Are we there yet? – Interview with József Kerekes

In Hungary when you mention the dubbing actor of Jim Carrey, the donkey from Shrek and Peter Griffin from Family Guy everyone knows who you are talking about. His name is József Kerekes, and besides being one of the most known voices in Hungary he is also a theatrical actor, a father of four children, and at last but not least a very helpful and sympathetic man. I met him in front of the stage door of Víg Theatre in Budapest, before the evening performance Össztánc (‘common-dance’). When he arrived, he had a few minutes to play with a toddler of one of his colleagues, and then he answered all my questions in the dressing room patiently.

Kerekes JózsefYou have been interviewed several times before. Is there a specific topic you prefer or what you don’t really like?

No, I’m a chatterer. So there is no such topic. But if there was, I would tell you. But rapidly, I couldn’t name any.

You started your career in the Pince Theatre and then you played in the National Theatre.

I started there, in ’86. Oh my God. Next year it will be 30 years ago that I got my diploma. Together with the two years of college I spent six years there (in the National Theatre), from ’84 to ’90.

Then you played in József Attila Theatre, then in the Kamara Theatre of Budapest for 19 years, and since 2011 you are the member of Víg Theatre. You mentioned in your previous interviews that the five years between ’92 and ’97 was really special in your career. Why?

Yes. Actually, not only because I got a Jászai Mari-award (a national award in Hungary for outstanding theatrical work) that time but I think I deserved it then. I was one of the leading actors of a well-working theatre that time. The young Rátóti, Nemcsák, Zoli Újvári, Éva Vári, Lajos Kránitz, Györgyi Andai, Zsuzsi Szilágyi and Éva Vass (Actors of Kamara Theatre of Budapest in the 1990’s) played there, and plays such as Bunbury, Vértestvérek (‘Blood Brothers’), Indul a bakterház (‘The Watchman’s house takes off’), Vissza a fegyverekhez (‘Back to the Weapons’), Stalker, Anyánk napja (‘Mother’s Day’), Amit a lakáj látott (‘What the Butler Saw’) were on. Better and better plays followed one another in a row. That was a really good period.

Switching to the present, you play in the Össztánc this evening. In this piece dancing and moving has a main role. Was it difficult for you to learn the dance steps and choreographies?

If I said yes, I would lie, but if I said no, I would also. We had to learn the dances. Practically, we started with a dance course. Cha-cha-cha, tango, Charleston, waltz… there were some, with which we already met, we had an idea about them, so it wasn’t that difficult. But anyway, we worked a lot to perform these dances right off the bat on stage. We have to take the battle with it every evening, but when we already do it, that’s different. It’s a lot more tiring at the level of practising, when we labour with it from 10 AM to 2 PM, than during the performances, when we only have to go through it once.

You also play in the Mester és Margarita (‘The Master and Margarita’), in the play Jó embert keresünk (‘We are looking for good people’), in the Túl a Maszat-hegyen (‘Over the Maszat-mountain’), in the Játszd újra, Sam (‘Play it again, Sam’) and in the Karinthy Theatre in the play A Nadrág (The Pant)

And in A Testőr (‘The Bodyguard’), which had a premier this January.

That is still on, right?

Absolutely. It has a great success. Not because of me, but I think I can declare immodestly that I am also part of the success. The role of the loaner in the A Testőr fits to me well; it is such a nice character.

Many people believe that the amount of young people visiting theatres is decreasing. Personally, I experience it differently, because anytime I go to the theatre the auditorium is full.

You already gave the answer. Actually, I could only repeat you; my personal experience is exactly the same. Though, you can see the consistency of the audience more clearly from the inside, the amount of young people. I couldn’t really quantify that while looking down during the applause. But I also see that there are many young people and that is amazing. Despite what is ‘centrally’ believed, it is great that people are still interested. I think that for us, theatre workers, it has to be really touching that there are still many people visiting theatres.

Actually, one of my favourite parts is the applause. Expressing acknowledgements together in such a rhythmic way…

That is interesting, because during the applause, I am quite embarrassed; I have nothing to hide behind. Because from seven to ten, during the performance, people can hide behind the character, and then he acts, or lives through. But during the applause, it is me who stands there; József Kerekes is the one who has to stand in front of the audience and what should we do there? It feels great, and thank you.

