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Interview with Jan Hrušínský about acting, politics and joy with grandchildren

Fast confession - Jan Hrušínský: Some people are rushing back into the cage

David Budai
26.Aug 2020
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10 minutes

He celebrated his 65th birthday in June this year, but he is not afraid of aging. Theater gives him strength and helps him deal with everything better. The actor Jan Hrušínský talks about this and more in an interview for He remembers the difficult period when, due to the coronavirus, he had to close all theaters very suddenly, films in which he could not star under communism, and his father Rudolf. An incredible 100 years have passed since his birth in October this year, so he decided to put together a unique book with many unpublished photographs of his life. We are very much looking forward to it!

You could not perform due to the quarantine. How did it feel?

I've been at the theater for 45 years and I've never experienced anything like it. Of course, as a private theater operator, I reckon that things can happen, floods can come or some fires can break out, and people are not in the mood to go to the theater at such a time. But that means I'm ready for a slight drop in attendance. But here the government really turned off the economy so that we were suddenly at zero. And no one in the world can be prepared for that. This is an unprecedented case and I hope it will not happen again.

How does it feel to be able to perform again?

We're starting cautiously. We had a very good season, we had two successful premieres - Gin Game with Jiřina Bohdalová and Milan Kňažko and then the game Perfect Strangers by Paolo Genovese, who also attended the premiere. That was March 5th, then we were supposed to perform the first rerun on March 10th, and then the order came that we wouldn't play.

That's why I reacted louder than usual, because it really surprised me and I felt bad. Until then, the government did not even suggest that it was something this serious, but rather tended to downplay the coronavirus. Even the health minister said that nothing serious was going on and that the country was ready for anything.

At that time you wrote that it was a targeted takedown of Theater Na Jezerce. Do you regret the statement?

I'm not sorry because I was really angry. Then I apologized for the words. But I didn't say the word "targeted." I only used the word takedown. I should have spoken a day later, and nothing would have happened, because all the theater directors were talking about the theater takedown. But they talked about it a little later than I did.

Why don't theaters put on plays in the summer?

We have a tradition of summer theater holidays, people leave towns, there are school holidays and only in exceptional cases there are plays for tourists or on summer stages in the open air.

In one interview, you stated that your daughter Kristýna gave birth according to the "acting calendar", aka during summer.

We probably have this in our blood, because my dad was born half an hour after the end of the show that my grandmother starred in. He performed on stage with her and was born after the performance. So my grandmother was also a disciplined actress and "waited" in an orderly manner until the end of the performance. Kristýna was the same, our grandson Vojta was born on July 27th. And by the end of September, she was already acting again.

Can you think of any other similar rules that an actor "must" follow?

There is no prescribed list of things that one must follow, we have it in our blood. You know that you have to get to the theater on time, you can't miss your performance on stage, you absolutely have to know the lines well… There are thousands of those things and you don't even think about them.

When an actor starts thinking about them, it's usually wrong. Dad had this thing he likened it to, he'd talk about a centipede that is moving very slowly, and someone asks it, "How do you do that? You have a hundred feet! How come they don't get tangled up? ”And it says,“ Well, you have to lift this leg first, then that… ”And suddenly it starts thinking about it, and hasn't taken a step since. (smile)

Have you ever forgotten about your performance?

No, that hasn't happened to me in 45 years, I haven't missed a show. I have to knock on wood. But I experienced a couple of performances that a colleague did not attend.

How is it handled then?

It is very unpleasant. Sometimes the show has to be canceled and the audience sent home because it isn't possible to perform. And when it's a smaller role, you can get a substitute or skip it, and viewers often don't even notice. But it happens very rarely, the actors are mostly responsible people.

You mentioned your dad. This fall it will be 100 years since his birth, how are you dealing with it?

I can't believe he'd have been 100 years old this year and it's been so long since he died. He left us in 1994.

Now I spend a lot of time with him, because with the theater's producer Nikola Hrklová and the graphic artist Jan Balcar, we are putting together a book about him. We are looking for various permits and copyrights for more photos. There will be a number of photos that have never been published before, a total of about 800 photos. The book will be called "100 Whimsical Years of Rudolf Hrušínský" and should be published at the beginning of October, because October 17 will be the anniversary.

Are you feeling nostalgic?

When going through photos, yes, there is a memory attached to each photo. And it's really quite nice.

Did a memory appear during the process that was very "buried"?

For example, I found a poster from the performance of the Mrštík brothers, Maryša, which my father performed in as a twenty-five-year-old boy in 1945 with amateurs in Planá nad Lužnicí. They came there with their grandfather and Josef Kemr for the holidays, and the locals invited them to play with them. He met my mother that day. He met her in the afternoon after a rehearsal at the swimming pool, which was called "Sokolky". He invited a dark-haired seventeen-year-old girl to a performance. And that was my mom.

