An ordinary old man, who had not dreamed of becoming an actor, worked as a driver at a state farm all his life, kept cows, in his spare time performed with folk theater, sang in propaganda teams. That's why people call him Yrya Ystapaan (Stepan The Song). He perceives the sudden popularity and success as a joke of life.
He became famous thanks to only one role in a movie - old Mikiipper in the The Lord Eagle by Eduard Novikov. A year ago, Stepan visited Moscow for the first time, looked at himself on the big screen during the Moscow International Film Festival. The film collected all the major festival awards. After the triumph, the red carpet, autographs and numerous interviews, he returned to his home village. To a small house, heated by two stoves, the old TV, which shows three channels, to logging and ice harvesting. To his wife, with whom he lived for forty years. The old people live together, waiting for the summer to hear the grandchildren's laughter in their house. They had three children, today only the youngest survived, but she lives in the city.
Old people met us cordially. While his wife Pelageya Zakharovna was setting a table for a treat, Stepan Dmitrievich led us to the living room, where the carpet on the wall was hung with awards for creative success. The old man loves autographed posters of his movie. A new one was added to The Lord Eagle today, which director Lyubov Borisova brought with her film Min Ordүber kүn hahan da Kiirbet (The Sun Above Me Never Sets). While the old man was proudly hanging a new relic, his wife ran up and said that the old man, with his modesty, had removed all sports medals: “I hung them up in the room, have a look.” Stepan smiles shyly: “Oh my, what will people think: just kind of boaster.”
Stepan prepared himself thoroughly for the trip: he prepared firewood and ice for a week. He is not afraid of hard work, he says: it is no big deal at all, it used to be harder. Stepan was born in 1945 in the village of Khagyn, Vilyuisk district, according to documents, ten days after the Great Victory. “In the birth certificate everything was mixed up. Mother said that I was born in July, but they recorded me in May, my father was Ivanov, but they recorded me under my mother's name, Petrov. Analyzing my life, I think that these changes somehow played a trick on my life.”
His father did not serve in the army due to eye problems. His parents worked at a collective farm. Of the eight children, five survived to adulthood. Now there are three left.
“My parents grew wheat. Oh, I vividly remember that taste of cakes, which my mother baked, just cannot compare with anything else. We had a mill, and since six years I have been circling in a barn with a bull. I remember how I got it in the neck from my mother when I fell asleep at the workplace, work stopped, the bull couldn’t step over me.” Even then, little Stepan liked to perform on stage - he read chabyrgakh (tongue twisters), started singing songs when he was 8.
Stepan graduated from the 8th grade. Then he went to Nyurba to train to become a tractor driver. A year later, he was drafted into the army, he was 19 years old. He served three and a half years in Vladivostok. “I got into service during the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, in 1967 the conflict with China began. The threat of war. And they left me for another six months.”
After the army, he got a job in the Reading Balagan (propaganda team – translator’s note) in Vilyuisk, in the summer he traveled with that team, performed at the farms in the winter. By the autumn he returned to Nyurba vocational school, where he studied. “I arrive, but there is no building - it burned down, documents, too. And only a scrap of my student ID has miraculously survived, that half, where was my name. That's how I became a versatile tractor driver. I have been taught a year instead of three,” recalls Stepan.
He returned to his homeland, the collective farm Mastakh because of the illness of his mother. There, his document came into play, there were not enough tractor drivers. He continued to work at the Reading Balagan. "Anything could happen in the culture. In 1979, I started a new life, and went to a driving school, so that to leave the sphere of culture.” The younger sister married the guy from Khangalass ulus, moved to Zhemkon, then his mother moved there, and soon Stepan Dmitrievich himself.
“I was always close to culture, and my legs, whether I wanted to or not, carried me to the cultural center. The club used to be in the old church.” A drama club was organized there, then a folk theater. He acted in small plays.
- At 35, I, already an old man, thought - it’s time to get married. My friend Aleksey Savvich once said: "My wife’s sister remains unmarried too long, let you both marry, she just came from the Gorny ulus to visit us." So we got married. There was no, as they say, courting period. We met and went to the registry office on the same day. Quite simple, isn't it? We dote upon each other; in the winter we will celebrate forty years of our marriage. We had three children. Our senior childrens went to a better world early. We have two grandchildren. Of course, there is a feeling of an incomplete family. Non-healing wound. Son and daughter did not leave anyone behind, it grieves me very much. My daughter was killed in 20 years, here in Zhemkon. The son of thirty-three died under unclear circumstances in the city, nothing is known, it is a nightmare.
It is terrible to tell; it was right after the New Year. My daughter died on the day when our nephew was buried; he lived in the next house. We came home after the funeral and learned the terrible news. A couple of days later my daughter was buried. We almost went crazy, lost the reason to live.
When you play dramatic moments in a movie, you imagine your children, your situation, this pain that is always with you. The same is in the second film The Sun Above Me Never Sets, you go into this state, and then you try to get out of it as soon as possible. In these two films, where I played, both in The Lord Eagle, and in The Sun Above Me Never Sets, there are these moments where I feel that I am getting closer to my children. Maybe that's why people liked these films? People felt that it was real. I don't know, I don't like to watch myself on the screen. I always want to redo it. So, they don’t show me the films before the release, they are afraid that I will want to redo something. The second film, I will see it only in Moscow.
