Nationality: Russian. Born: Nikolai Konstantinovich Cherkassovin in St. Petersburg, 27 July 1903; name sometimes transliterated as Cherkasov. Education: Attended the Leningrad Theatre Institute, 1923–26. Career: 1926–33—actor for Leningrad Youth theater; 1927—film debut in Poet i tsar ; 1933—member of Pushkin Theatre, Leningrad; 1938—elected Deputy for Kuibyshev district of Leningrad. Awards: Order of Lenin, 1939; People's Artist of the USSR, 1947. Died: In Leningrad, 14 September 1966.
Poet i tsar ( The Poet and the Czar ) (Gardin) (as Sharl); Ego prevoskhoditelstvo ( His Excellency ) (Roshal)
Moi syn ( My Son ) (Chervyakov); Luna sleva ( The Moon Is to the Left ) (Ivanov) (as Kalugin)
Rodnoi brat ( Blood Brother ) (Krol)
Vsadniki vetra ( Horsemen of the Wind ) (Zhemchuzhnikov)
Schastye ( Happiness ) (Fainzimmer and Soloviev) (as police agent)
Pervaya lyubov ( First Love ) (Shreiber)
Zhenitba Jana Knukke ( Jan Knukke's Wedding ) (Ivanov) (as Pfal); Lyubliu tebya? ( Do I Love You? ) (Gerasimov) (as student)
Granitsa ( Staroye Dudino ; Old Dudino ) (Dubson) (as Gaidul); Podrugi ( Girl Friends ) (Arnstam) (as Belyi); Goryachie dyenechki ( Hectic Days ) (Zarkhi and Heifitz) (as Kolka Loshak)
Deputat Baltiki ( Baltic Deputy ) (Zarkhi and Heifitz) (as Prof. Polezhaev); Deti kapitana Granta ( Captain Grant's Children ) (Vainshtok) (as Paganel)
Ostrov sokrovishch ( Treasure Island ) (Vainshtok) (as Billy Bones); Ka sovetskuyu rodinu ( For the Soviet Homeland ) (Muzkant)
Piotr Pervyi ( Peter the Great ) (Petrov—in 2 parts) (as Tsarevich Alexei)
Druzya ( Friends ) (Arnstam); Chelovek s ruzhyom ( Man with a Gun ) (Yutkevich) (as general); Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein) (title role)
Koncert na ekrane ( Film Concert No. One ) (Timoshenko); Lenin i 1918 godu ( Lenin in 1918 ) (Kozintsev and Trauberg) (as Maxim Gorky)
Ego zovut Sukhe-Bator ( His Name Is Sukhe-Bator ) (Zarkhi and Heifitz) (as Baron Ungern)
Shestdesyat dnei ( Sixty Days ) (Shapiro) (as Antonov)
Ivan Groznyi ( Ivan the Terrible ) (Eisenstein) (title role)
Vo imya zhizni ( In the Name of Life ) (Zarkhi and Heifitz) (as Lukich)
Pirogov (Kozintsev) (as Liadov); Novyi dom ( New House ) (Korsh-Sablin); Vesna ( Spring ) (Alexandrov) (as Gromov)
Schastlivogo plavaniya ( Bon Voyage ) (Lebedev) (as Levashov); Akademik Ivan Pavlov ( Academician Ivan Pavlov ) (Roshal) (as Maxim Gorky); Alexander Popov (Rappoport and Eisimont) (title role); Stalingradskaya bitva ( The Battle of Stalingrad ) (Petrov) (as President Roosevelt)
Mussorgsky (Roshal) (as Stasov)
Rimsky-Korsakov (Roshal and Kozansky) (title role)
Oni znali Mayakovsky ( They Knew Mayakovsky ) (Petrov) (as Mayakovsky)
Don Kikhot ( Don Quixote ) (Kozintsev) (title role)
Ivan Groznyi II: Boyarsky zagovor ( Ivan the Terrible, Part II: The Boyars' Plot (Eisenstein—completed 1946) (title role)
Vse ostaetsia lyudyam ( Everything Remains for the People ; Legacy ) (Natanson) (as Dronov)
La Nuit des adieux (Petipa) (Dréville)
Iz zapisok aktera , Moscow, 1951, translated as Notes of a Soviet Actor , Moscow, 1957.
Chertvertyi Don Kikhot , Leningrad, 1958.
"Lyubimyi obraz" in Deputat Baltiki , Moscow, 1937.
"Rabota nad istoricheskoi roliu" in Sovetsky istorichesky film , Moscow, 1939.
