Upon meeting Jan Přeučil and his wife, Eva "Cinderella" Hrušková, you can’t help but start smiling. This couple is just incredibly positive, even in these unpleasant, coronavirus times, when hardly anyone feels like laughing. They simply know how to enjoy life and each other. In his interview with LP-life.com, this 84-year-old actor, hats and swimming enthusiast and proponent of elegance and refinement, talks not only about his successful battle with COVID-19 or vaccination, but also about the life during the war he experienced.
How do you keep your positive attitude in these difficult times?
Must be something in my genes. My dad used to be a great optimist as well, all of the Přeučils were. I look at everything with a certain pleasant tint, always thinking things will end well in one way or another, so why worry. For years I have followed this beautiful quote from a book Evinka gave me: "The art of life is to realize the beauty of everyday life."
Does this mean you’re waking up with a smile every day?
Every morning I perform my morning ritual, exercise my Five Tibetians, do my breath and voice warmups. There has to be a start to the day.
So, you and Evička already went through the coronavirus.
Yes, we did, back in September. I’ve already been vaccinated, too, and everything went fine. In September, one of my friends' brother was opening a station building next to Kolín to turn it into a cultural institution. We were the main guests and there were swarms of people, they wanted to take photos with us, they wanted our autographs. That’s where we contracted it. Sadly, I was COVID-positive and my doctor gave me antibiotics. I had a bit of a cough, however, overall it wasn't all that bad.
Even for Evička?
Even for Evička.
You were incredibly lucky, then. So, I understand while you’ve already been vaccinated, Evička can’t get the vaccine, because she’s still too young.
Yes. We, as I like to say, peak-aged, already got it over with. I recommend it wholeheartedly: it does not hurt at all, quite the opposite – it helps you feel better, even psychologically, as you think "I’ve already been vaccinated, COVID shouldn’t get to me now." Of course you have to practice good hygiene, wash your hands and follow all that other related stuff.
It's been your birthday recently; you've turned 84... How are you still so incredibly energetic?
I try to keep an active approach to life and do something for my body, because it is a part of my acting profession as well. The psychophysical apparatus has to be prepared for various acting opportunities, it is our tool, so I have to take care of it. I've recently read a beautiful idea, saying that the body is basically our beautiful ship that we want to cross the ocean with. But in order to cross it, we have to take care of the ship to some extent. I take care of my body, thanks to my Evička as well, always trying to deal and cope with any given situation not only physically but also mentally. Take things positively. I have a great example in my father, who’s had his share under the communist regime, he was involved in the Milada Horáková trial. Because of that, my whole childhood was complicated as well. Taking life positively is very important.
What kind of diet you’re on with Evička? Why did you decide to do that?
We’ve had some extra pounds, so Evička asked one of her relatives to create a special diet regime for us that we follow. It’s tremendously interesting. We've lost 8 and 9 kilos, respectively.
How long did it take?
About three weeks.
Just by leaving out pastry and sugar?
Pastry, sugar, sadly, to my great displeasure, also the glass of wine, which is allowed only about once in three weeks. There has to be a certain class to it.
You’re a gourmet, you loved setting out to enjoy nice gastronomic experiences.
And now we’re looking forward to the restaurants opening again. I’m a bit of a "café regular", all of the Přeučils were. I love spending my time at cafés, meditating, doing interviews, reading. I’m really looking forward to the cafés reopening very much.
Do you and Evička have „date nights“ at home?
We do, right now we like to watch some interesting movies from a DVD, that we would perhaps never watch otherwise, once every two or three days. They’re all very intriguing, historic movies. We watch them not only for enjoyment, but from the professional point of view as well. "Singing in the Rain", "Casablanca." They’re all enthralling and fill us with the energy and joy of life.
And that’s your date night?
That’s our date night, even though sometimes we go out as well.
How about your students? They must be missing you.
I have been lecturing at the theatre faculty of the Academy of Arts in Bánská Bystrica for almost twenty years, it was offered to me years ago by Joža Adamovič and Božidara Turzonová. I have an excellent assistant, Ríša Sanitr, who is an actor and acting educator, who basically holds this education steering wheel. I commute there once every three weeks to spend three, four days with the students. It's very refreshing for me, the young acting generation energizes me a great deal. We’re very fond of each other, I approach them not as some bewhiskered professor, but as their future older colleague, and it pays off very much for me. When I meet Ivana Chýlková, Karel Roden, who used to be my students, it is always very pleasant and nice.
What is it like to see the achievements of your students?
It’s delightful, it’s nice. For twenty-seven years I've been teaching acting at DAMU, I started with teaching the stage movement. A great part of young acting generations passed through my hands.
Many of them receive awards; Karel Roden has established himself abroad. Do they ever thank you for something you taught them back then?
Yes, sometimes I feel that way. I remember when we were filming something for the TV, Ivana Chýlková was there, hugging me and saying "I'm so glad to see you", or Veronika Žilková saying "Professor, how are you?". I’m not into titles at all, I'm Přeučil – the actor, but a "professor" goes with that. Slovakia is really interesting to me, because Slovak acting has always fascinated me very much with its healthy expression, intense expression. That's why I enjoy it very much, it's so exciting.
