Kyiv theatergoers know this young actress from a series of sparkling performances at the Theater of Drama and Comedy on the Left Bank. Ukrainian television viewers know her Olesia, a girl in the televised fairy tale, “The Witch’s Seventh Ring,” the 1+1 comedy series “Music Quartet,” and numerous commercials (the most popular one is about Maggie bullion). But there is also China with its more than a billion people, where every second viewer knows the name of Lesia Samayeva from the TV series How the Steel was Tempered [based on Nikolai Ostrovsky’s Stalinist novel about a heroic young Communist; the English version is titled The Making of a Hero ] made by a Chinese film crew at the Dovzhenko Studios in Kyiv two years ago. Lesia’s Tonia Tumanova in the Chinese version is one of the leading characters, as the main emphasis is on the idea that no class differences must be an obstacle for love. Just before the series started being broadcast throughout China, the principal cast visited that country and had a first-hand experience in nationwide publicity.
“We appeared in the street only under police escort, otherwise we would be tramped to death by crowds shouting for autographs,” recalls Ms. Samayeva. “When we landed in Beijing the series was still to begin, yet everybody seemed to recognize us owing to a huge promotional campaign. Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel was on every newsstand with a print run in the millions. We gave autographs at the largest bookstore of Shenzhen. Under protocol, the whole affair lasted from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., but we couldn’t sign all the books thrust at us even we stayed the whole night. On the evening news we were told that a middle-aged man complained that he had stood in line since five in the morning and hadn’t been able to get inside the bookstore before two o’clock.”
The Day: Looks like the film was more popular than our Seventeen Moments of Spring...
L. S.: You see, Nikolai Ostrovsky’s novel is at the very top of the best-selling list in China and his Pavel Korchagin, the main hero, is the most popular figure. They are familiar with previous screen versions by Aleksandr Alov, Vladimir Naumov, and Mykola Mashchenko. They know and love every single actor and actress in every film, so we must’ve reaped a full harvest of popularity. And they are head over heels in love with Tonia Tumanova. For people over forty she is a symbol of purity, youth, and first love, so she is a lead character in the Chinese version. In fact, she is present throughout the story.
The Chinese production is not propaganda or soap opera, it’s a psychological drama, a story about two young people falling in love and losing one another, separated by circumstances: war, revolution, and their own mistakes. Everything is the way it happens in real life. In the finale they meet again never to part.
The Day: Life itself is a great script writer. Do you think the Chinese appreciate the fact that you and actor Andriy Saminin, who played Pavel Korchagin, eventually got married?
L. S.: In fact, they believe everything happened because of the series. Of course, they are happy to see the romance between Pavel and Tonia onscreen have a sequel in real life.
The Day: Andriy and you studied together...
L. S.: Yes, but in different departments, and ours was just a nodding acquaintance. After graduation we didn’t see each other for several years. As soon as he graduated from the Theater Department, Andriy enrolled in film direction. Afterward, he realized that he wasn’t likely to impress anyone as a film director, and he didn’t want to, so he returned to acting, and we met at the theater.
The Day: And then you got to know each other better?
L. S.: Actually, it all started when the shooting of the Steel did. We were ashamed to show it, and we couldn’t even kiss properly in front of the camera, although we had to more than once according to the script. Much later we realized that we just couldn’t live without each other. But we were in no hurry, because we both had some experience in life with mistakes and disillusionment.
The Day: Could the film have programmed you, pushed you into each other’s arms?
L. S.: Oh, no, never. It wasn’t my first movie part, and I had played in the theater. You can always fall in love if there is an emptiness in your heart you must fill. And you can keep falling in and out of love all your life. And so I always drew a firm line between work and private life. I know for sure that our relationship was no sequel to the romance on the screen. It’s just that people working together get to know each other so much better; they learn to understand each other. Working on that project, we saw each other in different situations and studied and learned about each other. We try not to burden each other with family chores. Andriy is an actor, so he can understand me. When I’m busy, he takes over household, and vice versa.
The Day: Now you have “The Music Quartet” in addition to the theater. What do you think of the series? Is it just another job to augment the family budget? Or what?
L. S.: Honestly, I used to treat this genre cautiously, but I enjoy working with colleagues at the studio so much, I have gradually changed my attitude. Watching it onscreen is fun, but doing it is even more fun!
By the way, Oliynyk, my teacher (God rest his soul!), told me time and again that comedy parts were perfect for me. In my senior year, I played a 70- year-old hag, a wino, with a very big and dirty mouth. At the Drama and Comedy Theater I’m mostly a romantic heroine, but I prefer character and comedy roles.
The Day: What about those music clips with the rock groups Else’s Ocean and Skriabin? Do you also do it just for fun?
L. S.: Too bad I never met rock star Vyacheslav Vakarchuk. They made a separate clip, but I met real bikers. When the bike shot forward the speed made me grab hold, and tears started rolling down my cheeks. Well, they seemed to appreciate my courage and, as a sign of special confidence, they gave the addresses of several hangouts. You know, real bikers do not admit women and girls to their circle.
I played a mechanic in the March 8 clip with Skriabin, also produced by Semen Horov. They boys were singing “Yas’ Mowed the Clover” from the Pesniary (a popular group from Belarus’) repertory. Later, one of the musicians told me that his mother watched the concert from beginning to end and could recognize him. She thought they’d edited him out. And the boys were just made up as the Pesniary so well. Such contacts give one fresh impressions and new friends.
The Day: Apparently, you have no second thoughts about your profession. How did you become an actress, coming from a journalistic family?
L. S.: It’s my brother; he’s older than me and helped me gain self-confidence. I meant to enroll in the university’s Philology Department, but I’d always loved the theater and cinema, I thought actors and actresses were out of this world, chosen by God. Yevhen, my brother, went to a drama studio while still at school and then entered the stage direction department of the Theatrical University. I was captivated by his enthusiasm. Besides, he had many friends in the Theater Department. I saw that they were perfectly normal guys, no different from my friends, so I decided to give it a try. I passed the entrance exams the very first time.
The Day: Your brother, Yevhen Kurman, is a young stage director and he has already made a name for himself in Ukraine. Did you play in any of his productions?
L. S.: Frankly, we’ve just never got around to it. I love my brother, we’re real friends, despite the difference in age (he’s eight years older). From his colleagues I know that he is quite popular with the cast, because he never bosses them around, but helps them reveal themselves. If it comes to acting in one of his plays, I think I’ll make it.