Ken Davitian is an overnight success with 30 years of acting experience.
Davitian did everything he had to do to remain and survive as an actor, from opening his own restaurants to working in the waste removal business.
Then along came a fictitious Kazakhstani journalist.
In Borat, Davitian played Azamat Bagatov, the Armenian-speaking producer. And now that the film has grossed over $125 million in the U.S., Davitian’s life will never be the same.
“Where I would have done the same one day’s work on a movie set, they would have called it a day player. Now they call it a cameo,” he proudly tells andPOP.
“This is what they call the stuff you dreamed about, the stuff you worked for. Now I’m inside the bubble instead of outside.”
Even the most hardcore Borat fans are surprised to learn Azamat was not who he appeared to be, but rather he was played by Davitian, an American actor. While promoting the film, he had to be in character for every interview and appearance. Now, Davitian is able draw back the curtain, essentially introducing himself to his new fans who know little about him.
But Davitian was almost too good for the role of Azamat.
When he auditioned in front of Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) and director Larry Charles (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) for the role, Davitian never broke character.
From the time he entered the room, Davitian was Azamat. He knew they were looking for someone to play a frumpy, fish-out-of-water, Eastern European, and they didn’t realize he was acting. He handed them a wrinkled 8×10 photo of himself that he had folded in his pocket. Davitian realized that he had the room fooled and had to reveal his true identity.
“They were concerned that, ‘gee the guy is perfect but he’s so green, he won’t be able to last the 18 hours (of filming each day). He’s just a nice old man and to drag him around for four months,’ I think they thought it was a bit overwhelming for that person. I heard one of them say, ‘he’s still taking classes?’ Because they had said, ‘can you do improvisation,’ and I said (with the accent), ‘oh yes, improvisation, I take it in classes,’ and the reaction was, ‘oh my god, what’s he doing in an audition at this level and he’s still taking classes?’ So I knew I had to give it up at the end.”
Even once he won the role, Davitian was told that Azamat was going to have little-to-no face-time on camera. His voice was to be heard, but for the most part, he wouldn’t actually be seen in the film. “It was out of (Cohen) being gracious to share the screen with me that I got that part in the movie.”
|Want to know how Azamat really sounds? Listen to a clip of Ken Davitian discussing the Golden Globes and appearing in the movie. ( MP3 )|
It would be shocking if Davitian were to get recognized for anything other than his role in “Borat,” but playing Azamat was hardly his rookie experience.
He’s had small appearances in such television shows as Becker, E.R., Arliss, Gilmore Girls and Boston Leagal, and in films like Holes and S.W.A.T.
With a plethora of actors trying to secure one of the scarce roles that the Hollywood machine has to offer, Davitian was happy to accept whatever he was offered – until two weeks ago.
“It’s the first time in my life that I passed on something,” he says. “My work ethic doesn’t allow me to pass on things.” But he has to now that he has a stack of scripts to choose from.
He can decide his next role – and he hasn’t decided yet – but Davitian hopes he can work with the Smashing Pumpkins again. Davitian had a creepy role, playing some sort of dominatrix-like character in the Pumpkins’ 2000 music video, “Stand Inside Your Love.”
With the Pumpkins on the verge of getting back together, Davitian hopes frontman Billy Corgan is reading this article. “Tell them I want to do another video!”
“Billy is a type of guy that he explained all of the emotions that were going through his head that he wanted to see in this character,” Davitian recalls.
(Rumour has it, Sharon Osbourne hated that Pumpkins video so much that it was one of the reasons she quit as the band’s manager. This is the first time Davitian has heard this. “Now when I meet Sharon Osbourne, she’s not going to like me!”)
In the meantime, Davitian is spending some time at his restaurants, “The Dip,” one located in Sherman Oaks and the other in Los Angeles. He suggests ordering the pot roast or pastrami. “All of the meat is cooked there, and it’s all my recipes. A dip is a French role that’s cut in half and it’s either single dipped in the aju, double dipped which is the standard, and we also do submerged, where the sandwich is made and it’s put into the aju and it’s very wet, tastes great, and you get a bib.”
Davitian is also ready to focus on Borat for a little bit longer. He’ll be doing the rounds again when the DVD is released in March. He was told that his original audition tape would be one of the extras, though that feature isn’t listed in a recent Fox-distributed press release about the DVD.
Last month, Davitian was the subject of Cohen’s acceptance speech when he won the award for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes. His completely nude and improvised wrestling scene with Cohen could be justifiably regarded as the funniest scene in the history of film, but Cohen reminded the star-packed audience that creating humour has its price.
“I saw some amazing, beautiful, invigorating parts of America. But I saw some dark parts of America, an ugly side of America. A side of America that rarely sees the light of day,” Cohen said in his speech. “I refer, of course, to the anus and testicles of my co-star, Ken Davitian. Ken, when I was in that scene and I stared down and saw your two wrinkled Golden Globes on my chin, I thought to myself, ‘I better win a bloody award for this.’ And then when my 300-pound co-star decided to sit on my face and squeeze the oxygen from my lungs, I was faced with a choice: death or to breathe in the air that had been trapped in a small pocket between his buttocks for 30 years.”
A big deal is being made about Cohen having to endure Davitian’s “Golden Globes” in his face, but remember, it was no picnic for Davitian either.
However, Davitian reveals, that scene had one deception in the form of a strategically placed black bar.
“I can tell you,” he says, “that the black bar that you saw while he was running was an exaggeration and not necessary.”