„Look, imagine that matter is mostly composed of empty space, meaning that we could theoretically pass through a wall…“
Czech actor, screenwriter, director, and musician. He is the holder of four Czech Lion Film Awards for the script of the movie Boredom in Brno (2003) and for acting accomplishments in movies Boredom in Brno, Champions (2004), and Vaclav (2007). He studied at Brno’s JAMU and has made his feature film directorial debut – in the adaptation of his title book Princ Mamánek (2022), where he portrayed the main character. He also has a band called Eliščin band, with which he produced several albums.
Honza, how would you describe the character that you play? Who is Max, what is he searching for, and how successful is he…
To me, Max is, to a certain extent, an alter ego of the director. Of course, to a certain extent. And it is a person who intensively desires knowledge, no matter what kind, often at the cost of his pain. That’s how I would characterize him.
What pains, for example?
For example, Max tries to go through a wall because he is convinced that belief is the most important thing for such a feat. If it’s strong enough, it will enable him to go through. That’s how much of an essence seeker he is.
How did Max’s seeking endeavors go hand in hand with his civil life?
I took it as a part of him. So his attributes and willfulness are reflected in his personal life. I took it as a conjoined matter.
Why did you take the role of Max? How did Petr persuade you? What intrigued you?
I have to search in memory, because how many has it been, nine, ten, or how many years? Well, I definitely took it because we have done many projects together, including Czech Lions, nomination nights, and so on. Well, that was one of the reasons I know Petr. And why I wanted to be a part of his filmmaking.
Didn’t the efforts you both had at the time, to discover what is “behind the curtain”, play a role in it as well?
With Petr, we were, or I believe still are, seekers of various contexts and principles of all kinds in the Universe. So yes, perhaps this could have been one of the reasons why I got into this role.
How much are you connected to the role of Max, yourself?
I have the tendency not to identify with my characters. On the other hand, the observers of my roles tend to do so. It is possible to see it that way. I’m not opposed to it. But when I play a specific character, I separate the role from myself to simplify the process. That means I go the other way around than identifying and telling myself that this is all me. Comparatively, I take it in a way that I have someone who is a stranger, and I’m supposed to portray him. But the connections that are there are what we can have in common with Max or preferably the spiritual focus.
Do you have the same criteria for choosing a role, or did it change over time? Or possibly whether you changed your approach to portraying a role, as you spoke about…
For a couple of years, I’ve not been taking roles that I’m uncomfortable with, and therefore I don’t have the means to identify with these characters, as I’m not taking them. And with the roles I take and am comfortable with, I identify as an actor, and simultaneously, I separate them from the character I play here as an actor. It’s perhaps hard to understand, but I comprehend it.
Try to specify it, please…
I don’t identify myself with the charactersI play in the manner of finding myself in them. On the contrary, I’m searching for someone else, rather than me. I always find him there. And that’s the path I’m taking.
What impression did the working version of The Meaning and Mystery of Life leave on you?
The movie is quite unique, I would say. Very atypical. It is truly an original craft with everything that goes with it. It has no pigeonhole to apply to the film, which is all positive for me. And I’d say that it’s very boldly provocative.
How the questions given to the viewers dive them into significant and arduous themes. Which are contained within, like the meaning and mystery of life.
Thanks to its unusual form, the movie cameraman admitted that he didn’t orient in what he was filming. What about you?
I did orient myself and could imagine what we were filming and how it could look. Definitely not how it will look, but how it could look. Somehow I imagined it. Nevertheless, I was a little bit lost because the structure of the whole movie shape is indeed so brave. That is true.
Do you remember what Petr said about the structure of the film? How it will formally look…
We had rather lively debates there. That’s what I’d call them. I was showing Peter places in the script where I felt I didn’t understand enough. I needed him to explain them further, and Peter would try to explain them to me, and I often didn’t understand them even after he described them to me. So the structure changed quite vividly. It was kind of a living shape. I’d say. And it still seems to be after these ten years, that’s quite admirable about it… (laughter)
Did it surprise you when Petr announced there would be another filming day after ten years?
“I have to admit Petr Vachler’s announcement, that after ten years, there would be one more filming day, did surprise me”. But retrospectively, I understand it, and I think that it won’t surprise me if we film another day another ten years later. I’m counting on it a little bit.
Will the scene be at the endor the beginning of something new, a follow-up perhaps?
I assume that it is the first part of a fifteen-part trilogy.
When did Petr say the premiere will be?
In 2013 he said probably within a year, and he has been saying the same (every year) since. It is actually a kind of anomaly, I guess.
How do you look at the movie ten years later?
It is definitely different. I’m curious how the movie will work with the audience. I’m curious. The film has the advantage that besides the fashion, technology, or mobile phones, for example, it won’t age. The questions concerning the meaning of life and the mystery of the universe will always be asked.
Even back in 2013, you talked with Petr about your work. Firstly a book, which you later adapted into a movie called Princ Mamánek. You are also dealing with the topic of death there. That is also significantly dealt with in The Meaning and Mystery of Life. So did you have a common subject that interested you both?
It is true that in 2013 I was perhaps already talking about Princ Mamánek, and it is true that the movie is out sooner than The Meaning and Mystery of Life. The connection can be there on a certain existential level, which Princ Mamánek also has, and that is the relationship to death, what does death mean, and what comes after it? But it’s the truth that my movie is of a different genre. It is a fairy tale, whereas here, I wouldn’t be afraid to say it is an existential drama.
How was working with Petr, given that you are also a director? How is it being directed when you are a screenwriter, director, and actor?
As a director, previously only as an actor, I’ve always had a vision of my inner director, who hasn’t yet manifested into a reality. And directors had to meet him. I really wish and hope that now they will continue to meet him, but they will take it as an advantage, as I did.