"Cherkassov's Don Quixote," (selections from article in Iskusstvo Kino ) and review of Notes of a Soviet Actor , in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1958.
Soviet Film (Moscow), October and November 1958.
Dreiden, C., Nikolai Cherkassov , Moscow, 1939.
Slaventatov, D., Nikolai Cherkassov , Moscow, 1939.
Baili, A., Narodnyi artist SSSR. N.K. Cherkassov , Moscow, 1951.
Benyash, R., Nikolai Konstantinovich Cherkassov , Moscow, 1952.
Gerasimov, Yuri, Cherkassov , Moscow, 1976.
On film Everything Remains for the People in Soviet Film (Moscow), January 1964.
Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1967.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1973.
Soviet Film (Moscow), August 1973.
Riadom a drugon ( Our Friend Is with Us ) about Cherkassov, directed by Alexander Abramov, 1970.
* * *
Nikolai Cherkassov, a graduate of the Leningrad Theatre Institute, began his professional career on stage in 1920, developing his skill in burlesque, and subsequently making his first film appearance in 1927 in The Poet and the Czar . Although his basic training had been in ballet, opera, and even the circus as well as the theater, he concentrated in the mid-1920s on legitimate acting and joined the Leningrad Pushkin Theatre, working for much of his career in both theater and film. His international reputation in the cinema was made in the character of Professor Polezhaev in the celebrated film that established "historic realism" in the Soviet Union of the 1930s, Josef Heifitz and Alexander Zarkhi's Baltic Deputy , in which at the age of only 32 he played a man of 75; of the part Cherkassov said, "He was so young in spirit that only a young actor could play him." As he described it, the film presented the attitude of the "progressive, democratic intelligentsia in the early stages of the Revolution." This part (for which he had so much longed) came at approximately the same time as his interpretation of the Tsarevich Alexei in the first part of Vladimir Petrov's magnificent, two-part historical spectacle, Peter the Great , and it was for this latter part that he received his first official decoration the same year. In his roster of well-known character parts, he was to appear much later as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Petrov's The Battle of Stalingrad and in the title role of Grigori Kozintsev's Don Quixote in 1957.
Cherkassov is primarily known internationally for his magnificent portrayals in the title roles of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible . These were heavily stylized performances in the heroic mold of historical figures idealized in order to fulfil Soviet reinterpretation of Russian history and legend. Cherkassov had, however, been trained in the traditional mode of Russian realist acting. Once he had submitted himself to the special disciplines of performance imposed by Eisenstein on his players, which tended to turn the actors into a mobile part of the total pictorial design of each shot, Cherkassov gave both Nevsky and Ivan a grandeur on the screen which was as much due to his deep, reverberant voice as it was to his magnificent appearance.
In spite of the difficulties and severe physical trials Cherkassov and his fellow players endured while working on Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible , he became a close friend of Eisenstein. When invited to play Ivan late in 1941, the year of the Nazi invasion of Russia, Cherkassov had been evacuated with the Pushkin Theatre from besieged Leningrad to Novo Sibirsk in Siberia, from which he had to travel in the winter of early 1942 to the studios of Alma Ata in Central Asia where Eisenstein and his production team had been sent from Moscow. Cherkassov complained that Eisenstein treated his actors "like wax dummies," and that he was forced to "practice long and tiringly to produce the tragic bend of Tsar Ivan's figure." In his Notes of a Soviet Actor he wrote further, "the general custom is to try to make the historical personage 'accessible,' to portray him as an ordinary person sharing the ordinary, human traits of other people. . . . But with Ivan we wanted a different tone. In him we wished chiefly to convey a sense of majesty, and this led us to adopt majestic forms." His makeup was so brilliantly constructed by the makeup artist V. Goryunov that the composer for the film, Sergei Prokofiev, failed to recognize him when they were seated close together at the premiere. When Ivan the Terrible, Part II incurred Stalin's hostility and the film was banned on ideological grounds, it was Cherkassov who accompanied Eisenstein (then in declining health) to a meeting with Stalin in 1947 at which, after considerable modifications were introduced, permission was granted to resume work. This was never to be, but in February 1948 when Eisenstein died, one of his last notes was a message penned to Cherkassov.
During the period he worked with Eisenstein, Cherkassov became a deputy of the Supreme Soviet, giving him a political as well as acting career. (Note: Nikolai Cherkassov should not be confused with his namesake, the actor Nikolai P. Cherkasov, who starred in many Russian films, most notably Pudovkin's wartime biographical film, General Suvorov .)