‘Vikings’ Star Danila Kozlovsky on ‘Artistic Dream’ of Helming High-Octane ‘Chernobyl’

Russian heartthrob Danila Kozlovsky (“Vikings”) admits he “never wanted or thought to make a movie about Chernobyl.” But that changed the moment the actor-turned-director laid eyes on a script, written by Aleksey Kazakov and Elena Ivanova, for a big-budget action film about the aftermath of the nuclear power plant meltdown.

“When the synopsis came to me, I read one very strong scene and immediately saw how I could tell this story,” Kozlovsky says. “Just one scene influenced my decision. And it didn’t let me go anymore. With every book I read and every movie I watched, I wanted more and more to make this movie. This has already become…my artistic dream.”

Following on the heels of HBO’s Emmy-winning series, “Chernobyl” is being dubbed as the first major Russian feature film to depict the fallout of the explosion that rocked the nation and sent shockwaves across the globe. Directed by and starring Kozlovsky, the film is produced by Academy Award nominees Alexander Rodnyansky and Sergey Melkumov (“Leviathan,” “Loveless”), Kozlovsky (“The Coach”), Vadim Vereshchagin (“Billion,” “Text,” “Son of a Rich”), and Rafael Minasbekyan (“Furious,” “Frontier”). Central Partnership is handling world sales.

“Chernobyl” follows Alexey, a fireman at the power station who must join forces with an engineer and military diver on a perilous mission to drain water from a reservoir beneath the burning reactor. As water in the flooded corridors reaches the boiling point, and the molten reactor core gets closer to meltdown, the trio are prepared to sacrifice their own lives in order to prevent an even greater catastrophe.

The film was acquired last summer by Capelight Pictures, which is partnering with MPI Media Group on the U.S. release. Pic has also sold to other territories including South Korea, Latin America, Japan, Israel, Spain, the Baltics, and German-speaking territories, while Central Partnership will look to close more deals during the European Film Market. Originally slated for a 2020 release, “Chernobyl” will launch in Russian theaters this April.

“It’s a huge production,” says Central Partnership’s Vadim Vereshchagin, who notes that the film’s $10 million budget—a considerable sum for a Russian feature—got an assist from the Russian Cinema Fund and Kinoprime, the $100 million film fund launched in 2019 by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, he says, was recreating the sights, sounds, and aesthetics of the era, nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. “That was a different country,” he says. “To bring that back to life was a huge success.”

Rodnyansky, who as a young documentary filmmaker followed the work of emergency crews grappling with the catastrophe’s aftermath, says “Chernobyl” “shows a different side of the story already known to the global audience from the HBO series.”

“Our ‘Chernobyl’ is at heart a story of love and sacrifice set against the largest nuclear disaster in history,” he says. “It is a very powerful yet tender story, which for me is especially important.”

Kozlovsky, who was just a few months old when disaster struck the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 35 years ago, grew up with the “myths, legends, and very superficial [stories]” that surrounded the meltdown, seeing this film as an opportunity for Russians to confront a “difficult, painfully contradictory” chapter in their past. “This is the part of our history that is in each of us,” he says, adding that the story “cannot be ignored.”

The multi-hyphenate nevertheless expects “Chernobyl” to strike a powerful chord with global audiences. “This film is about sacrifice, about a choice, about those universal questions that are relevant to audiences on any continent, regardless of nationality or religion,” adds Kozlovsky. “I hope we managed to create a film that will deeply touch the audience’s emotions. And at the end of the day, that’s what cinema is for.”

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