Terry talks with multi-talented actor Dimitri Diatchenko about his role in Company of Heroes, other experience as an actor, as well his vast expertise as a classical guitarist and martial arts champion.
Terry Wickham: Hello Dimitri. Let’s go back to your beginning. That’s quite a story about you getting attacked by a wolf in Lake Tahoe when you were 3 years old. Do you mind telling me what happened?
Dimitri Diatchenko: Terry, thanks for your interest in my music and acting career. The wolf attack was when I was very young. I was 3 years old I believe. I don’t remember any of it, but my mom and dad were camping at a camp site back in the 1970’s and while they were packing up to leave I wandered off. It was about 5am and this wolf just came out of the woods and took my whole face in his mouth and tried to drag me away. Luckily there were other campers near by that saw what was happening and everyone scared off the wolf but not before he tore most of the right side of my face off. The flesh that covered my cheek was hanging from my throat. My mom thought I was a goner, but I survived and the local Doctor who stitched me up did a pretty good job.
TW: I’ve read that even though you experienced that horrifying ordeal, you still love dogs. Was that always the case? I would have thought you’d have opposite feelings for those types of animals because of being mauled by one.
DD: I couple weeks after the attack my mom was visiting with friends who had four big dogs in the back yard. I ran right outside and started playing with them much to my moms surprise. So no phobias here with dogs. I love most all animals, but dogs are probably my favorite…..well behaved dogs.
TW: How long did it take to recover from that incident? Does it ever still bother you?
DD: I believe it was six months before my face started healing up. It used to bother me…the scaring, but I think it adds character to me both on and off screen.
TW: Not to throw salt in a wound but did you see The Grey? I thought it was an amazing psychological-adventure film and those wolves were pretty scary.
DD: Yes I have seen The Grey. Great film.
TW: Did you start training in martial arts at age 7 in retaliation of that attack? I can imagine that if you were in a situation like that again (animal or man) you’d be ready.
DD: My mom and dad divorced when I was about 4 or 5. I was always moving from dad to mom and back and forth, always the NEW kid so I’d fight a lot. So my mom got me into martial arts so I could kick ass more efficiently. I also was a big Chuck Norris fan so Karate/TaeKwonDo was my first training. Then I followed up with some standard American boxing, American Kenpo, Arnis and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’m a big UFC fan. If the UFC would have come along a few years earlier I would have been doing MMA instead of just kickboxing championships.
TW: Talk about your fondness for classical guitar. Where did your interest in playing the instrument come from?
DD: I was a big Elvis Presley fan from a really young age. He played guitar and sang and was in movies with a bunch of beautiful women all over him. I saw this and thought, “That’s not a bad job to have when I grow up”. So now I’m doing it too. LOL. My focus on classical guitar was purely due to the fact that my dad’s friend was a classical guitar teacher. So I studied with him for the first five years. I got to see Andre Segovia five times live at Boston Symphony Hall. Segovia became quite an influence as a solo guitarist on me. His technique, repertoire and overall musicality was just awesome. I’m a huge lover of Latin music and blues/jazz as well.
TW: I’ve read you are a prize-winning classical guitarist. Did you ever dream of just being a musician for a career?
DD: I think before I became interested in acting while doing my undergraduate degree at Stetson I wanted to have a career as a university professor of guitar studies and tour and record albums much like my guitar professor at Stetson has his career set up. I tried to balance acting and music for 12 years when I moved to LA. It worked for a while but I decided to focus on acting for my own sanity. The money is better and I can reach more people around the world with a film than by touring small venues. I actually played guitar in an indie film I shot last year in Birmingham, Alabama, called Clubhouse. So I’m starting to have the opportunity to fuse my two passions.
TW: I actually was the Senior Writer for Guitar 2001 Magazine for 6 years. Could I get copies of your guitar albums? I’d like to review them on mantaraypictures.com
DD: Sure I can send you some copies of my CDs.
TW: It’s amazing that you are a former national Tae Kwon Do heavyweight champion. Who did you train with and did you ever consider being a martial arts instructor?
DD: From the time I was 17 years old I fought in the men’s black belt division in local and national tournaments. I have about 25 medals…national championships, collegiate championships, state, regional and a couple international medals. I fought for about 7 years as a top 3 heavyweight in the USA. I actually was an instructor at my school in Boston and in Florida. I enjoy teaching martial arts as much as I do teaching guitar.
TW: What made you turn to acting? Did it begin in high school or college?
DD: I got into acting by taking acting class at Stetson University while doing my music degree. We had to take a non-musical course as part of our course credit. So I took the two classes that had the hottest chicks in the school. Acting and Dance. I enjoyed it so much I got an agent in Orlando and started going out for student films and local plays. I booked the first play I ever auditioned for, Foxfire, by Hume Cronin. I played the role of Dillard Nations, a country music star who came from the mountains of Tennessee. It was quite an experience.
TW: I’m fascinated by your talent for dialects. Does that come from your multi-national heritage?
DD: My musician’s ear is very good at doing dialects. My Russian accent is quite natural because of growing up hearing my dad’s side of the family e.g. grandfather and grandmother, speak. I studied Russian in high school and college as well. So I read and write in Russian. This allows me to actually have the subtle tongue inflections that are part of the Russian language. My southern accent is natural because of growing up in central Florida and my Aussie accent is pretty good cause I dated a few Aussie gals in my time.
