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His latest role in xXx makes Marton Csokas look like a nasty piece of work, but his calm, understated persona in real life just goes to show what a fine actor he is. His modesty notwithstanding, his career looks set to explode. Andrew L. Urban meets MC - Mr Calm.

Tall, dark, handsome – and calm; the understated Marton Csokas in person is the opposite of his aggressive, stormy bad-boy screen personas in films like the high voltage action blockbuster xXx and the more modest Australian comedy Garage Days. The quietly spoken actor is reticent to forecast a career leap in the wake of his terrific performance as a Russian anarchist, Yorgi, opposite Vin Diesel, in the sensational debut of the Triple X character.

But he’s not so reticent as to ignore the possibilities, and jokes that he is perfectly ready to deal with any calls on his talents. At the time of our interview on the eve of the release of xXx, he hadn’t heard whether there had been any great upsurge of offers, “but I’m happy if they call my agent,” he adds with a disarming smile. As to working on such a huge movie, he says, it was not unlike other films in many ways. “Calmness is very important…to be calm, to breathe and be able to do what you have to do, as you would in any other place or circumstance. That to me is the most important thing.” It is also sometimes misleading for directors who meet Csokas (pronounced ‘Chokash’) for the first time: when xXx director Rob Cohen first met him to talk about the role of Yorgi, he couldn’t imagine Csokas playing the leader of a gang of fanatical anarchists hell bent on destroying the world as we know it. But as soon as Csokas read a scene for him, Cohen was stunned by the change – and hired him on the spot.

Csokas is hardly new to the business, of course, nor to high profile projects: his resume lists theatre and tv and movie roles ranging from his AFI Award nominated guest role in GP to several Shakespeare plays and Australian as well as New Zealand movies, like Rain (NZ), The Monkeys’ Mask (Aus) and The Lord of the Rings (NZ) in which he plays Celeborn, Lord of the Elves. “Working on that film with the calibre of actors in the crew in all departments was foreboding…”

Of the latter, he smiles when he recalls being asked if he was being well looked after by Sir Ian McKellen, evidently one of the greats he admires. “That was a lovely thing to be addressed with…slightly disorienting.”

"his biggest role in a mass market movie"

But Yorgi in xXx is different: it’s his biggest role in a mass market movie, and it’s a Hollywood product. Is it his international breakthrough role? He isn’t sure, “but it was enjoyable to work on…great fun. And working in Prague was a fabulous experience.” With a Hungarian father and New Zealand mother, Csokas has a faint link to Eastern Europe – Hungary shares a border with the Czech Republic – and perhaps that explains his enthusiasm to alert people wherever he can to the existence of a website where anyone can make a donation to assist the victims of recent floods that have devastated Prague. 

Working with Vin Diesel, a totally different man to Csokas himself, was “enjoyable. He’s someone who seems very ambitious, to me, knows what he wants and has chosen certain ways to get there and to live his life. It was enjoyable working with that. I enjoy Vin’s company, what little time we spent off set….” 

As for director Rob Cohen, Csokas found him extraordinary: “He has a wonderful sense of humour and is constantly in a side show, circus manner, juggling people’s energies in order to get what he wants. He’s not so much ruthless…determined … and fun. And he shares that with everybody. I think he had a terrific relationship with the Australian cinematographer Dean Semler, and they made everything look superb, and they unified the cast and crew very well. It was like being part of a family, which is not always possible with that number of people.”

In Garage Days (opens October 3, 2002), he plays Shad Kern, the high profile rock manager for the country’s major artists, whose egocentric persona may be described as hardcore slime. Alex Proyas’ comedy about a band that wants to make it, is the story of Freddy (Kick Gurry), his bass player girlfriend Tanya (Pia Miranda), mohawk brandishing, drug-loving drummer Lucy (Chris Sadrinna), brooding guitarist Joe (Brett Stiller) and their well-meaning but clunky manager Bruno (Russell Dykstra). They hope Shad Kern will make them famous. In both XXX and Garage Days, Csokas is cast against type; and they’re his best work. 

Csokas find it easier to articulate what he loves about acting than what sort of person he is: “With acting, I do enjoy the illusion; I like the exploration of different psychologies and different physicalities. I also enjoy seeing the world through different eyes at a practical level, and particularly travel. I love the research – broadly or specifically, and breaking down the script.” He wants to achieve “a continued and eclectic career in theatre, film and television. I’ll do anything.” And that means facing challenges and being afraid: “Fear is very powerful, but it’s a source of significant energy. So I’m learning what to do with that…rather than implode or explode.”

As to “what am I?” Csokas smiles wryly: “Dr Seuss? …I don’t know…As I get older and journey through life, I am starting to see how I respond to things, and I realise I have more choices than I had when I was younger.” His Hungarian father and Danish/Irish descended New Zealander mother made for a strangely blended home environment. “A concoction…it gave me many wonderful things.”

"how to seek our own individuality"

And strangely enough, it was the character of the anarchist Yorgi that fascinated Csokas, making him take a fresh look at life and humanity and the whole damn thing. “To question advertising, branding…what’s going on in the world. And what are we doing with it…how we’re dealing with it, and whether violence is a way to deal with it…and whether taking down the system is the way to achieve things. If even that’s possible. And how to seek our own individuality so we can assess why we do things and how we do things.” But he says it all with great calm – like some living, breathing example of the old saying about how still waters run deep.

Published September 12, 2002

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Andrew L. Urban meets VIN DIESEL

Re Prague flood relief donations: the URL Marton Csokas suggested is inactive, so after checking various URLs, we found the most useful to be: usembassy.cz/fl3f.htm

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