Learning the Lingo

Time of publication: 03.08.2007
Leather-clad dancers gyrated to a bass beat in the opulent nightclub Rai, or Paradise, as Roland Joffe shot a party scene on location for "Finding t.A.T.u.," a teen drama that the British director is filming in Moscow and Yaroslavl.

Outside the giant club, which has a Garden of Eden theme, the film's star, American actress Mischa Barton, took a break from filming. Dressed in vintage jeans and a slim black coat, she stood on the embankment, looking out over the Moscow River.

The 21-year-old actress, best known for starring in teenage drama "The O.C.," plays a Russian girl called Lana. An aspiring model from a provincial town, Lana bonds with an American expat, Janie (played by Shantel VanSanten) after they meet on a fan site devoted to t.A.T.u.

The screenplay is based on an erotic novel titled "t.A.T.u. Come Back" by State Duma Deputy Alexei Mitrofanov. The pop duo will make a cameo appearance in the film.

Barton has to deliver some of her lines in Russian and speaks throughout the film with a Russian accent, a task she said she first undertook at the age of 8 in a staging of Tony Kushner's play "Slavs!"

"It's a much harder, guttural throat sound," she said of Russian pronunciation. "But it's a really pretty language when you break it apart, actually."

The film is being produced by Ramco, a Russian-American production company. Its American producer is Stephen Nemeth, who previously worked on "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Watching the filming, Nemeth praised Barton's performance. "I think that it was very bold of her to come to Russia at this point in her life, to play a Russian girl, to learn an accent, to take a risk like that -- because frankly, unless she really pulls it off, it can be very dicey.

"In this particular case, my fears are gone," Nemeth said. "She's doing unbelievably well."

Barton said she sympathizes with her character in the film. "Lana's got a lot of morals," she said. "You see her struggling to hang on in the middle of all of this mayhem that she's thrown into in Moscow.

"She's drawn to all of this fantastic wealth and night life she has never seen before, and I think the people will relate to her, because she's just this young kid in this very confusing, corrupt world, trying to stick to her guns."

The director "is trying to make a film that is as raw and real as possible," Barton said, citing its criticism of the "corrupt" music scene in Russia. "The whole night life has got a seedy undercurrent to it that doesn't go unnoticed in the film."

The actress said she had dinner with Yelena Katina and Yulia Volkova of t.A.T.u "They carry a lot of baggage," she said, bringing up the pop duo's initial claim to be lovers. "I think a lot of people felt cheated by it; it's a bit of a gimmick, the lesbian thing."

Barton, who came to Moscow in June, is living on Stary Arbat with her dog Ziggy. She ventures out accompanied by a driver and bodyguard, but has socialized with the city's elite. Last month, Russia's Hello! magazine pictured her with designer Darya Zhukova, who has been linked to oligarch Roman Abramovich.

Despite her reputation as a party girl, Barton said that the local club scene is not to her taste. "The night life here scares me a bit," she said, describing a visit to Diaghilev, a club aimed at the city's high rollers, as "shocking."

"It was enough to keep me satisfied the whole stay," she said. "It's really bizarre to see it once or twice, but I can't imagine wanting to do it on a regular basis."

Ross Kenneth Urken
The Moscow Times
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