Written by Ryan Keating
Kazakh actor and singer-songwriter Gabriel Cohen has an inspiring artistic career that is constantly taking on new form in the Czech capital. Whether it be acting in Mission Impossible: Ghost Patrol or singing at the top of Žižkov’s TV tower, Gabriel aims to bring a great deal of positive energy through his work and believes that everyone deserves a chance to truly live.
I recently sat down in the centre of Prague’s old town labyrinth to enjoy a coffee with Gabriel, as well as have a chat about life in Prague, and also to talk about his latest role in the provocative LGBT rights film PUT[IN]LOVE. Talking to the handsome and extremely easy-going young man was an absolute pleasure, and throughout the interview I found myself asking the same question over and over; “How can he possibly be the bad guy?”
PUT[IN]LOVE is a new short film which premiered to the masses of the internet on Valentine’s Day. The film explores gender identity issues in modern day Russia and forces us to delve into a day in the troubled world of main character Zhenya. Directed by Greek-born Eirini Karamanoli and written by her sister, PUT[IN]LOVE is a short film that will have you thinking for a long time.
Thanks for meeting me today Gabriel, let’s start by talking about PUT[IN]LOVE… What’s it all about and how did you get involved with it?
I liked the idea of this project, it’s all about fighting for freedom. In our countries, Russia and maybe also Kazakhstan – it’s all about discrimination. There is a lot of aggression and violence towards the LGBT community. I hope people who watch the film will start to think about the situation more. A small percentage of people in Russia will be affected by this… There will definitely be support and understanding from Europe and the USA, but not so much from Russia.
As for getting involved, I saw the post advertising auditions on Facebook from the Prague Film and Theatre Centre (PFTC). And my audition went well, I think. The director Eirini said it went well anyway (laughs). She was actually scared, I was shouting a lot!
Who did you play in the film?
In this film I play a homophobe. A very aggressive man with a typical Russian thug mentality – he doesn’t respect people who are different. It was hard for me to recognise myself when I saw my facial expressions on the monitors! I look very scary and I’m always chewing gum which makes it more intense.
Photo: Gabriel Cohen
How do you feel about being the antagonist of the film? Have you played one before?
No, I had never played anything like this before. But when I was younger I did jiu-jitsu and also karate until I was about 21, so you could say that I know about the art of fighting (laughs). I also did some cage fighting at one point and THAT was intense. So, the physical preparation was already there, but to do the emotions was really something special. My character in this film is basically the leader of the pack, he likes to sit back and watch the violence happen – it’s very psychological.
How has the film personally affected you? Have you ever been the victim?
Yes, I have. Especially in Kazakhstan when I was younger. Not only was I fighting for sport, but I also had some problems in the streets. But this project has definitely brought in some new emotions. I’ve always believed in fighting for freedom.
Photo: Gabriel Cohen
And what about the Winter Olympics? Are you boycotting them?
I don’t want to watch it. I like sport, but these games are very political, there are a lot of problems. And I really don’t care for politics.
Ok, and Why Prague? Was it acting that brought you here?
No, originally I came here to study at Charles University. I am currently studying theology and really love it. Right now I’m writing about the Jewish Kabbalah. I’ve always been interested in art, so in Prague I now do a few things. I act, I also do modeling even though I’m short (laughs), and I am also a singer-songwriter trying to bring my soul out through my lyrics.
That’s interesting, what do you sing about?
Everything, it’s all very personal though. I think the most important thing with expressing yourself is to go into the smaller details of things. Everything must be written down in my songs! Even the stars in my morning coffee!
Photo: Gabriel Cohen
And what are you currently working on? Where can we expect to see you in the future?
I’d really like to concentrate on songwriting, but actually I’m starting work on a short horror film next week too. I read the script yesterday and it’s about digging!
Yes, and I will be the main “digger” …the bad guy again (laughs).