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Kopelian, Efim Zakharovich

(1912–1975), Soviet theater and cinema actor. Born in Rechitsa, Belorussia, Kopelian moved to Leningrad with his parents and began his studies at the Architecture Faculty of the Leningrad Academy of Arts, at the same time performing as an extra with the Bolshoi Dramatic Theater (BDT). In his second year of studies he transferred to the BDT studio school, joining its troupe in 1935. He continued to perform at the BDT throughout his life, appearing on stage in 80 different roles.

In the 1930s and 1940s Kopelian played in the Soviet revolutionary-patriotic dramas Gibel’ eskadry (Destruction of a Squadron), Liubov’ irovaia (Spring Love), and appeared as Edmond in King Lear, directed by Grigorii Kozintsev. Early in his career, he was confined to playing villains. In 1956, after Georgii Tovstonogov became head of the BDT and transformed it into one of the country’s best theaters, Kopelian became a leading actor, playing a wide range of roles. He performed as Ernesto Roma in Bertolt Brecht’s The Career of Arturo Ui; John “Joker” Jackson in Nathan Douglas and Harold Smith’s The Defiant Ones; Don Cesar de Bazan in Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas; Il’in in Aleksandr Volodin’s Piat’ vecherov (Five Evenings); Gorich in Aleksandr Griboedov’s Gore ot uma (Woe from Wit); Richard Dudgeon in George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple; and Skrobotov in Maksim Gorky’s Vragi (Enemies). Noting the economy of Kopelian’s means of expression and the precision of his gestures, critics compared him to the famous French actor Jean Gabin.

Kopelian was especially attracted to Chekhov, whose plays impressed him by their psychological subtexts: the contrast between the complexity of the heroes’ inner spiritual lives and the poverty of their external manifestations. The actor’s favorite role was Vershinin in Chekhov’s Tri sestry (Three Sisters).

Kopelian also appeared in more than 70 films. He usually played supporting roles, but the vividness of his acting made the roles appear more substantial than the scripts suggested. He played Gaponcult in Efim Dzigan’s Prolog (1956); Burnash in Edmond Keosaian’s Neulovimye mstiteli (The Elusive Avengers; 1967); Morozov in Semen Tumanov’s Nikolai Bauman (1968); and Svidrigailov in Lev Kulidzhanov’s Prestuplenie i nakazanie (Crime and Punishment; 1970). Kopelian’s capacity for intellectual concentration was manifested in his off-screen reading of a text in Grigorii Chukhrai’s film Pamiat’ (Memory; 1971). In the Soviet television series Semnadtsat’ mgnovenii vesny (Seventeen Moments of Spring; 1973), using only his voice, without ever appearing on screen, Kopelian set the tone for the whole miniseries. When the film was shown to a group of actors, they jokingly renamed Kopelian “Efil’m Zakadrovich” (i.e., “Filmed Off-Screen”). He played with great success in the popular television films Krakh inzhenera Garina (The Failure of Engineer Garin; 1973) and Solomennaia shliapka (The Straw Hat; 1974), both directed by Leonid Kvinikhidze, and Vechnyi zov (Eternal Mission; 1973), directed by Valerii Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopol’skii.

Suggested Reading

Leonid Muratov, “Efim Kopelian,” in Aktery sovetskogo kino, vol. 6, pp. 143–154 (Leningrad, 1970); Marina Timchenko, Efim Kopelian (Leningrad, 1982).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson; revised by Alice Nakhimovsky