In one interview, you said everything is always different than expected. Does it relate to your decision to be a director as well?
I think it’s the principle of life. We only have a thought of it and imagine it somehow. Until we gain experience. And later, it is sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot different than we imagined. Being a director is such a great experience that I couldn’t even imagine it. It is actually impossible. A person has to go through it. And it is true that many experiences I went through on my journey I could not even imagine being possible. Nor as a director nor producer.
When you saw the movie The Meaning and Mystery of Life in the working version, what would you, as director, alter or change?
In the early post-production stage, I proposed to Petr that the Bumblebee doesn’t have to be on screen everytime it speaks. It was created with PC graphics and is complicated to be made in 3D production. I would save some expenses, and the effect would stay the same. So this is what I would alter if I did have the discretion.
But that was you as a producer talking.
I think it goes hand in hand. When a person makes an original movie like The Meaning and Mystery of Life, it always goes hand in hand. A producer is simultaneously a director and a screenwriter. I personally experienced it. So I think that it’s all right like this.
How do you think the movie will resonate in the time we currently live in?
I believe that it can resonate quite a lot. It is a movie that poses very crucial and universal questions. That every person, whether they like it or not, has to ask. What is after death? What is the meaning of life? What does the universe consist of? And so on.
What is after death, according to you?
What is after death? After death comes a new birth.
Are you afraid of death?
I have the fear of death inside me every day, so in essence, we could say that I might have a much smaller fear of death than someone who doesn’t fear death every day. But the experience is hard to explain and transfer. I indeed accepted that death is constantly here with us every day. And that is, in essence, a reflection of our life.
And perhaps fear of lack of money?
There are moments when I fear the lack of money, but those I attribute to my family ancestors, through whomthat fear resonates in my head somewhere. And I say, what does it say? After all, I have everything that I want.
Why do we have so many fears? Wouldn’t it be easier to live without fear?
Many of our fears are not, in reality, our fears but fears of our ancestors. I called it the ancestral tunnel. We don’t know all of our ancestors, or at least I don’t. We know them perhaps three generations back, but not in detail. But I notice that what the ancestors lived and confronted, then the next generation, their descendants experience the same, in various forms, similarly. They carry those topics and further process them. So many of our fears, thoughts, and behaviors aren’t just ours.
What is the meaning of life to you?
That is a profound question. The meaning of life for me is inhaling and exhaling. That comes after inhalation and exhalation. The definition of life is, for me, a cycle.
And the mystery of life?
Also, a cycle. Cycles of all kinds. Winter, spring, summer, autumn, with. Inhalation, exhalation. Death, birth. Closed eyes. Open eyes. Night, day. Full moon. New moon. All cycles. What we observe around us is what the mystery of life shows us.
And when are you happy?
When I laugh.
And when do you laugh?
I laugh a lot with stuntmen. They’ve got a great sense of humor. Much less with actors, with directors, mostly not at all. And same with the producers, not so much with them either…
Who are you, Honza?
Who am I? There are days when I’m Leonardo da Vinci. There are days when I’m Salvador Dalí. There are days when I’m Karel Čapek. There are days when I’m Jan Budař. There are days when I don’t know who I am.
And do you always know why you are here?
I don’t need to know. I take it I’m here because I was born, and that’s where my search ends.
So no intent/purpose why you should be here…
I think that the purpose of why a person is here is always fully revealed at the end. And simultaneously, a person can presume their whole life that there are various reasons why they are here. But the reason why they were here is what stays after.
Could you describe a breaking point in your life? The one, which has changed your life, and you took a different direction…
There were too many breaking points in my life. Of course, one of those moments was filming The Meaning and Mystery of Life with Petr Vachler. And many of those moments I wrote into my book Snílek (Dreamer). So if anyone would be interested in my breaking points, they can find them there. Well, a breaking moment was definitelyPrinc Mamánek as a life journey I took, and many times I thought I wouldn’t get up.
What does love mean to you?
For me, it is the fundamental gravitational force of the whole Universe.
Where did it come from?
Where did love come from? Maybe it is as strenuous as asking, where did gravity come from? If I knew that, I would perhaps have a plaque at home. On which there would be stated: Nobel prize.
Do you love yourself?
I’m mainly quite excited about myself. My life is primarily guided by the childish, sometimes very vulnerable, way of creating. And the love for oneself and creation is an inseparable part of it. Although, indeed, many of those moments are later balanced by great doubts. About myself and the creation. I take it as a part of myself.
And now the final question. What about faith in God? Do you believe in God?
I wasn’t raised to believe in God, so I take religion and all of its types as something a person gets as equipment. That didn’t happen to me. Nevertheless, I have different words for it. And I’m touching it through different directions rather than from something which has formed as a specific order related to religion. I believe a lot in observing life cycles and the miracle of being.
What does the mission of Jesus Christ mean to you?
I dare to say that I know rather precisely. For me, the mission of Jesus Christ is to be constantly born into different bodies and, if possible, to as many bodies within a set generation.
And what was Buddha’s contribution?
And Mother Earth’s?
I haven’t yet met Mother Earth, with Buddha and Jesus Christ, yes, in the incarnation bodies, with Mother Earth, I haven’t yet had the pleasure, I would lie.
Have you met Buddha and Christ?
Many times. Buddha and Christ, I’ve met many times.
What did you say to each other?
With Buddha, we’ve always talked about all peace. Which is a topic that he’s always dealing with, nirvana, love, and contentment. And with Jesus Christ, we talked a lot about how it is to walk barefoot. For example. Among other things.
Thanks for the interview, among other things…