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An actress with a soul that hooks you deep

14 february 2014, 17:25
1

The first thing I noticed about Linda Nigmatulina was her eyes. 

They are deep, sorrowful, magnetic, drawing you in, making you want to know her and also to hug her.

They say that eyes are the window to the soul, and you can certainly get a feel for the soul of this successful Moscow-based actress by looking into her eyes.

They told me that Linda, who leaped to fame with a key role in the acclaimed Kazakh movie “Nomads,” is bright, intense, spiritual but still yearning for her place in career and life.

Things are pretty good now, the 30-year-old Almaty-born daughter of a famous acting family told me in a recent interview in Astana. She's doing several film and television projects a year in Russia.

But she's trying to break out of the Dragon Lady role she's been typecast in for many years – the tough, cunning, devious Asian woman.

Linda Nigmatulina

Linda Nigmatulina. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina 

She'd also like to do more work in her native Kazakhstan.

And her long-term dream is to live quietly in a small town or the mountains with a loving husband and children.

One reason I liked Linda immediately is that we have a lot in common. We are both creative types.

She is an actress and singer, and writes film scripts and songs. I did considerable acting in Japan, love to sing, and I do feature stories, poetry and other kinds of writing. So we understood each other from the start.

Acting has always been part of Linda's life.

Her father was Talgat Nigmatulin, who was known as the Bruce Lee of Kazakhstan and Russia for pioneering karate-themed movies in this part of the world. Her mother is the talented actress Venera Nigmatulina.

It was no surprise, then, that Linda started acting when she was 3. 

“I've been acting all my life,” she said. “Not because I wanted to, really, but because in my world it was everything. I remember going on holidays with my mother, and there would be actors and directors. This was my childhood.”

Linda also wanted to sing – and her first splash of fame came in the five-member girl band Nisso when she was 17.

She married the singing sensation Mukhtar Otali, who was the leader of the boy band Bubliki, when she was 18.

Mukhtar left Bubliki to form the boy-girl tandem DNA with his wife. A son, Alrami, quickly followed.

Linda NIgmatulina and her son Alrami. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina  

Linda should have been happy, but something was missing in the marriage. She divorced Mukhtar.

She remembers the pain of the recrimination from family, friends and fans.

“I was 18, and everyone turned their backs on me,” she said. “'Why are you doing this?' they asked. 'He's such a good guy, so cool.'”

Several lean years in acting and singing followed.

Then Linda got the chance to play the warrior Zeinep in “Nomads.”

“I knew about this – I can fight,” she said of the martial arts skills she'd learned over the years.

She also needed to be a crack horseback rider, so for two years the movie's action-scene coordinators put her through ever-more-demanding riding lessons.

“Nomads” opened in 2005 to box office success and critical acclaim in the former Soviet Union and the rest of the world.

More than any other production, it put Kazakhstan's modern film-making on the map.

It also solidified Linda's reputation as an actress.

Linda Nigmatulina of the magazine cover

Linda Nigmatulina of the magazine cover. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina  

But she began thinking about how long it had taken her to land a role as important as Zeinep.

“After I got my money from 'Nomads,' I asked myself if I would have to wait another 10 years for another big success,” she said.

On an impulse she decided to move to Moscow – “and in three days I packed everything and went.”

She hasn't had a major role in a blockbuster like “Nomads” in Russia, but she's done a lot of work there. The average is about five projects a year, she said, ranging from films to television dramas to TV series.

“I'm one of the few Asians in Russia getting a lot of jobs,” she said. “They need me.”

Then she added with a hint of pain: “I'm sorry that Kazakhstan doesn't need me. I haven't had an interesting offer from Kazakhstan since 'Nomads.' It would be nice if the film-industry people here remembered I was born here. I want to give everything I can to my country.”

“To give requires getting,” however, she said, referring to opportunities. “I'm still trying to get major projects,” she noted.

Actors evolve over the years, and Linda is trying to change her film and television persona from Dragon Lady to a more positive figure.

“Two years ago I found myself totally blocked in negative thoughts,” she said. “I didn't want to translate these bad vibes onto the movie or TV set.”

Linda Nigmatulina

Linda Nigmatulina. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina 

She decided to change her screen persona to something “lighter.”

It has been difficult to make the transition, she said, because “directors remember me in bad roles and call me to play similar ones.”

She's turned down those offers, looking to play characters who are strong but also wise and good.

She still loves singing, but the gigs come sporadically – performing in music festivals, for example.

“When they call me, I get excited,” she said. “Acting is my heart. Singing is my soul.”

She loves music so much that she composes, too – since she was 13.

But she said most of her compositions are unlikely to become hits.

“Most of my songs are about situations deep within the spirit,” she said. “I'm trying to understand what's going on deep inside.”

Typical music fans want fluffy songs that don't force them to think, she said. “They don't like serious stuff.”

So her compositions sit on an Internet site, drawing little fanfare.

When I asked Linda whom she admires or who inspires her, she mentioned the American actors Robin Williams, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster.

Linda Nigmatulina

Linda Nigmatulina. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina 

Later in our conversation she pulled up a photo on her mobile for me.

It was Mother Teresa.

This is the woman who is a model for my life, Linda explained. “She has inspired me to not give up.”

One of Linda's efforts to make the world a better place is adopting homeless cats and dogs and doing what she can for other animals.

She has eight cats in her apartment and is supporting a shelter for others in a suburb of Moscow.

She proudly showed me photos of her cats, who look sleek, content and spoiled.

I told her I understood her need to reach out. For more than a decade I've helped Ukrainians and Kazakhs with medical bills, educational expenses and other challenges, I said. She understood where I was coming from – and suddenly there was an even stronger connection between us.

“We all need to understand that we are part of God,” she said softly. “If we understand this, we have an opportunity to win in this game called life.”

You can get your own feel for Linda's personality by going to her Facebook page.  

Toward the end of the interview I asked Linda what she wanted to do in the future.

“I want to live in a small town or the mountains,” she said. “I want to keep my life light – for my future husband and my children. I want to live not for money, not for Hollywood-type opportunities – just for life.”

It was one of the simplest, yet most profound statements about what's important in life that I'd heard in awhile.

As I wrapped up the interview, Linda said: “You know, I think you and I are going to be friends for the rest of our lives.”
It was my thought exactly.

After I'd left the coffee shop where we'd met, I was thinking that I'd done thousands of interviews as a journalist, but none quite like this.

This one was special. Very special indeed.

Linda Nigmatulina

Linda Nigmatulina. Photo courtesy of Linda Nigmatulina 


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