A distinguished actor, theater director and stage impresario of Russian and German ancestry, Michael Chekhov was the nephew of famous playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. He began his care...
After winning over the hearts of millions by acting like a total jackass as Shane on The Walking Dead, Jon Bernthal has become an in-demand name — even to play parts with an ounce of sympathy.
In the new movie Snitch, Bernthal plays Daniel James, a man getting back on his feet, putting a life of crime behind him in hopes of maintaining a job and providing for his family. Unfortunately, his new boss (The Rock) is looking to break into the drug dealing scene in order to bust members of a cartel and leverage his son, who is facing his own time in the slammer. Given an offer he can't refuse, Daniel returns to the ugly world of smuggling and feels pretty darn horrible about it.
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Blame it on his work as Shane and his general appearance as a man who could beat the crap out of me, er, anybody, it's a surprise to see Bernthal pull off a sympathetic character. His ability to play any part on the spectrum is rooted in his unique backstory: growing up in Washington D.C. and ending up ditching college for Russian acting school.
"I was really into sports. I played sports in high school and in college," says Bernthal. His lifelong extracurricular quickly took a back seat when he discovered the world of dramatic arts. "I met this wonderful acting teacher named Alma Becker. Once I found acting, I really wanted to straighten out my life. She told me about the Moscow Art Theater, a great theater school in Russia. Stanislavski school, Michael Chekhov school, Anton Chekhov school."
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When reflecting on what Russian training taught him, Bernthal dabbles in the poetic. He cites an "unbelievable respect" that allows him to transform into a curmudgeon like Shane or a struggling, blue collar worker like Daniel. He also knows how that sounds: "My brothers would call me an actor douchebag for saying that, but… it prepared me for that. To take [acting] extremely seriously."
To see my entire interview with Bernthal, check out the video below. Snitcharrives in theaters Friday, Feb. 22.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment]
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Had small part in the play "The Wreck of the 'Good Hope'"
During the period of the Bolshevik Revolution (1918-1919), underwent "spiritual crisis"; began following the teachings of Rudolph Steiner
Opened own acting studio in Moscow; closed for financial reasons in 1921
Cast as the character Frazer in "The Deluge"
Feature film acting debut, "Song of Russia"
Received Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in Alfred Hitchcock's suspenser, "Spellbound"
Played title role in "Hamlet" with Moscow Art Theatre
Mounted production of Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed" on Broadway
Last film, "Rhapsody"
Formed troupe of "method" actors who spent seven years traveling throughout Europe
Established an acting studio, the Chekhov Theatre School, at Dartington Hall in Devon, England
Joined Konstantin Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre
Allowed to immigrate to Germany to work with Max Reinhardt
Appointed as director of the Second Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre
Visited the USA at invitation of Sol Hurok; met Beatrice Straight whom he declared "the face of destiny"
With the advent of WWII, relocated acting studio to Ridgefield, Connecticut
Garnered attention in title role of Gogol's "The Inspector General"
Denounced by the Soviet government as a "mystic" and an "idealist"
A distinguished actor, theater director and stage impresario of Russian and German ancestry, Michael Chekhov was the nephew of famous playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov. He began his career in his native Russia and was a member of the legendary Moscow Art Theater, but his international acclaim really began to spread when he emigrated to England and set up the Michael Chekhov Theatre and an influential acting school. He later set up another famed acting school in New York and, indeed, his work in theater education may be his most important legacy. Indeed his acting students included the likes of Gregory Peck, Yul Brynner and Beatrice Straight. Nonetheless, the intense, diminutive Chekhov, most typically cast as intelligent, impassioned Middle Europeans, also made his mark as an actor, and in middle age began to work occasionally in films as well.
Chekov made his film debut in the very pro-USSR, pre-Cold War romance, "Song of Russia" (1943). With his good speaking voice and accent, he was generally cast as immigrant types, downtrodden "little men" and intellectuals; his role in the wartime drama "In Our Time" (1944) was quite typical. In 1945, Chekov won an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his work as a psychiatrist colleague of Ingrid Bergman's who helps her solve the murder mystery of "Spellbound". His feature work was only occasional and ranged from the routine likes of "Cross My Heart" (1946) and "Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven" (1948) to the good soap opera "Invitation" (1952) to the laughably arty and pretentious "Specter of the Rose" (1946), where Chekhov at least played his over-the-top material to the fullest. His last film role was as a music teacher in the lush and sudsy "Rhapsody" (1954) before his death of a heart attack. Chekhov's film roles were generally modest, but, as with other emigres like Albert Basserman, his work was a testament to the strength of the acting traditions underpinning his early training.
born on April 26, 1897; divorced in 1918; died on March 9, 1980
born on September 9, 1916; died on January 28, 1966
Moscow Art Theatre
Among Chekhov's acting students in Hollywood were Marilyn Monroe, Jack Palance, Anthony Quinn and Akim Tamiroff.
Chekhov and fellow Russian actor-director-coach George Shdanoff were the subjects of the 1999 documentary "From Russia to Hollywood".