Serpukhov, 8 November 1960.
Graduated from Shchepkin Theatre School, Moscow, 1982.
Film debut, 1980; actor at the Maly Theatre, 1981–82, the Central
Theatre of the Soviet Army, 1982–85, the Ermolova Theatre,
1985–89, and in theatres abroad after 1992; director of the
theatrical production of
Woe from Wit
Laurence Olivier Award, for play
When She Danced
, 1992; State Prize for
Burnt by the Sun
, 1996; Triumph Award for outstanding contribution to national culture,
1996; State Prize, and NIKA Award for Best Actor, Russian Film Academy,
The Prisoner of the Mountains
Valeri Chikhlayev, Teatralnoe tovarishchestvo 814, Strastnoi boulevard
6/2, Moscow, Russia.
I Am Waiting in Hope ( Zhdu i nadeius' ) (Shakhbazian) (as Shurok)
Kinfolk ( Rodnia ) (Mikhalkov) (as Kirill)
Pokrovsky Gates ( Pokrovskie vorota ) (Kozakov—for TV) (as Kostik); Dream Flights ( Polety vo sne i naiavu ) (Balayan) (as young man)
The Kiss ( Potselui ) (Balayan) (as young officer)
Captain Fracasse (Vladimir Soloviev—for TV) (as Fracasse); An Area of Obstacles ( Polosa prepiatstvii ) (Tumanishvili) (as Vladimir Mezhirov)
Mikhailo Lomonosov (Proshkin) (as Dmitri Vinogradov); With the Orchestra along the Main Road ( Po glavnoi ulitse s orkestrom ) (Petr Todorovsky) (as Korol'kov); My Favourite Clown ( Moi liubimyi kloun ) (Kushnerev) (as Sergei Sinitsyn); Big Volodia—Small Volodia ( Volodia bol'shoi, Volodia malen'kii ) (Krishtofovich) (as small Volodia)
Moonsund ( Moonzund ) (Muratov) (as Arteniev)
Splashes of Champagne ( Bryzgi shampanskogo ) (Govorukhin) (as Sergei); Life on the Limits ( Zhizn' po limitu ) (Rudakov) (as new lodger); The Staircase ( Lestnitsa ) (Alexei Sakharov) (as Piroshnikov)
The Pit ( Iama ) (Ilyinskaya) (as Likhonin)
Diuba-diuba (Khvan) (as Andrei Pletnev)
Burnt by the Sun ( Utomlennye solntsem ) (Mikhalkov) (as Dmitri)
The Prisoner of the Mountains ( Kavkazskii plennik ) (Bodrov) (as Sasha Kostylin)
The Barber of Siberia ( Sibirskii tsiriulnik ) (Mikhalkov) (as Andrei Tolstoi); Mama (Evstigneev) (as Lyonia); East-West (Regis Wargnier) (as Alexei Golovin)
Lyndina, El'ga, Oleg Men'shikov , Moscow, 1999.
Moskvina, Tat'iana, "Oleg Men'shikov: Homme Fatal," in Seans (St. Petersburg), no. 15, 1997.
* * *
Oleg Men'shikov is doubtless one of the very few Russian actors who is a star in his own country and who has performed in a number of international projects.
Men'shikov is a theatre actor by training who worked with some of the most reputable Russian theatre directors early on in his career. He played in two of Valeri Fokin's productions which marked the advent of glasnost in the arts: Sportive Scenes of 1981 , and Speakp. Later he worked with Petr Fomenko on a production of Caligula (1991). He performed the part of the poet Sergei Esenin in a London production of When She Danced (1992) alongside Vanessa Redgrave. He devised his own performance of Nijinski (1993) and fully took charge of a production in 1998 when he made his debut as a director with Griboedov's Woe from Wit , in which he also played Chatsky.
Although Men'shikov has worked in film since the early 1980s, and has been extremely popular with both directors and audiences, his fame did not come until the 1990s, when he won international acclaim for his work in the theatre, received invitations from abroad, and was cast in major parts by Russian film-makers.
