An Interview with Branko Tomovic – By Kirsten Walsh

In the horror film “Entity”, there are a handful of characters, each one with their own motive. Branko Tomovic’s character- Yuri Levkov- is by far one of the most developed and unique characters in the film, which makes the film that much more scary. Tomovic has led an interesting film career, with credits ranging from action films to TV series, and soon, historical dramas. He has been awarded accolades for his dedicated acting style, including the 2013 British Filmmakers Alliance Award for his role in “Entity”. He was able to take a break from his intensive preparation for the upcoming film, “Tesla” to share with us some of his secrets!

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KW: Regarding "Entity", can you lay out the role of your character and how
you developed it?

BT: I play Yuri Levkov, the local Russian who tries to help the British TV crew and psychic Ruth to uncover the secret of that remote Siberian location, where 34 bodies were discovered in shallow graves. But he has a very dark secret himself. Without giving too much away, he is very ambiguous and on his own mission, there are many layers to him and only slowly we see his true face.

He is a very ambiguous but also twisted guy, deceptive and antagonistic in ways but certainly not the villain. I especially loved this unhinged turn and that he would go to any lengths to pursue his own mission. He is almost a victim himself, probably a complete psychological mess inside and desperate men can be the worst and most dangerous as they are so unpredictable and have nothing left to live for.

Steve, our director, actually rewrote that part for me. It was a completely different character in the first draft I received – an old English Professor of paranormal studies.

There were many rewrites of the script which is very common and Yuri developed and changed a lot. The essence was always there but then it became this whole character that had so many sides to him and as an actor that’s exactly what you want. Steve and I were always on the same page and had the same ideas about who he was and why he does certain things. And because I was there right from the beginning it was brilliant to bounce ideas off with Steve all the time. I absolutely loved playing this character, but then again I am always more drawn to the darker side of one’s personality.

KW: Your style definitely added a lot to the film! Was the production more involved due to the found footage aspect?

BT: I think Entity uses the found footage very cleverly. It was never supposed to be one of those found footage films and it certainly isn’t. I get a headache from these films that are shot only in found footage, you can’t watch a shaky camera style film for 90 minutes. “Entity” only uses that style when it makes sense in the narrative. The majority of the movie is filmed in traditional style. "District 9" as an example also had a fantastic mix of camera styles which absolutely made sense for their story. But luckily, Yuri didn’t carry a camera, that footage would have probably been completely unusable!

KW: Definitely! The locations in the film were incredible, can you talk about the on location shoots? Leading up to the “facility”, it looked like you were out in the middle of the woods, which was incredible.

BT: “Entity” is set in a place called Sadovich, which is in a remote Siberian forest. Most of our locations, however, where old industrial locations in North Yorkshire. But it looked and felt certainly very real! We shot for three weeks, 6 days a week, pretty much all day. It was freezing and extremely cold and dusty in those locations. You can see our breath mostly throughout the entire film once we enter that huge silo building. Especially, in that scene in the cell where Ruth makes the first contact with the Entity and Yuri translates, that is one of my favourite scenes actually. My preparation included buying long underwear for the shoot and even those 4 layers didn’t always help, it would have probably been warmer to shoot in Siberia!

The locations were incredible to look at indeed, very impressive and it’s so overwhelming that huge silo thing, it looks like a giant whale swallowing everything up. And once inside, it’s this huge dark maze like a trap. The location was part of this abandoned deep underground mine complex, very eerie and haunted. But we all made it out alive, I think.

KW: That is awesome, although I don’t know if I would’ve made it out of that freezing cold building! One of the main characters of the film is a psychic. Do you believe in the supernatural?

BT: My family comes from a very remote part of Serbia, the edge of the Carpathians bordering to Romania. The land of werewolves and vampires, even the word ‘vampire’ originates from Serbia and people over there still believe in all sort of supernatural stuff and are very superstitious. I have lived most of my adult life in big cities like New York or London though and there is no space for these things in this world.

I am a very very rational and grounded person and certainly would not want any ghosts in my life. I only believe what I see or makes sense to me. But I had two creepy things happen to me that I can’t really explain. In Serbia they still have the habit over there that when a person dies they have to cover all the mirrors in the room, cover them up with black cloth right away that moment so the dead can’t reach for you. I didn’t know that before and when my grandmother died I was in another room and saw this black shadow passing in the reflection…

KW: Wow. I’ve heard of many traditions similar to that, and it definitely seems like they were set for a reason! There is extreme tension and extreme emotion throughout the film as it builds to the end. Was it difficult to maintain that level of intensity as an actor?

BT: That’s what attracted me to this project in the first place. I love that it’s not some sort of generic body count slasher but actually a thriller with a lot of emotional depth to it. And as an actor I love going to these places and recreate such extreme and exciting situations. “Entity” has a very claustrophobic feel to it. I think this weird location the characters find themselves in, which is almost like an additional character, combined with the Entity and Yuri’s own mission makes it really uncomfortable and tense as there seems to be no escape. It feels like slowly being suffocated.