So I have a beautifully documented date of their first meeting. The next day they played again and also went on a date to a nearby quarry. It sounds like a cheap romance novel, but it's a place they bought ten years later, my dad built a cottage there and I had a beautiful childhood there.

Which of your dad's qualities can you recall first?

His punctuality, reliability and the calmness that he was able to create on stage. He was not completely calm in life, sometimes he was very nervous. Until the last moment before the performance, he had a certain nervousness, he was a passionate smoker, he smoked about 80 cigarettes a day, and I know that before he went on stage, he had been putting out a cigarette for a long time to concentrate. And then he entered the stage and there was no sign of nervousness. His calm on stage was disarming and captivated the eyes of the audience.

Luxusní kancelář Staré město - Praha 1 - 118m
Luxusní kancelář Staré město - Praha 1 - 118m, Praha 1

In the end, he "dabbled" a bit in politics, he was a member of the Federal Assembly. How did he view it?

It felt like it was too late for him, he didn't even believe he would live to see freedom. He spent most of his life in totalitarianism, in the year '86 he would have entered politics more actively, because at that time he was very involved in the events of the Prague Spring. And he was harshly reprimanded for it, he then had a long-term ban on filming, he was not allowed on television and radio. It had a negative effect on his health.

And because he held natural authority among the people and was one of the popular actors, he was then asked to run for the Civic Forum in the first free elections. He was persuaded, but only to help do the right thing, so he asked to be in the back in the unelectable spot. But with preferential votes, which he got 180,000 of, he got to second place and then had to keep going to the Federal Assembly for two years.

I think it was the worst years of his life, he didn't like it. (laughs) There was a lot of stupidity and bad blood, it wasn't his thing. But he was one of the more honest deputies, so when he ran off to the theater for a bit, he used unpaid leave. Many of today's politicians should follow suit.

Have you thought about trying politics yourself?

I got several offers to run for the Senate or the municipal council, and I always refused because I was involved in theater. This is probably one of the things I inherited from my dad, you have to do one thing and give it your best.

We have a number of examples of politicians who continue to do business and run into a total conflict of interest. After all, with the current prime minister, it is shamefully obvious, but it has also been the case with ordinary deputies and senators in the past. There is always something dishonest about it. Ex-senator Tomáš Töpfer publicly said that two hours was enough for the Senate. If you go into politics, you have to do it one hundred percent. It is not possible to sit on more than one chair at a time.

Are you upset or rather disappointed in Czech politics?

I'm disappointed in it. And tired. I am surprised by how much dishonesty, egoism and selfishness has emerged among the top politicians. Right and left both. People have begun to lose confidence in democracy, but I firmly hope that they will not give up the fight for freedom and democracy. It's worth it!

I lived in totalitarianism for 37 years and I would never want to experience it again. It's like telling an animal that it can know freedom for a few years, but then return to the cage. This is absurd and I don't understand that some people are in a hurry back to the cage.

It must have been crazy that in the previous regime, anyone could be ousted from an acting career in a day just because of politics.

That's what happened to my father. They even forced me to change my name and renounce my father. Many people were convicted or murdered. It was terrible. In my opinion, it was a mistake that the Communist Party was not banned in the 1990s and that STB agents were not banned from any business or political activity.

Pronájem bytu Praha 1 - Nové Město - 112m
Pronájem bytu Praha 1 - Nové Město - 112m, Praha 1

You have been retired for two years. Have you applied for a retirement pension?

I applied, but I work the same I did all my life. I don't think it's a change.

Are you rejuvenated by the theater?

No, unfortunately not. But it is known that toothache or high fever disappears when the actor is on stage. However, he returns with greater intensity after the performance.

Are you worried about aging?

I'm not.

How do you fight it?

I'm not fighting, I'm glad I'm alive. Five years ago I touched death, I was in danger of death. After gallbladder surgery, the artery leading to my heart burst, I got bilateral pneumonia and I was in a medically induced coma. I spent about three months in the ICU. So I value life more today.

You and your wife Miluša are approaching 40 years of marriage. What is your recipe for long-lasting relationships?

In September, we will celebrate 36 years together. My parents have been together for 49 years, so I don't see anything special about that.

In one interview, she said that you have always been so dominant in your relationship. Has that changed with age?

I think we're both calmer than we used to be. (laughter)

When you need to relax, what do you like to do together?

We like to travel, our son lives in Australia and the youngest daughter in America, we also have grandchildren there, so we are always looking forward to seeing them. Plus, it's fantastic that you can stay connected, see each other and chat via Facetime or Skype at any time. I even feel that we see the children from Australia and America more often than Kristýna, who lives upstairs. (laughter)

Your grandmother died in Auschwitz. Have you ever looked more into her fate?

