Photographer: James Lee Wall
Stylist: Sasha Troshchynska
Written by: Sydni Keppen
Design: Jiyoon Cha
You currently star in the five-part HBO mini-series, Chernobyl, which tells the
story of the 1986 human-made nuclear catastrophe that occurred on the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, Soviet Union. Tell us about your
character, Leonid Toptunov, and his involvement with the accident.
Leonid Toptunov was the senior reactor control chief engineer at 25 years old.
Despite being very young at 25 this was a very good position to have. He and his
other colleagues on the night shift were ordered to run a test that they werenʼt
fully qualified to run properly.
There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Chernobyl disaster. How
much research did you do to prepare for the role, and did you try to avoid reading
into these theories?
We did a lot of research, the production company sent us a huge pack which was
amazing. I read a book called 1T23.40 by Andrew Leatherbarrow which charted
step by step the actions in that control room. Also photographs and documentary
footage about the soviet lifestyle was useful when trying to hone the subtle
cultural differences in the way people spoke or moved. And of course videos of
people talking with radiation sickness was important to see in order to be
accurate with the portrayal of these parts
Chernobyl was primarily shot in Lithuania. What was your experience like
Vilnius is a lovely city! Loved it. The crew worked so hard on this shoot, it was
quite a challenge for them.
What are the pros and cons of preparing for and working on a project that is
based on a real-life event?
I think the pros are the real emotional attachment that you get for free, knowing
that this person lived, and the real story surrounding them if well documented can
give some insights into the character. The cons I suppose are that there is less
room to invent stuff if you are trying to be loyal to the real person. This was hard
because the only documented information around Toptunov is relating to the
accident so you have to fill in the blanks about other elements of his life off
Chernobyl has received rave reviews since it debuted earlier this month. Not only
is the cinematography extraordinary, but the acting, writing, and storytelling
immediately hooked viewers. What do you hope that viewers are able to take
away from this experience?
I think it has an incredibly powerful message to it about how truth and facts are
more powerful than lies and corruption and cannot really be buried or denied.
They rise to the surface eventually. Itʼs also a tribute to all the people effected by
the accident and the people who risked and sacrificed their lives to effectively
save the world from a bigger disaster than already happened.
Aside from acting, you've also directed a short film. Are you itching to get back
into the director's chair?
I actually didnʼt direct that short film itʼs a mistake on IMDb! That Iʼve been trying
to correct! I have composed the music for a short however which was very fun. In
my spare time I write songs and am currently working on an EP.