On the Trail of t.A.T.u.

Time of publication: 15.06.2007
Mischa Barton arrives in Moscow to star in "Finding t.A.T.u.," an English-language film based on a novel about fans of the pseudo-lesbian duo.

A novel written by State Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party is the unlikely basis for "Finding t.A.T.u," an English-language movie starring Mischa Barton that started filming in Moscow earlier this month.

In the film, which has a budget of $12 million, Barton will play a Russian girl called Lana, from the provincial city of Yaroslavl, who befriends a lonely American girl living in Moscow, played by Danielle Panabaker. The two girls bond over their shared love for pop duo t.A.T.u.

Both members of t.A.T.u., Yulia Volkova and Yelena Katina, will appear in the film, playing themselves, and will contribute at least one new song to the soundtrack.

"Neither Yulka [Volkova] nor I have ever taken part in big films, so why not?" the t.A.T.u. singer Katina said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "To be honest, I haven't thought about how it will affect our popularity. It's just interesting to do something new."

A photograph of Barton, best known for her role in the teen drama series "The O.C.," was pinned up in the smoke-filled Mosfilm office of the film's Russian producers, Leonid Minkovski and Sergei Konov, as they gave an interview earlier this month.

The actress arrived in Moscow at the end of May and will spend two months shooting the film, Minkovski said. "Every day counts, because she has already booked for another movie immediately afterward, with Bruce Willis." This is Barton's first visit to Russia, the producer said, adding that her manager and agent were initially "nervous" about accepting the role and "had a lot of concerns."

As the producer spoke, Barton was rehearsing with the film's British director, Roland Joffe, in a pavilion on the sprawling Mosfilm site. For her role, Barton has been learning to speak her English dialogue with a Russian accent, Minkovski said. "She took some lessons in the United States with a very high-level coach. She told me it was the coach who trained Forest Whitaker for his [performance as Idi Amin in] 'The Last King of Scotland.'"

The film is being produced by Ramco, a Russian-American production company founded by Minkovski and Konov in 2002. Its previous films include the 2005 drama "Silent Partner," starring Tara Reid. Its latest production, "Captivity," a hostage drama set in New York but filmed in Moscow, and also directed by Joffe, will hit 2,500 screens in the United States in July, Minkovski said.

The release date of "Finding t.A.T.u" is unknown, Minkovski said, adding that it could realistically open 18 months from now. He said the film would be accompanied by a marketing campaign in which people can download "mobisodes" from the film onto their cell phones.

The film has an English screenplay but is based on a Russian-language novel by Mitrofanov, "t.A.T.u Come Back," which was published by Eksmo in 2006. Written in the form of short text messages, the book tells the story of two teenage t.A.T.u, fans who have a lesbian affair. It was co-written with a female author, Anastasia Moiseyeva.

Co-producer Konov talked to Mitrofanov about the book last summer and came up with the idea of making a film, Minkovski recalled. "I got excited because I really like t.A.T.u.'s music." After reading the book himself, Minkovski was convinced. "I felt there was depth and a feeling of new Russia in this, so we decided to say yes."

Katina of t.A.T.u. said that she is currently reading the film's screenplay in preparation for her role. "It's completely different from the book, but it seems quite good," she said. She described Mitrofanov's book as "full of life," although she said that she prefers classic literature.

The singer confirmed that t.A.T.u. will appear in the film, playing themselves, although Volkova is currently pregnant. The duo is scheduled to spend two or three weeks shooting their scenes, starting at the end of this month, she said.

The group took part in the Channel One talk show "The Highest League" earlier this month with Barton, whom Katina described as "very pleasant."

The film will feature a single from the group's forthcoming album, which they are now recording, with a possible release next spring, Katina said. "There will definitely be one song, and we'll see, maybe there will be two or three."

In a telephone interview on Saturday, Mitrofanov said he had just visited the film's set at Mosfilm. However, he has not yet decided whether to take up the producer's offer of a role in the film, playing himself. "It's possible, but if I do it, it will just be a small episode," he said. "I'm not very keen on the idea. What's the point? I'm not an actor."

The politician described the casting of Barton and Panabaker in the lead roles as "very appropriate." Calling Barton "the No. 1 star in her age group," he said "I can already see that she's a very strong actress."

The film's screenplay is "quite strong," Mitrofanov said. It has a different ending from his book, which includes the murder of one of the girl's mothers, and also changes one of his Russian heroines into an American.

The book aimed to show the lives of teenagers born at the end of or after the fall of the Soviet regime, the politician said. "It's a different generation that thinks in a new way."

The book's plot hinges around t.A.T.u. because "all their songs are about freedom," Mitrofanov said. "People talk about t.A.T.u. being so depraved, but that is a form of natural self-defense from those who want everyone to toe the line."

Anna Malpas
The Moscow Times
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