Alexander Nevsky is a huge star in his native Russia for his bodybuilding and acting, and is on his way to becoming an action star in the United States with films like MOSCOW HEAT (2004), TREASURE RAIDERS (2007) and his current release, BLACK ROSE, an action thriller in which he plays a Russian Police Major enlisted by the LAPD to stop a serial killer preying on women. I spoke to Nevsky about how he became a star, the influence Arnold Schwarzenegger has had on him, making BLACK ROSE, working with Walter Hill on UNDISPUTED (2002) and Sofia Coppola on SOMEWHERE (2010), and about his forthcoming projects.

Growing up, what were some of the action movies that you loved the most? 
When I was growing up in the USSR, it was perestroika, and Hollywood movies were not shown in the country. They only showed us the classic Soviet movies, stuff like Eisenstein, which I actually liked. When things changed, I started boxing because of the ROCKY franchise, and I started bodybuilding because of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I fell in love with classic action genre movies from the 70s to the 90s.
After watching your new film BLACK ROSE, I was wondering if you were influenced by the films of Walter Hill, who of course also worked with Arnold on RED HEAT (1988). 
The film is my tribute to directors like Walter Hill and stars like Arnold, whose films made me what I am. With BLACK ROSE, I wanted to mix genres, which can be a dangerous thing to do. I wanted it to have action, to be a mystery thriller, to have horror elements, and some fish out of water humor. It was my first film as a director, and I am proud of what we achieved. I think one of the reasons the film works is that I surrounded myself with some great people on the movie – Adrian Paul from the Highlander TV series, and two actors who worked with Arnold, Robert Davi (RAW DEAL) and Kristanna Loken (TERMINATOR 3 – RISE OF THE MACHINES). One of the executive producers was Sheldon Lettich, who has made many films with Van Damme. The film already opened in Russia and Europe a few years ago and did very well. I directed it, produced it, and acted in it, and it was a tough film to make. But it was a dream come true and an absolute joy. 

Like Arnold you also began your career as a bodybuilder, before making the move into films. Have you modelled your career on Arnold's? 
In 1993, we had the first TV documentaries in Russia on bodybuilding, and I was featured in one of them. I was a skinny kid who got big through bodybuilding. I also boxed, and I had gotten an education, so I could talk well. I woke up the next morning and I had become a big star. I absolutely studied the way Arnold had done things. He used his fame to make further steps in his career, and also to inspire other people. I created my own TV show in Russia about bodybuilding and martial arts. It played on the State Channel 1, and over 30 million people watched it every week. My message was ''If I can do it, you can do it too. '' 

How did you make the transition to starring in Hollywood films? 
I wanted to start making movies, but there was a big problem. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the government stopped supporting movies. Before then, there was a huge film industry. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1999, the total box office for Russia was 2 million dollars. Last year it was 2 billion dollars! I joined the Hollywood Press Association and started to represent Russia. I produced my first film in 2003, which was called MOSCOW HEAT and we shot it in Russia. Michael York co-starred. After that I produced a film called TREASURE RAIDERS, which had David Carradine in the cast.

All of my films are old-fashioned style action movies, and it's important to me that I always play the good guy. When I came to L.A., I started to get offers pretty fast but all I got offered were bad guy roles, which is what every Russian actor always gets offered. I couldn't do them because I didn't want to betray my ideals. The most painful role I had to turn down was playing a bad guy in the Van Damme film THE ORDER (2001), because I was a big fan of Van Damme. Actually, that film was directed by Sheldon Lettich, who was one of the producers on BLACK ROSE. 

You actually worked with Walter Hill on his film UNDISPUTED. How was the experience? 
That was my first film. I was really there to do stunts, but Walter put me in the film and you can see me. It was a great experience. I didn't speak much English at that time. I remember I wanted to take my shirt off in a fight scene with Michael Rooker so I could show off my muscles, but a stunt guy came up to me and said ''Nobody will be able to see your muscles onscreen, but if you keep your shirt on, they'll have to shoot you for a whole week to make sure the scene has continuity. '' I met Walter again later at the Producer's Guild when I started producing films, and he remembered me, and was happy for my success. I'm also happy for him. I thought BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012) and THE ASSIGNMENT (2016) were terrific. It was a dream come true to work with him. 

How was working with Sofia Coppola on SOMEWHERE, where you played a Russian journalist? 
I worked on the movie for several days and shot a few scenes, but only one scene ended up in the movie. I asked Sofia for more scenes but she said ''Don't worry. Benicio Del Toro is only in the movie for ten seconds!'' Sofia's father, Francis Ford Coppola, produced the picture and was on set all the time, and I had the chance to talk to him. Sofia is a genius as a director, but I also thought she did a great job acting in THE GODFATHER, PART III (1990). I asked her if she would ever act again and she said ''No, I just want to direct now. '' 

You also have some other films coming out – SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, MAXIMUM IMPACT and HERCULES. Can you talk about those? 
SHOWDOWN IN MANILA is being released in October. It's kind of like an EXPENDABLES with actors who haven't been in an EXPENDABLES movie yet! It's directed by Mark Dacascos, who's also in it, and it's really fun. Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa makes a perfect bad guy. MAXIMUM IMPACT is an action comedy directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and written by Ross LaManna, who wrote the first RUSH HOUR movie. It's about the FSB and the CIA working together to face international terrorists. It's my first comedy, and we have a great cast – Tom Arnold, Kelly Hu, Danny Trejo, Mark Dacascos and William Baldwin. We are hoping to start shooting HERCULES very soon.

BLACK ROSE is showing in US theaters from April 28th, and on VOD and DVD from May 2nd. 

The trailer

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

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