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RUSSIAN DOLL: Kazantzidis & Zitserman

The award winning script for Russian Doll is a collaboration between a Russian woman and a Greek man. Bound to be a hoot, don’t you reckon? Andrew L. Urban talks to the duo, who were inspired by a night at the Russian Roulette Club.

Inspired by a night at Sydney's Russian Roulette Club, and co-written with Allanah Zitserman, Russian Doll represents Stavros Kazantzidis' most collaborative project to date. They co-wrote it, he directed and she produced. "It began with an invitation to Allanah's grandfather's 75th birthday," says Kazantzidis. Born in the Ukraine, Zitserman came to Australia 10 years ago and joined other Russian Jews in a significant subculture which fascinates Kazantzidis.

At the Russian Roulette Club, the Greek-origin Kazantzidis realised that Russian Jews and Greeks had a lot in common. "They're both food-oriented, expressive, guilt-ridden, gregarious and emotionally volatile cultures," he says. "I've always been interested in honing in on
sub-cultures in my work although previously these were more age-related (university students, young adults). I agreed that this vibrant sub-culture would make a very interesting film."

“looked everywhere for a Russian... found her in Melbourne”
He had also started writing a screenplay about a private investigator - while Zitserman had started to work on a concept close to her cultural heart; they decided to pool their ideas and pour them into Russian Doll, the story of a lonely private investigator who agrees to marry his best friend's mistress for technical reasons - and only some time after the fake marriage breaks up does he in fact fall in love with her. "Yeah, I know," says Zitserman, "it's very Russian!"

Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) plays Harvey the PI who is in therapy, David Wenham (The Boys) plays Ethan, the best friend and Natalia Novikova plays Katia, the Russian doll of the title. "We looked everywhere for a Russian and finally found her in Melbourne," says Kazantzidis.

“he's very masculine, but underneath, he has a sensitive side”
Kazantzidis has often worked with Hugo Weaving, "but I wanted to explore his range more… he's very masculine, but underneath, he has a sensitive side and I wanted to show that."

"Harvey's a nice guy," says Weaving, "trying to get his writing going who gets caught up in other peoples worlds and cant say no; a role I haven't played before. I enjoyed playing a pathetic character. I do find a lot of actors these days bring attitude to selecting roles, concerned about the strength of the next part, feel the necessity to show balls."

Weaving has had a long association with Kazantzidis, beginning at film school "on his first short film, Terminal and continued on every project the filmmaker has directed; Road To Alice, True Love And Chaos as well as Strange Planet which he wrote and produced. Now its virtually assumed if he's doing a film that I'll be involved,."

“mission-impossible-low budget projects”
Weaving believes that Kazantzidis is "one of Australia's most under-rated producer/writer/directors and one of those extraordinary characters who managed to tackle mission-impossible-low budget projects and somehow pull them off. As an actor, I really appreciate his sensitivity and generosity," says Weaving. "I really enjoy working with him."

Zitserman says she was interested in "a character being cynical but he overcomes that, accepts how life is and gets the girl…."

Published June 14, 2001

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