Be Light is a multi-layered character in which several motifs and nuances come together. He is a man-child with unresolved father issues, an absent head of a family torn between the East and the West, and he is confronted by the Church, the stereotypical notion of masculinity, and far-right or alt-right ideology. It is quite a lot to handle. How did you manage to work with such a full and complex character?
My sole preoccupation was with portraying a simple man. I based the interpretation of Milan on myself. I had a Christian upbringing, and I frequently confront questions of whether or not I am acting correctly in life, whether or not people who are atheists are better people, and whether or not people fighting for the truth really get the truth. I was inspired by a simple family and ordinary things, and by determining whether I could confront myself with situations in which somebody has a different opinion: for instance, can I, as a Christian, forgive a non-Christian? Of course I can.
We frequently hide behind religion. Furthermore, I do not know who racists are – why would I think somebody is bad only because of the colour of his or her skin? I based the performance on ordinary things, and I certainly did not set out to resolve the global issues of racism and fascism. The equation for the role was very easy, as I based the performance on a single notion: whether I can come home and look my kids in the eye.
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