TW: Your voice talent have parlayed into quite a bit of voice over work. What’s been your favorite video game part and why?
DD: Yes I have done 38 video games as voice talent. I’d have to say my favorite is Red Alert 3: Command and Conquer. The reason is that they actually had me in costume and on camera where my character Oleg Vodnik would pop up on screen and interact with the player. I got tons of fan mail from around the world for my part in Red Alert 3. Very cool.
TW: You’ve built up quite a diverse body of work so far. What do you like doing the most TV, video games or feature films?
DD: That’s a tough question. After my experience with Chernobyl Diaries I saw how fast the world warmed up to Dimitri the actor and Uri, my role in the film. The ability to reach so many people at once is quite enticing. It takes so long for films to get completed though. TV is fast turn around so you can see your work usually a month after you shoot an episode. I like that aspect of TV work. I got a lot of great comments for my guest star on How I Met Your Mother. Video Game work is fun, but we don’t get any cut of the sales and downloads of these huge games that make hundreds of millions of dollars. That bothers me quite a bit. I’d like to see a change in our contracts within the interactive media genre where actors get a piece of the sales and online usage just like we do from TV and Film.
TW: Talk about Chernobyl Diaries. What was it like playing the role in the film and working with Oren Peli, who’s been a quite a roll since Paranormal Activity. I have not seen the film yet, but scary movies are a big part of my life.
DD: Chernobyl Diaries was a great adventure for all of us. I got to stay in Belgrade, Serbia for two weeks and Budapest, Hungary for two weeks. That alone was awesome. The work part of the trip was interesting too. I had to train driving that shitty van that was Uri’s tour bus. Not a user friendly vehicle. There was no script for the auditions. It was all improv, which I excel at so I enjoyed that. Working with Oren Peli was such a great experience. He is very hands on and very easy going. He’s the coolest producer I’ve ever worked with. Playing Uri was a fun role because he was an ex-Special Forces Ukrainian stud. I stood out from the rest of the cast because I was the tour guide and had the best ass on the set as well.
TW: Where was the film shot? Locations are a big part of any good scary movie.
DD: We shot two weeks in and around Belgrade, Serbia and for two weeks we shot in Kiskunlachaza, Hungary on a semi-abandoned Russian military base. They did a great job at recreating Pripyat in it’s post-nuclear meltdown state.
TW: Finally tell us about Company of Heroes. How did you get involved and cast in the film?
DD: Company of Heroes was one of these auditions where I went in one time, read with the director, Don Michael Paul, and as he put it, “You were exactly what I wanted IVAN to be”. So two weeks later I was arriving in Sofia, Bulgaria to start shooting an epic WWII film with a bunch of great actors.
TW: With such a historic storyline, did you know much about the actual events portrayed in the movie prior to being cast?
DD: I read the first version of the script the weekend before my meeting with Don and was very psyched to play IVAN Puzharski. I grew up hearing stories from my dad and babushka Valentina, my grandmother about their surviving the upheaval and violence and turmoil of those times. Those stories all came back to me as I was preparing the role and digesting Ivan’s personality and history. It was a dream role. I wish my babushka and my mother were alive to see Company of Heroes. It’s like I’m playing one of my cossack relatives whom I only know by stories told to me as a child.
TW: What research or preparation did you do to play “Ivan Puzharski?
DD: Preparation for playing Ivan was watching some original footage of the Russian front during WWII to get my mind into a 1944 vibe. Mannerisms were different back then, relationships between Russians and Americans were quite cold so my joining the fight with the Americans and British was an interesting layer that was fun to play. Not a good guy, but not a bad guy, just a soldier who wants the best outcome for his country. As for the accent, I added a slightly German element to the accented English because Ivan is a spy and works with Germans as such, so I figured he would have a little hint of German in his English. I didn’t have to speak too much Russian in CoH like I had to speak Ukrainian in Chernobyl Diaries, so I didn’t have to study overtime for any speeches in Russian.
TW: What was it like working with your fellow cast mates; Tom Sizemore, Vinny Jones, Chad Collins, Melia Kreiling and Jürgen Prochnow?
DD: Working with all the actors on Company of Heroes was great. Vinny Jones is exactly what you see…which I like. He’s an ex-world class soccer star turned action actor. His bravado and sense of humor were great to play off of. Tom is brilliant and very helpful on the set and he has funny stories for days. Chad and Melia are kinda like me in the sense that we are fresh faces who are rising in popularity and we bonded quite well on and off the set.
TW: Where was it shot? Did you film at any of the actual places?
DD: We shot in the country outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. It was the coldest winter in 30 years to hit Bulgaria. Some of those nights fighting and rolling around in the snow were quite challenging.
TW: I’ve read that this was a dream role for you because of you being first generation Ukrainian-American on your father’s side. Explain.
DD: Having the knowledge of my Ukrainian ancestors and what they went through during WWII gave me an appreciation of IVAN and his life experience and survival skills. I often would sit quietly and just ponder the situation I was in. I’m starring in a WWII film as a Russian soldier who teams up with the other side to help defeat Hitler and the Nazis. It connected me with my ancestors. I’ve never been to Ukraine. I’d like to go and perhaps meet some family.
TW: Thanks you for taking some time to speak to me about your career and your wonderful layered performance in Company of Heroes.
DD: Terry, thanks for your interest in me again.