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Romanian Actor Vlad Ivanov on Seeking Out Roles With Fresh Challenges

Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov is known to many abroad for his role as the amoral underground abortionist in “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” the 2007 Cristian Mungiu film that heralded the country’s New Wave when it won in Cannes. The stage and film performer, who serves on this year’s Transilvania Intl. Film Festival main prize jury, is these days transitioning into international work with the likes of Jim Carrey (“Dark Crimes”) and with a leading role in “Sunset,” the new film by Oscar-winner Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”). For Ivanov, it’s all about roles with new challenges, he tells Variety.

When you’re viewing a film as a jury member are you focused mainly on the actors’ performances?
No, with this jury it’s very cool because we can discuss script, acting, directors…

What do you seek out in the roles you take on for yourself?
When a director proposes to me being in a film, the first thing I tell him is, “Just give me the script.” And if the script is great, I will accept. Of course the director is important too and the cast. And it does not depend on how big my part is in the film. I really want to be in a part that is powerful and which comes from very deep inside. Even if it’s just in a sequence, it’s okay for me. I don’t want to play only the main characters.

In “Child’s Pose,” the 2013 Berlinale winner and a searing portrait of corruption, your character accepts a bribe to help hush up manslaughter. You’re not on screen for long but you establish quickly a kind of naked opportunism.
Yes, I like these roles very much – everyone asks me, “Why do you play only negative characters?” Of course we can generally say these are negative characters. But for me it’s very, very separate – there’s not only one way to do a character. I try every time to be very different and the first time I talk with my character I think of how to “save” them. I don’t want to put them down. I don’t like only one dimension. I try to find other dimensions and completely different ones from the last “bad” character.

When playing Bebe, the back-street abortionist in “4 Months,” were you drawing on people you had encountered while living under the pre-1989 regime?
Of course he existed in Ceausescu’s time and I tried to respect the era. For this we talked to a lady who had been to a lot of abortions and I was shocked when she told me, “You know, an abortion is not like a big deal. It’s something very simple.” She talked in a very simple, normal way and I took this way of talking for my character, and it was really very scary. Like you’re talking about buying some chocolate or a Coca-Cola.

Many actors from Eastern Europe come from a theater tradition and continue in both stage and film – was this a tough transition for you?
Yes, a lot of actors came from theater, including me. It was great for me when I was in university from 1991 to 1995. I had a chance to be in a lot of co-productions – American, English… I had the chance to be off-camera and see how actors from Hollywood, from London, performed. And this was the school for me and for a lot of Romanian actors.

Are your sights set on working more and more abroad?
Yeah, I just did a role in with Laszlo Nemes, the director of “Son of Saul,” in “Sunset,” his next production. We’ll see what happens. And a year and a half ago I was in a production with Jim Carey, “Dark Crimes,” and in “Snowpiercer” with Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Ed Harris, which is great. I really learned something – really great actors have two qualities: They are very normal and kind, and are also very serious and professional.

Do you worry you’ll be type cast as the Russian spy or the Eastern European drug dealer as so many great actors from this region are?
Yes, I think it’s because of the accent when speaking English. But I had the chance to meet Avy Kaufman, a great casting director from Hollywood. And she told me, “Don’t try to come to England or the U.S. to try to learn English without an accent. We love you for your accent and first of all for your talent. If you do something important in your country, we really know and we need you.”

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