You know I did. Mom didn't talk much about it, because she wanted to protect us from the sheer evil. But we were in Israel at the Yad Vashem Museum and we found Grandma there. It was documented there which transport she took to Auschwitz, and before that to Terezín. We even found a photo of her there.

The cruelty lay also in that she was not allowed to live with her daughters for two years before she was transported. She had to board the transport two days before Christmas. So the cruelty of it was multiplied.

Aren't you afraid the horrors will be forgotten?

It is already being forgotten, you can see it, for example, that our President stands on stage with extremists, the creators of the list of Czech Jews are invited to the Castle. Václav Klaus travels to Germany to publicly support the neo-Nazis. Anti-Semitism has a green light here and it is strange what people are playing around with, even though they must to know what it has caused in the recent past. I thought that intelligent people could never do such a thing again after the experience of the 20th century.

What makes you the most happy?

My grandchildren, whether the ones we talk to through Facetime, or Vojta, who is here in Prague and is already starting to go to theaters. He's fun to be around, my birthday was in June, he came, he knocked on the door, he had such a big hat on his head, and I say, "You have a beautiful hat, Vojta." And he said, "No, I'm just being funny! The hat is a gift for you. "

Are you a spoiling grandfather?

Adequately. (smile)

How do you remember your roles in movies in the 70's or 80's?

I rather remember movies I couldn't make without having done anything back then. But because the Communists decided at the time that the name Hrušínský should not appear in the headlines, I lost a number of roles. For example, Václav Vorlíček offered me a role in the fairy tale "Tři oříšky pro Popelku". The next morning he called me and said that unfortunately it was not possible. And a few years later, when he gave me the role of Prince Jaroslav in the fairy tale "Jak se budí princezny", he told me: "Here's a prince for the one you lost in Tři oříšky pro Popelku." (Laughs) The films I wasn't allowed to be in then, there were about five or six.

Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov
Luxusní byt na pronájem - Praha 1 - Josefov, Praha 1

I remember you as an evil lawyer in the "Místo v životě" series. How is the role of a villain played and where does one get the inspiration for it?

Each actor will tell you that negative roles are easier to do. But I think you can talk about real acting only after the age of fifty. Until then, if you have the talent, the prerequisites and a certain diligence, you will act the best you can at that moment. But only life experience and certain pains and losses that accumulate in a person are the material from which an actor can "take" to make their work true. Truth is the pinnacle of acting - as is life.

What can we look forward to at your theater in the fall?

I would like to remind you of the play Perfect Strangers, which we will start performing again in September. We also performed Gin Game only for a month, which is a great new thing with Jiřina Bohdalová and Milan Kňažek, who are giving their life's best performances.

And we are also preparing two premieres. First, a new Czech play about Karel Čapek, written for our theater by Petr Vacek, it is called From the Life of Čapek. And at the beginning of October we will start rehearsing the play "Mašíni". The main parts will be performed by Milan Šteindler and Jan Slovák, and the basic idea is a conversation between the director of the theater and the play's director and author, who wants to present a play about the Mašín brothers. They begin to replay certain situations themselves and thus return to the past. It all culminates in a completely surprising and unexpected end to the play. I think the audience has something to look forward to.

This is a controversial topic, half of the nation condemns the Mašín brothers, the other half considers them heroes who fought against the totalitarian regime. We don't want to tell people what to think. We want to give them the opportunity to decide for themselves what they will lean towards. Whether that be the truth, or lies.

Thank you so much for the interview.

Fast confession:

How do you keep fit?


What brings you joy in these difficult times?

It sounds weird, but work in the theater.

What is each actor's nightmare?

For the actors missing their performance, for the principal that the audience will not come.

How many times have you performed with a high fever?

Countless times, many times.

Have you ever had the urge to close the theater and retire?

More times than I've performed with fever.

What appeals to you the most about theater?

Immediate contact with the audience and the joy that the audience likes the performance.

A role you like to remember?

Tuzenbach in Three Sisters, at the Drama Studio in Ústí nad Labem, Leoš Suchařípa, Miluška Šplechtová, Marie Spurná and many other friends.

The motto that takes you through life?

Good people walk with a balanced step, others dance period dances around them.

Food that you cannot get enough of?


What are your bad habits?

How much time do we have? (laughs) I guess I spend a lot of time in the theater.

Where do you escape when you need to rest?

To a cottage in southern Bohemia and to nature.

What was your last argument with your wife about?

You know I don't even remember? We seldom argue at all.

What do you like the most about her?

Her femininity.

Where do you want to go on holiday this summer?

I will alternate my stay between South Bohemia and the theater.
Question by the interviewee to the editor:

How are you?

It's better now that the situation has calmed down a bit. Thanks for the interview.
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