If He Hadn’t Become an Actor, He Would Have Been a Jazz Pianist

You come from a mixed Czech-Slovak family, your parents were devoted to amateur theatre, and your grandfather Jozef Hollý was a notable Slovak dramatist. Did this family background of yours influence the direction your life has taken?

My grandpa Jozef Hollý and grandma Anna Hollá had three children: Martin, Elena and Božena, who inherited certain artistic abilities from them. My uncle Martin was in my opinion an excellent actor and director, my aunt Elena was a distinguished artist and my mother could have had a brilliant acting career if she hadn’t trekked to Moravia, “the other side of the mountain”, to marry my father, who also possessed great talent as a performer. These dear forebears of mine provided us children with “artistic" abilities, and we have done the best we could to properly take advantage of these gifts.

What does it mean to you to win the Actor’s Mission Award here in Slovakia? Does it make you feel a bit like a Slovak?

This is an award that I deeply appreciate. I’m surprised and truly delighted that my work has been noticed here in Slovakia, because I hope I haven’t disappointed Mr Andrej Bagar, who recommended me as rector of Bratislava’s Academy of Performing Arts in 1959. Despite the repeated refusal of the political bigwigs in Uherské Hradiště who wanted to prevent me from studying, Mr Bagar took “responsibility as rector” and accepted me to the Academy. Thanks to this humane and for the time very brave deed of his, I actually became an actor.

Over the course of your lifelong acting career, you’ve taken the roles of numerous lovely theatrical characters. In 1961 you gave cinema a try in Věra Chytilová’s student film Strop (Ceiling). Did you view these first encounters with film differently?

In my third year at the Theatre Faculty of Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, I ended up in front of the camera for the first time in a few shots of Věra Chytilová’s film. The first time I saw myself onscreen, I realized the difference between the possibilities of film acting and stage acting.

The impact of your cinematic performance can be seen in several extraordinary debuts of the Czecho-Slovak New Wave, such as Jaromil Jireš’s Křik (The Cry), Evald Schorm’s Každý den odvahu (Courage for Every Day), and Dušan Hanák’s 322. How did you perceive that period at the time?

Jaromil Jireš offered me a part in Křik and filled the rest of the cast with non-actors. After my first meetings with them, I realized that I would have to try my best to “not act”, as they did, because my histrionics weren’t comparable with their authenticity. It was quite a feat to match the “truthfulness” of their approach. That was probably how I became more familiar with the authenticity of the New Wave, and I was subsequently given gracious offers by Evald Schorm and Dušan Hanák.

Audiences most often recognize you from the cult film Vrchní, prchni! (Scram, Waiter!), directed by the recently deceased Ladislav Smoljak. Do you ever think back to your collaboration with him?

To receive an offer from Mr Smoljak, Mr Svěrák, as well as cinematographer Ivan Šlapeta was something I took as a deep compliment. Of course I was glad to join in on their brilliant “non-acting”, and I had the honour to be a part of their incomparable humour.

Your admirers’ favourite protagonists have been Dalibor Vrána from the aforementioned Vrchní, prchni! and Doctor Blažej from the serial “Hospital on the Edge of Town”. Which of your characters do you hold dearest, and have you ever played a completely evil role? Because while Vrána is a villain, he also has a likeable side…

Theatre, television, film, radio, dubbing and even TV bedtime stories – I’ve experienced a wide variety of acting possibilities. Some roles were better than others, but it was still work. And then there were a few roles which I truly cherish. Even so, these are just my personal impressions, basically immeasurable.

You’ve long been married to actress Libuše Šafránková. What is it like to be married to an actress?

Our marriage has never played any role in our collaboration as actors. We always respect each other as performers. Liba has always been above all a surprising and entertaining colleague of mine. As well as my wife. And it’s always been extraordinary.

If you hadn’t become an actor, what kind of award might you be accepting today?

I would greatly appreciate, for example, an award entitled Jazz Piano Improvisation.

    Nina Šilanová