Zenonas Imbrasas – a film enthusiast who has played roles in more than 70 films and series. A 73-year-old who feels on the film set like at home, has portrayed many characters – has been a prisoner, a doctor, a chief of police, a general, and even a papal messenger. Z. Imbrasas who began his film experience more than 20 years ago in mass scenes, now is being filmed in various episodes next to the most famous Lithuanian and international actors.
Imbrasas brings almost 100 photos to our meeting. In them, portraits with actors, scenes in Trakai Castle, Trakų Vokė, Vilnius Airport, Lukiškės Prison, entrance to the Vilnius University, Lithuanian Writers’ Union, streets of the old town. The man who plays in short episodes, tells that just in the last month he managed to perform in two films and a music video.
According to him, film appeared in his life at the most difficult moment, and it became a kind of salvation. “I was working as a physical education teacher, later contributed towards cultural development of Molėtai district. Various changes took place and eventually I was no longer needed in the position. I saw a newspaper advertisement by accident, for an actor. Film appeared like a life raft, I would say, God himself laid out everything in such a way, and gave me something to clutch on to,” – recalls Z. Imbrasas.
Even though he never studied professional acting, he admits that the opportunity to be in film was always a kind of a dream. “I grew up in a children’s home and even though I studied at the university later, it was difficult fitting in with my peers. I remember that in my youth I would walk around Vilnius on my own, and I’d think, that now I should meet some film director. I really wanted to act, to be noticed.
Today, it seems to me, that life experience helps perform – children’s home, higher education, solitude, various experiences – they settle down, are reflected in the movements, in the eyes. I’ve been through many things in life; therefore, I quickly understand what the director expects from me. I create the roles not according to a template or standards, but from my heart – I no longer need emotions to perform, because they are real, already felt, lived through. It is not acting, but rather life itself.”
The actor of episodic roles suggests, that even though in the past he needed to look for advertisements, now the offers come through themselves. “The producers, casting directors already know my potential, most often they invite me for larger episodic roles. For example, when filming Chernobyl I played in the scene next to the main actor who played the role of M. Gorbachev. We filmed for three days and even though I did not speak in the scene, I had to reflect the tension felt in the scene, react to the complex political conversations taking place at the table. For scenes in other films, I had to learn Lithuanian, German or even Latin texts. I studied them at home, and then during filming there would be a person standing next to me who, if needed, would correct my pronunciation. When filming close-ups, the director may stop the scene and tell you to hide the solitary wrinkle you have on your forehead. Once I was assigned an assistant, so that whilst smoking a cigarette in the scene the ashes would fall tidily… On the film set, every detail is important, the camera cuts right through you,” – Z. Imbrasas talks about the subtleties of life on set.
“It is not easy to act – the episodic role actor must pass the selection stage, camera testing, costume fitting and filming shifts. Travelling and long waits are the most tiring – filming can take even 12 hours. On set, around you, there are 50 km of wires, cameras, lights, technical staff, everyone is rushing, running around – sometimes it is hard to understand what is going on. That is part of the filmmaking process. You will not earn a fortune or gain great recognition, however, the feeling, the atmosphere is indescribable. The soul rests during filming, film does not allow me to harden, to stand still.
You know, whilst standing on set with a uniform of a marshal you feel as if you are living the life of a marshal – you’re being made-up, your costume is taken care of, you’re accommodated in chic actors’ campers, you’re surrounded by gentlemen and ladies in costumes – how can you not feel elated? And the people are different here – when they meet, they embrace, you don’t need to explain where you come from or what car you drive. Such moments and experiences repay all the struggles, allow to forget the mundane. You don’t get anything tangible, but you feel great in spirit, you’re flying. A few days pass until I recover from filming, it is hard to “get out of” character, I think for a long time about the story, and about what I could have done better. But then you return to the routine and wait for something new.
A great impression is left by the opportunity to observe professional actors. I remember the actress Helen Mirren who played in the series Katherine the Great. I was surprised by her focus on the role and her ability to get out of it as soon as the scene was shot. That is how you learn – with each film comes experience, understanding of technical things. I have travelled abroad for filming, and for one advertisement I performed naked,” – the episodic role actor shared his experience.
Upon being asked if Zenonas has the opportunity to enjoy film as part of the audience in his leisure time, he notes, that now he looks differently at everything. “Previously I did not pay attention to details, now I see even the slightest errors in attire. I like watching Swedish detectives, they are real, lifelike. I like American classics – not so much for their content, but for the legendary actors, whose faces reflect half the world, who are interesting to look at even when they are silent. I admire the Lithuanian actors of the old generation – they don’t shout, they don’t gesticulate, sometimes they say two words, but they touch.
You know, I understand, that in my 70s a film crew is unlikely to come to me asking to play Hamlet. And I don’t desire large roles. When I think that a great share of people my age sits by the window watching life, and I have the opportunity to experience such things – even if briefly to feel the joy of film, to live that illusion. That, is enough.”