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How a Russian action-adventure movie hero used UCLA to muscle into stardom

By Wayne Friedman

Published Jun 5, 2007 11:37 AM

Russian-born Alexander Nevsky is a big Arnold Schwarzenegger-size of a man, a musclebound 6-feet-7-inches with big action film ideas. For most of his life, Nevsky has looked to Schwarzennegger as a role model, admiring the former bodybuilding champion's involvement in everything from movies to politics.

"That's why I respected Arnold so much growing up," says Nevsky. "It wasn't only about movies. I did the same thing in Russia."

In the 1990s, Nevsky was a major fitness and TV celebrity in Russia — a champion kick-boxer, bodybuilder, and host of his own TV show, "Self Made Man." In 1999, wanting to get into movies, Nevsky came to the U.S. and took his first crucial step: Learn English at UCLA Extension ('99, '00), just as another European-based muscular action film actor — Jean-Claude Van Damme — had done. At the same time, Nevsky took acting classes at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in L.A..


As strong as his desire was to break into movies, Nevsky also has strong thoughts as to how Russian characters should be portrayed.

"In Russia, we still have stereotypes about America; in America, you still have a lot of stereotypes about Russians," he says. "What I'm trying to do is crush those stereotypes and present a new image of Russia here in America."

These stereotypes especially apply when it comes to action-adventure movies, Nevsky says. Struggling to make an impact, he was unhappy with roles being offered that always seemed to cast Russian characters as villains — including a bad guy part in the 1999-2001 TV series "Battle Dome" that he turned down. Finally, Nevsky looked back home for help. And with support from Russian-based film financiers, Nevsky started producing his own movies.

"This is a much easier way for me to produce movies," he says. "I don't have to depend on the studio system."

In 2004, Nevsky's company, Czar Pictures, released "Moscow Heat" in English, co-starring Michael York, about the search for a ruthless arms dealer in Moscow. The movie drew Universal Pictures as a distributor because of the film's successful theatrical release in Russia, where Nevsky's popularity is still massive. In the U.S., the movie went straight to DVD.

His latest film, "Treasure Raiders," which features David Carradine and Sherilyn Fenn, is about an American professor in Moscow who finances treasure hunting with car street racing. Nevsky is looking to go one better with "Raiders," possibly getting a limited theatrical release in the U.S. He is negotiating with MGM.

Nevsky believes he has a responsibility as a role model for his fan base in his native Russia when it comes to how film characters are portrayed along with natural, steroid-free bodybuilding. He also wants to be a role model for young actors and filmmakers in this country, hoping to have a screening and seminar for "Moscow Heat" at UCLA.

"You have to control things yourself. You cannot depend on anyone else," he recommends.