From ‘Rocky IV’ to ‘Grab it any way you can’: the British actor who was Gorbachev in Hollywood

The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died on August 30 at the age of 91, has revived the debate on the historical role of the last prime minister of the Soviet Union. The Russian politician continues to be a figure as much admired as detested due to those attempts to reform his country that, without intending to, caused its decomposition.

It is also worth remembering that his project to reform the Soviet regime (the famous ‘perestroika’) made Gorbachev one of the most famous faces in the world, something that led him to accept a cameo in the film So far, so close! (Wim Wenders, 1993), to be interviewed in documentaries such as Meeting Gorbachev (WernerHerzog, 2018) and to star in an embarrassing advertisement for pizza hut in 1998.

The celebrity of ‘Gorby’, as he was nicknamed by the Western media, also resulted in his appearance as a character in some fictional films. And, in these cases, the directors and producers had a reference actor to turn to: David LloydAustin, British interpreter who raised his career around his physical resemblance to the premier.

Born in the English county of Cheshire in 1943, Austin made his film debut with one of the quintessential films about the end of the Cold War: that Rocky IV (1985) in which Sylvester Stallone gave the Soviet boxer hair Dolph Lundgren and, if they let him, to the nomenklatura In its whole.

Although the credits of the ‘Sly’ tape did not call Gorbachev by name, the identity of that “Soviet leader” played by Austin was very evident. In this way, we saw him standing up to greet Ivan Drago from the presidential box to the sounds of the always epic anthem of the USSR, and also to applaud Rocky’s speech after the end of the fight.

The English actor’s next appearance as Gorbachev led him to meet a character whose destructive power far exceeds that of Rocky: Frank Drebin, the policeman played by Leslie Nielsen in the saga Grab it as you can.

The Gorbachev-Drebin summit took place in the first installment of the serial (1988) and was as traumatic as it should be. After surprising him participating in a conspiracy against the United States (of which the ayatollah Khomeini and the palestinian Yasser Arafat, among others), Frank Drebin not only gives him a sovereign beating: he also erases with a rag the famous whim that Gorbachev wore on his forehead.

Let’s add to this a Nielsen who looked at the camera to exclaim “I knew it!” with an impassive gesture, and we will have a gag capable of bursting with laughter the cinemas of almost the whole world.

In 1989, David Lloyd Austin reprized his most famous role accompanying another comedic titan: Billy Crystal. In Midnight Train to Moscow, Special of HBO about the comedian’s first performance in Moscow, the actor was featured in a skit where an exasperated Gorbachev has to mediate tensions in his inner circle.

In order to find out how capitalism works, the premier summons its greatest exponent to the meeting: a real estate developer from Los Angeles, also played by Crystal. The sinister character proposes to the Politburo the creation of Leninland, a theme park about the revolutionary leader located in the middle of Red Square.

According to IMDB, David Lloyd Austin played Gorbachev once again, in an episode of the espionage series Kickback (1990). Although her career continued, the drop in popularity of her most famous character after the collapse of the USSR led her to play other roles in series and television films such as Beyond the limit Y The net. He passed away in Canada in March 2015, at the age of 71.

Since then, Gorbachev’s most prominent appearance on screen has been in the series Chernobyl, where he gave life David Dencik. One wonders how the cinema will address his figure in the coming decades, as we come to terms with the tragic (and, it seems, inevitable) resurgence of tension between superpowers.

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From ‘Rocky IV’ to ‘Grab it any way you can’: the British actor who was Gorbachev in Hollywood


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