In the early 1990s Men'shikov often played characters who need to forge a mask for themselves in order to create, at least artificially, a sense in their lives. The character of Andrei Pletnev in Alexander Khvan's Diuba-Diuba (1992) offers the potential for playing with the notion of identity. Pletnev is a scriptwriter who devises a plan to help his ex-girlfriend escape from prison, only to realize that she does not love him any longer. However, Pletnev plays to the end the role he has written for himself, a role that turns him into a cold-blooded and calculating killer. In the end, though he has completed his mission, he has lost his girlfriend. He leaves for a scriptwriting course abroad, where he will probably write the next role to fill his otherwise
Men'shikov had worked with Nikita Mikhalkov on Kinfolk , but would come to international fame for his part of the secret service officer Dmitri (Mitia) in Mikhalkov's Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun (1994). Mitia's history is that of a White officer who left Russia after the Revolution and who, in order to return to the Soviet Union, has to prove his loyalty to the new system by becoming a secret agent. Mitia returns to the Soviet Union, but his love Marusia is married to another man, the Red Army commander Kotov. Mitia has lost the one important thing in his life: love. The film covers one single day, during which Mitia returns to Marusia's house, and to the past, before arresting Kotov. The character of Mitia is thus from the outset that of a man with different faces, roles, and identities, whose job does not allow him to tell the truth. Mitia's only way of returning to the past is by putting on masks, one after the other: he turns from a blind man to a wizard to a teller of fairy-tales that disguise the truth; he is a dancer, singer, and entertainer; and he is also a cold-blooded secret agent who will do his job and arrest Kotov in the end, destroying the happiness of Marusia's family. Men'shikov's skill in transforming himself from a clown to a killer, from a disappointed lover to an entertainer, from a suicidal man to a commanding officer is superbly deployed in this film.
In Sergei Bodrov's The Prisoner of the Mountains (1996) Men'shikov plays the part of the soldier Sasha Kostylin, who falls into captivity along with a younger army recruit, Vania Zhilin (Sergei Bodrov Jr). Whereas Zhilin is hoping for his mother's assistance to be released, Kostylin has no family to turn to; nevertheless, he endlessly invents stories about his 'family', although he has neither family ties nor any ideals to fight for in a senseless war; therefore, he loses his life. Men'shikov may not have been the most obvious actor to be cast as a soldier, yet this part gives him ample room to demonstrate how vain it is to built facades that cover the absence of family ties and national identity.
Men'shikov's role as the cadet Andrei Tolstoi in Mikhalkov's The Barber of Siberia (1999) is probably the most controversial part he has played. Critics have persistently argued that Men'shikov, aged almost forty, is simply too old to be cast in the role of an 18-year-old cadet, especially when the other cadets are played by student actors. It may be understandable that Mikhalkov, who had scripted The Barber in the late 1980s, had wanted to stick with the actor he had chosen for this part then. Although Men'shikov performs the naïve conduct of the young cadet extremely well, his real-life experience cannot be wiped from his face. The part of Tolstoi has given Men'shikov scope to explore aspects of a role he had not pursued before, such as the romantic line in his relationship with the American Jane Callaghan. While Callaghan sacrifices her love for the sake of an intrigue designed to procure the Irish inventor McCracken the funds for further work on his invention, Tolstoi defends both Jane and his love with the honor expected in the late 19th century. Men'shikov's talent, though, really lies in exploring the different facets of a character's history, in playing with facades, and inventing identities rather than in the romantic tradition of the hero he plays in The Barber. In East-West , Menshikov excels in his portrayal of a Russian emigre who returns with his French wife and his son to Stalin's Soviet Union. When he realizes that his wife will never be able to live her life to the fullest under the Soviet regime, he sacrifices his love for her and assists her escape to the West, while he himself has to bear the repercussions of her return to her native country.