"I would love to play the role of a football coach"

An interview with Russian actor and Saransk Ambassador for the 2018 World Cup Stanislav Duzhnikov
10 February
Russian film and theatre actor, Saransk Ambassador for the 2018 World Cup Stanislav Duzhnikov shared his memories of his native city, revealed the impact Kirk Douglas had on his life and explained why is it important to listen to Mordovian women sing in Spring.

Kids from the block

I was always a rather large young man. Sometimes my schoolmates and I played football and I either played defense or was stationed as goalkeeper. Of course, I wanted to be a striker, but I never was never allowed the opportunity.

In Saransk I lived near my school. There was a huge field divided in half there – on the one side it had a hockey rink and on the other a football field. So we had lots of room to play. Even in winter we would hold matches there.

By the way, when I visit Saransk I sometimes run into my friends from the block. They aren’t running around with a ball now, though. And we never meet intentionally. Everyone has their own grownup worries, no time for football. Everyone has their own family, their children are the ones playing football now. On that same very field we used to go to.

I remember Saransk with wooden houses

I lived in the heart of Saransk. Of course, the most memorable places for me are my school, my neighbourhood, my parent’s house. I remember a private sector on Kommunisticheskaya street where wooden houses still stood on the Proletarskaya side, closer to the main post office. The city went through an incredible metamorphosis since then, the Millennium square alone is something. Where there once was a marsh a huge stadium is now being built. And what is there to say about the territory in front of the Puskin park? With its incredibly beautiful alleys, benches and tidy ponds. This same place where there used to be nothing but trash. If we compare modern Saransk to the one I knew when leaving for Moscow, I can safely say that it had a complete makeover.

Delicious traditions

Tourists will like our city. Saransk has lots to offer. Its own flavor, its own national cusine. For instance, a classical Mordovian dish called pachat, which are basically millet pancakes. I myself don’t know how to make them. Usually pachat are cooked for very special occasions, like Easter or New Year. I also recommend a Mordovian drink called braga [home-made beer – Welcome2018]. It’s non-alcoholic, very peculiar. It’s the scent and taste of my childhood. My grandmother used to make incredible pachat and brew amazinb braga. She lived in the Staroye Shaigovo village where I visited her during holidays. It was my second home in Mordovia, I felt attached to it as if I was born there.

When Mordovian women sing

I have a very vivid memory about Mordovian traditions. It, by the way, is also from my childhood, from the Staroye Shaigovo village. It’s an incredible pleasure to hear Mordovian women sing. They sing when it’s time to plant potatoes in spring. And they always did so – on purpose or by pure coincidence – when there was no rain. Just imagine, mild, warm weather. And in the evening, when the sun was setting you can hear their song spread over the village. It’s very beautiful. Some people sat on benches, some just walking by… And as soon as they hear these voices, they seem to freeze. Nobody speaks. And you just listen. These moments will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Stanislav Duzhnikov in a children’s camp in Mordovia. © Host City of Saransk Management for preparation for the 2018 World Cup

Let it burn

Mordovia has a lot of traditions. One of them is very peculiar. People used to burn old things in front of their houses during the Old New Year [an archaic holiday celebrated on January 13according to old Julian calendar traditions – Welcome2018] celebrations. If we go into the history of things, then of course it all came from the tradition to burn fires which dates back to the times before the Baptism of Rus’. And, perhaps it was the time when it wasn’t as cold anymore, the weather changed and healers used these fires to call spring. Naturally there are only echoes left of this tradition – nobody is trying to call spring anymore. But when I was a teenager, my friends and I used to burn abandoned tires on Old New Year’s Eve. Of course, it wasn’t good for ecology, but it was a tradition we had in our neighbourhood.

Hello. How are you?

I speak Mordovian. We have three dialects – Moksha, Erzya and Shoksha. Shoksha is practically extinct, while Moksha and Erzya are used at every turn. I myself speak Moksha. This language has similarities with English and any other language for that matter. Without any practice, it begins to fade away. But when I come to Saransk, the knowledge returns. Although I must admit that currently I’m not at my best when speaking it.
For example, a simple phrase - "Shumbrа́tada. kо́da tе́fne?" which means "Hello, how are you?". It has a ring to it!

Open Spartak

I love watching football on TV and I never miss major championships. Usually we gather a large group of friends and watch the match either at someone’s place or a sports bar or a café. I have a favourite team – since the age of eight I root for FC Spartak. I discovered the team when I was in school. I was accepted into a sports society called Spartak. To be honest, I didn’t really bother to pick anything out, but I couldn’t say no. Back then every Soviet movie theatre ran Spartacus starring Kirk Douglas. And the gladiator’s fate along with the motion picture itself impressed me so much it didn’t even occur to me to refuse a sports society carrying such a name.

But you’re Slutsky

I was told that I look like Leonid Slutsky. I remember we were shooting a movie in front of the Kazansky railway station in Moscow. Some guys raced over to me, you could see a mile a way they were CSKA fans. They tell me "Listen, we know that you’re a Spartak fan, but you look like Slutsky so much. So respect, bro." It was so funny. We took a picture together and they left, shouting some CSKA chants.
Not only fans hinted at my resemblance to Slutsky. And I would love to play a football coach. Even more so if that presents an opportunity to meet him, talk to him, look at the way he lives, speaks and walks. And, of course, become him when playing the role, so that everybody believed that they are actually seeing Slutsky on the screen.
Stanislav Duzhnikov at a meeting with activists from a Saransk Volunteer Centre for the 2018 World Cup. © Host City of Saransk Management for preparation for the 2018 World Cup

Actor and sports

I never did sports professionally. I do physical exercises though. It’s a daily ritual. It’s also no secret that my profession requires excellent health and sports skills otherwise you simply won’t survive. You sometimes need to put on weight for some roles and lose weight for others. There are no tricks you can use. If you want to become slimmer, cut down on pastries, walk more, swim and go to the gym. I think football would help a lot, too. The player runs long distances, endures physical stress. And besides, it’s just a fun game, it’s teamwork.

Volunteers are amazing

Being an ambassador, my main task is to draw attention not just to our football, but to a healthy lifestyle. Of course, there already are a lot of events taking place. When I visited the Saransk Volunteer Centre, I noticed how everybody glowed. We talked and I was pleasantly surprised – some volunteers know not just English, but French and German. So far from giving them advice, I should be learning from them. The volunteers told me so many interesting things about Saransk even I didn’t know. So in this respect we are more than prepared. On the rights of being ambassador, I also visited a summer camp, an orphanage and participated in various events. I also inspected a stadium under construction. I must say that the construction moving along in incredible leaps and bounds. Most of the work is already done, workers are now doing interior finish. Such rates are frankly overwhelming.

The most hospitable people

I think that the World Cup will be a success. I wish our footballers the hardest of training sessions. It’s better to work hard now and then have play easy and beautiful matches. I don’t worry about Saransk. I’m sure that we will show the city at its best. After all, when visitors come to Mordovia for the first time, they note at once that this is the home of the most hospitable people. Someone might say that we are also severe. But Russians in general are all severe. And it’s not just my opinion. Anton Checkov said “Russia is a vast plain across which a sashing horseman recklessly rides.” There probably is no better way to put it.

Saransk in a day 

Stanislav Druzhnikov’s three main advices:

Try local cuisine, go to Mordovskoe Podvorye for example

Stroll through Puskin Park and Millennium Square

Visit the Drama Theatre and the Yausheva State Music Theatre

Interviewed by Natalia Luchkina