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The Tourist

Steven Berkoff: The day I ran a knife over Angelina Jolie's lips

by Steven Berkoff
Sunday Express, UK
December 12, 2010

Actor, writer and director Steven Berkoff stars with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in The Tourist, and wrote a diary of his experiences working with two of the world’s biggest stars

March 19

Am appearing in my production of On the Waterfront in Hong Kong; has been very well received. Got an interesting call this morning from a director with the fabulous name of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

He wants me to be in his film the tourist. It is very last minute but a reasonable role. I am to play a cultivated, dynamic, unpredictable Russian gangster called Ivan Demidov.

The film also stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Florian wants me on the first available flight to Venice. The downside is I don’t get to go home first.

My publisher has called to say they have signed off final proof of my book, Diary of a Juvenile Delinquent (fingers crossed).

March (in transit)

Final night of On the Waterfront and I run off stage, throw down my costume then throw myself into the back of the limo. Met by streams of people who guide me through the airport. I do not stand in a single queue. Ropes open and close behind me. I am swept up, almost gathered and placed in club class to Rome. Arrive in Rome. Bypass customs. Internal flight. Deposited in Venice and led to a waiting limousine. When they want you they want you.

March 23

Florian is amazingly tall, he must be 6ft 7in, and seems to speak every language on earth. The crew are a multicultural mix of Italians, Russians, Germans, Americans and me. Have a good friendly discussion about my part. Unlike most directors he seems keen to hear how I’d like to play the role.

He is willing to make changes to the script to make the character a bit more interesting. The most the bad guy normally says is “Where’s the money?” or “Get the girl!” I wanted to give Demidov some more idiosyncrasies.

Have seen no one else from the cast.

Ms Jolie is with her family in a house nearby and there’s no mention of Mr. Depp.

March 24

Publisher wakes me. My book has gone to print. My personal struggle as a young man trying to find his way in broken post-war Britain is about to become public knowledge. My publisher is v. excited. Says it will convey a message to directionless young people. Have dedicated it to my mother.

March 25

At 6pm I am togged up in my costume and taken to the set, a luxurious room in a palazzo. I have sensibly learnt my first scene and Florian is very sympathetic and gives me a lot of latitude. I wait. Angelina walks on to the set and we are introduced. She is much smaller than I imagined. Very beautiful with flawless porcelain skin. She is very charming and quite friendly. I say I’m honoured to meet her (I am) and then we block the scene.

In it, Angelina’s character Elise is my captive. She and her boyfriend have stolen a chunk of my personal wealth. I am angry, but calm. The scene becomes more intense when Angelina doesn’t respond. To demonstrate I am irrational, I start to wreck the room and then I slap her face.

March 26

One has to be very careful when delivering lines while agitated, as the last thing you want to do is accidentally spit on a star. If this should happen, the director will advise you to be more careful. Or the star’s minders will throw you out of the window. In the scene I was required to draw the blade of a knife across Angelina’s lips. She didn’t raise a single objection or make any fuss, which was surprising as her lips are quite exceptional and quite possibly insured. We had to do that scene eight times. My hands were steady throughout and she did not flinch. Between takes there was no small talk. Angelina’s acolytes came out from the floorboards to do her hair, make-up, straighten her hem, give her a cappuccino. Then the director would talk to her.

N.B.: An observation. A major star does not talk to you about your work. You talk to them about their work. A major star is not an individual. They are an organisation that consists of publicists, managers, hair and make-up; an entire staff that they have to support and this must be carried out with the upmost professionalism. They are divinities and to retain that sense of being an immortal they must be honoured, respected and worshipped. There is no irony. As a co-star you are merely there to support the structure. You do not exist. You are there just to do a job.

The $100million budget of this film rests largely on Angelina’s shoulders but one has to be careful not to be intimidated or overawed as one is also a human being.

March 27

Johnny is not like a major star. Of course he is one but I had never met him and know him only on screen. When you see someone like that suddenly and you are not just seeing them, you are working with them, one does not know what to expect as most stars exist in a bubble.

Johnny Depp steps out of the bubble. He arrived, unannounced and came over at once. I told him I was honoured to be working with him and he said: “No, I am honoured to be working with you. I have such respect for your work.” It was so unexpected. So real.

Performing the scene was effortless for him. It’s like he isn’t acting he is so relaxed. He doesn’t have any schtick or manner. He just comes in as himself. He is playful and funny. What a joy.

March 28

Johnny’s brother Daniel came on the set. He is a novelist. He was very excited to meet me because he had seen my production of Metamorphosis in New York. I was very flattered. The three of us chatted and I asked Johnny if he had thought about doing theatre. He said he wasn’t sure he had the nerve to do it after so many years on screen. I suggested a couple of plays for him to read.

I have not seen anything of Angelina off set. Her children are all here and I saw them in a playground. She is accompanied by a small entourage as befitting a star of her status, including five nannies for her menagerie of kids. Brad is here too, but doesn’t come to the set. He is with the kids and exploring Venice. If he were to come I’m sure the attention would be on him, so perhaps wisely he clears the field for his wife.

March 29

There are a lot of night shoots and most evenings I am taken across the river where I wait for them to call me. I think it was Michael Caine who said when you make a movie you are paid to wait, the filming you do for nothing.

I have been writing though, a series of short stories about the life of an unemployed actor.

When Angie and Johnny are on the set together the chemistry between them is tangible. They are absolutely electric together and you feel as though you shouldn’t be there with them. I have never seen a woman look at a man the way she looked at him. Angie seems to be like that with all men when she acts. The charge was on two when she performed with me and let’s not forget I was the enemy. With Johnny that charge went up to 10.

March 30

Johnny tells me he has jet lag too as he had flown in from Tokyo. I assume he came by private jet; his own as it turns out. Today I end up on that plane for one of my scenes. As a supporting actor you are of no interest whatsoever and as long as you don’t trip over the furniture you don’t exist. You do not try to be friendly with the star. Johnny ignores the rules and is playful. He tells me he is worried that he has been away from his wife Vanessa and his kids for too long. He says he is keen to return home. He has asked his manager to get the plays I recommended. I tell him that he should think about playing Jean in Strindberg’s Miss Julie. I think that if Angelina would agree to play Miss Julie on stage, together they would create vibrations round the earth.

The stars don’t come to the wrap party which was low-key. Florian has given me a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon and written a charming thank-you note.

March 31

I return home after two months away. My publisher has called to say my book is on the mat.

-- donated by emma

-- photos added by Zone editors