I think this is my last role. Why do they all the time show an awkward old man? I became an actor by chance, the camera operator Semyon Amanatov is to blame for everything. It all started in 2013 in Nemyugyuntsy: they were shooting the short film 'Iye Kut' by Prokopy Nogovitsyn. I laugh now - I was freezing for four hours and appeared in a movie for two seconds.
I got into the film The Lord Eagle by accident. Once I played checkers with a friend in our club. Spartak Petrovich ran in and said that filmmakers were looking for an old man for a movie. I laughed: "What have I to do with it? There are a lot of old men.” He photographed me and ran away. After some time, they called me and said that they had approved me and sent the script. I can’t memorize two words, and here’s a whole script. What to do? I went to the Sakha Theater. There I met a slender woman, Zoya Popova who played my wife. Then she said in an interview that I allegedly said: "Oh, poor thing, as thin as I am." I officially refute - I didn’t say such a thing.
After our acquaintance, we were sent to Sakhafilm for a read-through that lasted for four hours. Fortunately, they cut to one and a half hours.
I was lucky in every shoot: the cinema guys are great; they look after me as if I were their father or grandfather. Good guys.
Last year, two days left before the premiere in Moscow, and I thought - well, no money, I won’t go. And then my countrymen staged a concert, raised money. I am grateful to them. I borrowed a national costume from my brother, and upon arrival in Yakutia I ordered myself the same. And this time I will go in it. There were so many funny moments in Moscow. We were given badges, passes to the festival. From excitement, having received it, I bumped into a glass door. “This man is very old,” they have thought probably.
On the second day I put on a suit. I enter the hall - a girl runs up to me and speaks something in a foreign language, I answer that I don’t understand. She introduces herself, saying that she is from the Culture TV channel. Then she asks which language is convenient for me to speak. I say that the Yakut language is OK for me, Lyuba Borisova will be my translator. When the camera turns on, and I forget the Yakut language! Oh, I wish I could disappear. Then at the press conference they asked: “Why were you approved for this role?” I answered: “Only because of the mustache and thinness.” They burst out laughing. But that's really so.
Before the premiere, I went on stage and said: “Russian-Yakut film,” Oh, that's what excitement does to people. I will keep silence on this trip, let the key persons speak.
On the same day I watched the movie, and I even believed in what was happening. It was funny, at some point I tried to remember how we fed the eagle, and in fact we have done it without him. Everyone then asked me how I took care of him myself, if he still lives with me. But I haven't seen him at all.
The film is great, I cried when the eagle was shot. Zoya played very well. How beautifully she plays! See what a professional actor can do! I didn't like myself.
After returning from the festival, Lyuba Borisova offered me to play in an episode of her film. I agreed, only then I learned that it was the leading role. But I stand by my word, I had to go to the Bulun district.
The North is beautiful. I was so worried that it would be cold, I took winter clothes with me, but they were not useful to me. I borrowed a medal from a neighbor and drove off. We lived there for a month. Worked with pleasure. Sea, nature, everything was wonderful. I was picking cloudberries. The only thing - I had a lot of words, then I had to sweat during the voice-over. My character is an ordinary old man. I did not even play, did not get into character, everything is as it is.
In each of the characters my ego is in there. In The Lord Eagle - when we were burying the eagle, in The Sun Above Me Never Sets - when I was talking about my daughter. Still there is something that I cannot describe. What was in your life is still in front of your eyes. I hope the movie has worked out well.
Life hasn't changed a bit since I became a film actor. I'm embarrassed when people recognize me. I say, it is not me, but my brother. Maybe if I was younger, maybe I would have become an actor. I think this is fate, but on the other hand - an accident.
I recently received a call from Channel One, offering a role, sending a script. The film is good, I liked the script. About the earthquake. Then they disappeared, they say, the film crew has changed, the director is different. I do not know.
I cannot say that I am a happy person. At the end of my life I was a little lucky, a man without education suddenly became an actor, it gave me a lot of joy. Young people, if you are talented, develop your gift. Do not hide it, I do not speak only about culture, I speak about all spheres. Develop what is naturally inherent, become better. Life is not an easy thing, with ups, downs, twists, and there is no way to do without support. Do own thing. I wish you love and be loved. Be healthy, happy, give birth, develop and glorify Yakutia. Peace and goodness to all. Take care of each other.
P.S. Lyubov Borisova’s film The Sun Above Me Never Sets had its world premiere on April 19, in which Stepan Petrov played the leading part. Subsequently, the film received two awards at the 41st Moscow International Film Festival - The People's Choice Award, as well as NETPAC prize from the Asian Film Critics Association.
NETPAC awarded the film “for real, natural humor and a sincere, vivid reflection of human relationships that go beyond age limits and personal interests.”
The interview was taken from the actor before the trip to Moscow for the film festival.