I like the intensity of doing a horror film. You get the chance to play with all these extremes, and you always have to give it your all to make it believable and authentic. Those two emotional demanding scenes that Yuri has were funnily the easiest to shoot for me. I especially enjoyed that scene between Yuri and Ruth and playing opposite Dervla Kirwan who I think is absolutely fantastic and very subtle in her role.

KW: Those emotional scenes were definitely high points of the film for me. You did an excellent job with that! What was your favorite part of the production?

BT: Despite all these harsh filming conditions I think most of us had a fun time doing this film. Horror films are really fun to do anyways I think! I know it does not look like it on screen and it should not of course! Maybe because of all that tension and high suspense you kind of have to release it somehow. We were also a great team and had a brilliant crew and cast who all shared the same enthusiasm so it was a great pleasure being on set. That’s why I love to work on independent films because you can tell that everybody really wanted to be there for their passion and not just for the money.

KW: That is an excellent point regarding independent film. There definitely seems to be more passion there! What is next for "Entity", and where can people find the film now?

BT: It recently won two awards at the London Independent Film Festival and the British Filmmakers Alliance just honoured me with Best International Actor. It’s always great to see that other people appreciate and liked what you did and what you believed in gets noticed. Entity is out on DVD now in the US and the UK.

KW: Congratulations! As an actor, do you prefer working in darker films such as thrillers and horrors, or are you more of a comedy or action fan?

BT: You probably won’t be seeing me in a romantic comedy any time soon, as there is such a thing called ‘typecasting’ and I just don’t have the face for that. But I always preferred ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ over ‘Romeo and Juliet’ anyway! I always tend to choose darker and intense material. I have always been fascinated by the human mind, psychology and different personalities. I love character work, complex and unconventional stuff, and think that thrillers and good horror films offer some of the most interesting and unique characters. Having said that, I am open to anything really. I love diversity in my career and any genre can produce brilliant innovative work. It always starts with a great script…

KW: Speaking of great scripts, you are undertaking a huge role coming up as Nikola Tesla, what can you tell me about "The Mad Scientist"?

BT: The title recently changed from "The Mad Scientist" into "Tesla". Nikola Tesla was never mad of course, so the title was a bit ironic and it played more on the perception that other people had about him. Michael Anton has written the script himself and he will also be directing this. I think it brilliantly captures Tesla’s essence and persona, his passion for his work, his extraordinary mind, his eccentricity, his ambition and the movie will show that he was not a mad scientist – but one of the greatest minds and inventors that ever lived. It follows his arrival in New York in 1884, his battles with Thomas Edison, friendship with Mark Twain and his great inventions. We are planning to shoot later this year in the US and in Serbia and it’s a great challenge to play a character that has really existed. There will be references and material out there already which describe him, his demeanour, his persona, his accent, his everything, so you have to stick with that and cant leave it up to your imagination. Its about being truthful and respectful to history, I’m very much looking forward to that. There are of course as well many iconic American parts in this film like Edison, JP Morgan, Westinghouse and Mark Twain and the producers are currently in advanced talks with really great American actors to play these parts.

KW: What does your preparation for "Tesla" include and what inspired you about him the most when you did your research?

BT: It starts with a lot of reading, a lot! His biographies, books, articles, letters, everything. From him personally – and also what other people said about him. And then of course, because his life was all about his work and his inventions, I have to go back to science class and try to understand how his experiments work. Also, the film shows Tesla at different age, and any older person walks slightly differently from a younger one, your body language and posture changes, your voice drops throughout the years. And what is also important of course is the physical transformation. There must be a great make-up designer and costume to recreate the way he looked. But I also want to change my physicality slightly, he was always described as very slim, so I want to loose even more weight.

Tesla was a remarkable and extraordinary man – in every way. But what inspired me the most is his strength. Reading his life story it seems he had so many setbacks, nobody believed in him and he had nowhere to go back to. So where do you take that strength from to help you pull through and carry on? To come from nothing and achieve what he has done against all odds is admirable.

KW: We will definitely keep on the lookout for that film- it sounds extremely intriguing. Throughout your career, you’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible directors and actors. What was an inspiring moment for you?

BT: It actually goes all the way back to the beginning of my career when I studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. My favourite teacher there, Pennie DuPont, who was kind of the first one who really believed in me and I always saw her as my mentor there, told me "Try to choose your parts wisely and remember what Montgomery Clift said As long as you do good work, they cant get at you!. That stayed with me the most.

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Thank you Branko and best of luck to you with your career! More information can be found about Branko and his upcoming productions at his IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1036127, and more can be found out about “Entity” at the web page for the film: http://www.entitythemovie.com