You are not only an actor, but your voice is also widely known in Hungary. Though, I know you prefer to be called an actor, rather than a dubbing actor. Dorottya Tóth had an initiation in January to make Hungarian dubbing a ‘Hungarikum’ (Hungarian speciality). Do you think it’s feasible, and is it necessary?

I am a bit sceptic about that. I think it is not feasible. Though for protecting a profession I would support the initiation. I would say that dubbing as a Hungaricum is reasonable, so no one could dissolve it with a stroke of the pen, or with a contribution of a representative in the parliament, saying that there is no need for dubbing. The viewers’ customs are different in Hungary. Decades of persistent educational work would be necessary to abolish Hungarian dubbing. Viewers are used to watch films in the television in Hungarian. Not to mention that I usually resent being called a voice actor, because I remember that Antal Páger, Lajos Básti, István Sztankay and Zoltán Latinovics (actors in Hungary in the 20th century) also dubbed films and no one dared to call them dubbing actors. The world has changed, I always say that. It’s not my fault that TV and radio plays are not produced, and much less Hungarian films are made; only three-five each year, all with the same 15-20 actors. Still, I am lucky compared to many of my colleagues, for being recognised for something else as well. And sometimes I’m only recognised for that. Some people don’t know that I also play in theatres.

What kind of dubbing directors do you like working with? What characteristics and attitude is important to have?

Actually, I am self-propelled artillery, after these 25 years. Of course, I like working with directors who I trust in. It is subjective who they are, but obviously, who I work with for a long time. Now I only need to have a good control. They don’t need to explain me the plot or the character, because I look at it and I can see it. But including these: to have self-control, if there was a word-final vocal, or to shade the character more. To be a bit more evil, or be a bit more released, in such things.

You are in this profession for a long time. Are you still nervous or excited before performances and recordings?

Before the recordings I am not. That is a different genre, thank god. There is no audience there, so only my tongue could trip; I don’t have to worry about not remembering my lines, because I have the copy in my hands. And also, as I said, I feel confident in dubbing, as a fish in the water. That is my type of work. It is difficult to embarrass me in that field; I don’t claim that it is impossible, I do not think that. Performances are different again, you cannot get used to it. When people stand out there, and only three or two other watch him, is not the same; from one night to another, today as well. Of course, such a big game, as the Össztánc, where we don’t have to speak, is another type of difficulty; although, returning to one of your first questions, I really enjoy it, I like it. It is another kind of challenge. I always liked dancing. I wouldn’t say that I can, but I like it. And dancing as a self-expression; sometimes I envy people whose profession is in connection with moving. Right, they might envy me for being able to express myself with words or with tone. Mutually. So returning to the question, a performance is always a stress, especially the premier. Then, after a while people get used to being watched by the audience.

How do you feel when you come off the stage? Are you tired, or happy…?

Happiness is another category again. In my opinion, happiness rarely happens to people. When someone gets into a really good performance; but such performance doesn’t born every day. In the period that you’ve already mentioned, from ’92 to ’98, there were a lot of plays like that, for example Bunbury. And there are cases when it is not the play itself, but I feel I have some special part in it, what I especially enjoy. Sometimes the audience may not certainly like it, but I feel it is important and significant in my career. Well, the state of happiness is when I leave the stage with thoughts as “It was almost good. It was almost perfect.” Tiredness is more frequent. For example, after the play A Nadrág (‘the Pant’), which is a nice buffoonery, not a deep philosophical piece to think about, we are also tired. People don’t have to explore their soul, it is not tiring in that way, but we have to speak and tear about in it; I am sweaty at the end and I sit in the changing room, it feels good to rest and pant for a few minutes. But after the Össztánc, in which we jump and dance a lot, I also need a few minutes; you cannot just change so fast. At least, I can’t. I was always known for being slow, after performances; my mother, when she still lived, usually waited for me patiently after performances. She knew that I am going to be even if not the last, but one of the lasts who finishes. Exactly because I don’t like the lightning change, I enjoy sitting about there for a while.

And one last question: could I take a photo?

Of course. People might say that you were not even here. Oh, only of me? I thought together.DSC01335

Translated from Hungarian

Interview by Eszter Pálinkás, 18.11.2015


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