By Quendrith Johnson (doddleNEWS)
Ken Davitian, who describes himself as “the fat naked guy” Azamat Bagatov from “BORAT: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” shocks most people when they realize not only does he speak perfect English but he’s from LA. Now that Davitian has a cameo in “The Artist,” he’s hoping to lose, or at least marginally dent, that stereotype.
“I once sat in a room with ten executives and they told me,” in slow, halting words, “‘Please sit down. We… will… be… right… with… you.’ I said ‘whoa, whoa, what are you guys talking about?’ There was a poster on the wall from the movie ‘HOLES,’ I told them I was in that movie years ago with Shia LaBeouf. They were like ‘oh’? They didn’t think I was an actor!” Were they wary of him? You bet.
Even though he’s been in lots of projects, “Get Smart” (Steve Carell) and “Meet the Spartans” to name a few, he still has to explain “I was a theater arts major in college.” Up front in our interview, Davitian admits he “didn’t do anything” in “The Artist.” “I mean, if I’d spent three months working on it, my heart would be about to bust.” But his part is “just a cameo.”
Which is part of Davitian’s self-deprecating approach to being in movies. Granted, his cameo is brief: the scene where Jean Dujardin as 1920′s matinee idol George Valentin has hit the skids and goes to pawn his tuxedo. In the Pawn Shop, Valentin encounters the hard-driving pawn broker (Davitian) who ends up giving him a mere few dollars for his signature cutaway costume.
“No, the dog wasn’t in that scene,” he notes as a pre-emptive strike against Uggie the Jack Russell questions. “Everybody asks me about the dog. It’s like the bear in BORAT, everybody always asks me about the bear. That dog was a scene stealer, but no, he wasn’t in my scene.”
If the former Azamat looks a little different in “The Artist,” it’s because “I’m losing weight. I am not doing it for any other reason than myself, because when you look at the camera and the camera does add ten pounds. And I look like I have ten cameras on me!”
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist” is shot through with excellent character actors like John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, and James Cromwell as “Clifton” The Driver, as well as other great cameos by Malcolm McDowell as The Butler, and Ed Lauter as Peppy’s (Berenice Bejo) Butler, but Davitian surely has the highest curiosity factor.
“My wishes are that ‘The Artist’ gets (Oscar) nominated for every category that they have. Just to be nominated will be great, but for me, I didn’t do anything, so I am just happy for the French guys and the director Michel. I am excited for them.”
Here’s native Angeleno Ken Davitian, talking about this new silent film, and showing a side of himself that reveals “in me, I think I have 56 different acceptance speeches since I was born. I’m so lucky.”
Q: Are you still close to Sacha Baron Cohen?
KEN DAVITIAN: No. We’re not in touch. He’s doing a new movie, “The Dictator.” But the door is always open.
Q: Is that because there was some weirdness after BORAT?
KEN DAVITIAN: Why, because I was too close to his genitals?
Q: No, because in certain ways you stole the picture from him at certain points, you know? I mean, you were really great.
KEN DAVITIAN: When they hired me, they said, ‘you will be in the ice cream van and maybe a hand or half of your face will show.’ That’s what they hired me for, just to drive the ice cream van. So all the rest of it was thanks to God.
Q: Wow. That’s hard to believe. And, uh, the ‘too close to his genitals’ scene, somehow you pulled it off!
KEN DAVITIAN: That’s because I have an uncle who is the type of guy that, if you pissed him off, he would run after you naked.
Q: How did you get involved with “The Artist”?
KEN DAVITIAN: They called me to do a cameo. I met with the director. I told him I thought it was a little over the top. I told him ‘are you sure this is what you want to do?’
Q: You tried to talk him out of it? Do you mean the silent part of it, making a silent film?
KEN DAVITIAN: Silent? Black-and-white? Silent and black-and-white?! Then he gave me the story to read and I fell in love with the story. It was so romantic. When we met, he told me he wrote it for his wife (Berenice Bejo from “Knight’s Tale” with Heath Ledger) and she was going to star in it. And it was how he felt. After I read it, I didn’t care if I had no words or two seconds, or whatever. It was so romantic. But first it was like ‘you really want to do a silent film black-and-white?’
Q: So you did try to talk him out of it!
KEN DAVITIAN: I didn’t have any luck talking him out of it. I was just questioning it.
Q: When was the first time you saw the finished cut?
KEN DAVITIAN: The (US) premiere in December. I wasn’t sure the American audience would accept it. Our culture is already 3D and shooting and killing. There are no car chases in it. It’s a romantic comedy. And when you add that it is a romantic comedy where nobody says anything? I thought, well that’s even more difficult. I just think Jean Dujardin is the Errol Flynn of our times.
Q: He does look like Errol Flynn, he also looks like Douglas Fairbanks a little bit, you’re right.
KEN DAVITIAN: And he’s bringing back that sexy and classy culture. I mean, what he can do with his eyes is fantastic. You can read what he is thinking by reading his eyes and his eyebrows.
Q: Do you still feel typecast as the ‘foreign naked guy’ — ‘the foreign, scary naked guy’?
KEN DAVITIAN: Yeah. But thank-you for “The Artist,” which is breaking that. I did “Get Smart,” I did “Meet the Spartans.” And I just finished another film with Jon Lovitz, but “The Artist” is taking it to a whole other level. And I don’t say a word.
# # #