The problem, the issue of our times is that every year, both in Slovakia and in the Czech Republic, one hundred and fifty new actors graduate, which is an awfully large number. Application is the key; they need to be completely prepared, ready for an acting career. It is important that they are obsessed with their profession, otherwise it is not possible for them to achieve certain goals.
Were you obsessed?
I still am. I love acting. My way to it was so difficult.
You couldn’t study right away because of your dad.
Yes, I was trained as a wood modeller in "ČKD Stalingrad." Only after that did I get to the faculty of drama. I was incredibly lucky to have great personalities such as Radovan Lukavský or Karel Höger as my professors. And it was Radovan Lukavský himself, who fostered a spirit of acting gentlemanship in us, something that I am a great believer in.
Coincidentally, so many materials and photographs have been collected over these years that your colleague René Kekely asked me whether I could draw it all together.
Together with Pavel Mészáros, a publisher from Ústí nad Labem, they are preparing a book, "Jan Přeučil's Hats", as well as a documentary put together by Artur Kaiser. Every hat should reveal a certain stage of my life.
Is this a gift to your 85th birthday that is coming next year?
Seems like it (laughs).
That’s a wonderful idea, writing down all your experiences for the next generations.
That's what I'm telling my young students. You get to enjoy life, you have incredible opportunities. They are not hitting any language barrier, everyone speaks English now, they can just take off and go anywhere. In order to succeed, they need to be prepared for the artistic tasks that will come. The psychophysical apparatus must be ready in all respects, they always have to keep working on themselves. I tell them that when you look at a violinist and admire his virtuosity, there are hours and hours of tireless work behind it. Similarly, acting work requires perfecting your instrument, hours and hours of preparation.
You said earlier how many new actors graduate each year. I often feel that together with the noble manner of speaking and gentlemanship, which are long gone, the level of acting decreases simply due to their number. Compared to the previous generation, we no longer have such great stars as we used to.
This is a huge subject, a question of a certain image, a question of charisma. Take the "bard generation" that I had the opportunity to meet at the National Theater as a budding actor: every time an actor came on stage or in front of a camera back then, they had to be a certain personality. They spoke to you without even talking, be it Dana Medřická, Vlasta Fabiánová, Květa Fialová, Zdeněk Štěpánek or many others. This is also important in the acting profession; even though it has to be in your genes, I think it can be worked on a bit as well. It has a certain significance; anything is better than drabness, indistinctness. This also applies to speech, one has to work on oneself.
Do you personally, as a friend, miss one of those "bards" that are no longer with us?
Of course, I would love to be able to talk to Radovan Lukavský from time to time. I really like working in radio, radio acting is a very interesting discipline, where you have to put everything into your voice. I met a number of excellent radio directors, whom I would like to see again, and of course a number of film directors as well. I had the honour of meeting many of them and making a number of films. I recently counted them with Evička for the upcoming book, it's three hundred films and television productions that I've made, which is, in a way, an incredible number.
Is there anything you remember from these three hundred shootings word for word to this day?
Hardly. But there are certain one-liners, stories, situations that I do remember.
Like what, for example?
This is, for example, the situation that you reminded me of today – that my colleagues dubbed me "Johnny Spray." This was invented by Jirka Bartoška once at the Na Zábradlí Theater, where I have my make-up table. He once walked by and said, "Honza, when I see your makeup table, you're actually such a Johnny Spray." Since then, it's one of the nicknames they give me. Or, in the previous regime, the communists let us travel to London with the famous production of King Ubu, where we performer at a festival. We were waiting for a boat across the English Channel, we were in the harbour, there was a lot of traffic. There was a large crane, under it was a net with boxes and suitcases being transported from one ship to another. We watched it and one of our colleagues quipped: "Look, they are loading Přeučil's make-up." These are some of the one-liners that I remember very fondly.
When this pandemic time is over, what will you do? Do you have any projects in the works?
First of all, the book and documentary I am looking forward to are being prepared. Then, of course, I'm also looking forward to acting. A year and a half ago I was approached by the Broadway Theater with their successful musical "Kvítek Mandragory" (The Mandrake Bloom). For three years now, I have been working in a very interesting theatre company Háta, where I'm in the production "Světáci" (Men About Town) based on the famous film. I play the role portrayed by Oldřich Nový in the film – the professor of etiquette, elegance, refinement, I really enjoy that one. A number of tours are already prepared as well, but we don't know when they’ll be launched.
Then, of course, Evička and I have the "Theater of Eva Hrušková and Jan Přeučil", where we play for children. When all goes well, I think the workload will be rich. Of course, I'm looking forward to the opening of schools and borders to Slovakia, because teaching acting online is very problematic, it doesn't really work. Among other things, I'm also looking forward to the opening of the pools, I'm a big swimming enthusiast.
What does your day with Evička look like, now that everything is still closed?
I do Nordic walking, I read a lot, I organize a lot of my stuff. From time to time we watch an interesting movie in the evening. We are accomplishing things we didn't even have time for before.
Mr. Přeučil, you say that this time is a raised finger for us – you experienced World War II. What do you remember from it? Could you compare the time back then and what you experienced to today, so that today's young people realize that this is really just a raised finger...
When I was a little boy, I experienced air raids, and my sister Marta and I often had to run to the basement, to the shelter, where we had to spend many hours hiding. That was very stressful. There was a lack of food, and it was rationed, you had to use ration books. There’s really no comparison to today.