“Oleg makes an impression.” On his DVD commentary for “Righteous Kill” (2008), director Jon Avnet remarks that he needed a powerful actor to play Russian mob enforcer Yevgeny Mugalat, a character who survives six gunshots at close range. International star Oleg Taktarov, born in Sarov, Russia, proved uniquely capable of fulfilling Avnet’s demanding expectations. When Oleg first appears on camera as Mugalat, the director states emphatically in the audio commentary that the actor “makes an impression.” Long before “Righteous Kill,” Oleg already left global audiences with memorable impressions as “The Russian Bear,” a UFC champion who took unconventional paths up to the top of the world’s most difficult professions: acting and fighting.
Today, Oleg ranks among Russia’s three most popular movie stars and its highest paid actors. His frank autobiography, “Up To The Top,” is a best seller in Russia where Oleg’s series “The Guardian” was also a number one television show. In America, Oleg works with the A List of actors and directors in hit blockbusters. He will play one of the leads with Adrien Brody and Topher Grace in “Predators” (2010), produced and written by action film innovator Robert Rodriguez. Oleg’s distinguished list of achievements began while he was only a child in Sarov, a home to some of Russia’s most eminent scholars and scientists. By age twelve, he was a recognized martial arts expert throughout the country.
Before he came to America in 1994 to pursue his dream of acting in the movies, Oleg Taktarov was an established global hero with records as the World Sambo Champion, the Russian National Judo Champion, and a four-time European and Asian Jujitsu Champion. Just six months after his arrival in the United States, Oleg defeated David “Tank” Abbott in July 1995 and became the reigning UFC Champion. At his classic 1996 “Superbrawl” with Ken Shamrock in Buffalo, New York, Oleg’s fans in the U.S. audience waved signs that declared, “Russian Bear becomes American Hero!”
With the momentum of his UFC success and an enthusiastic American fan base to support him, Oleg learned English and studied acting at the prestigious L.A. Playhouse. After minor roles in a handful of Hollywood movies including “Air Force One” (1997), Oleg beat a thousand actors competing in auditions for his first significant film part as one of the antagonists in John Herzfeld’s “15 Minutes” (2001) starring Robert DeNiro.
Again, Oleg made an unforgettable impression in “15 Minutes” as an unrelenting baddie, who aspires to be a movie director and steals a camcorder to photograph the criminal mayhem he inflicts upon Manhattan. During the shoot, Robert DeNiro shared acting advice with Oleg who returned the favor with pointers for more realistic fight scenes. The two were reunited for Avnet’s “Righteous Kill” (2008), also starring Al Pacino.
After “15 Minutes,” Oleg played charismatic heroes in “Red Serpent” (2002) and in the remake of “Rollerball” (2002). Reflecting events in his own life as a fighter, Oleg’s character in “Rollerball” incites wild cheering by the fans in a Kazakhstan arena when he resists the dictates of a greedy sports league owner played by Jean Reno. Oleg continued to build his impressive resume’ in American movies and television series with performances in “Bad Boys II” (2003), “National Treasure” (2004), “Alias” (“The Two,” 2003), and “Navy NCIS” (“Judgment Day,” 2008). He returned to movies depicting the brutal street culture of New York City with his riveting performances in “Rockaway” (2007) and “We Own the Night” (2007) with Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix. James Gray, the director of “Night,” compared Oleg to a “young Charles Bronson,” another dynamic Hollywood actor of Russian heritage.
Oleg’s dramatic leading work in American films has proven that he can deliver both big moments and subtle ones. In “Rockaway” (2007), he quietly recounts a brutal memory of his character’s service in Afghanistan with harrowing pain. In “Montana” (2008), Oleg’s sympathetic hero Nikolai escapes from his adversaries into the streets of Los Angeles where he is befriended and hidden by a single mother and her son. Before the final showdown, Nikolai symbolically mends the fences between the everyday people of the U.S. and Russia. Oleg’s empathetic performance of a Russian seeking a new life in America enables the film to succeed on many levels as a personal drama, crime adventure and a plea for understanding. At the premiere of “Montana,” Oleg said, “I already knew all about this hero.”
During one of his triumphant nights as UFC Champion, Oleg exited the ring after a victory and stated to a reporter, “I can do anything.” It was not an idle boast. The fans of Oleg Taktarov know that “Up To The Top” is only the first chapter in volumes of future achievements by the native son of Sarov. When “Rolling Stone” celebrated its fourth year of publication in Russia, the magazine sponsored an exhibit of its celebrity photographs in Moscow. Oleg’s dramatic photograph was a highlight of the exhibit, proving that the “Russian Bear” has fought his way to the top and achieved rock star status.
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