Veteran actor U.Batbaatar, who played in more than 100 films and 50 plays, received the State Honored Actor title in December 2016.
During his 33 years in the theater and film industry, U.Batbaatar has won over the hearts and minds of Mongolian audiences with his skilled transformations in every role he brings to life. Most members of the audience were pleased to see the actor finally receive state recognition for his work.
U.Batbaatar spoke about his insecurities before accepting his state title and shared about his challenging journey to becoming an actor in the following interview.
The Mongolian state has awarded you the State Honored Actor title in recognition of your contributions to the film industry and theater. How did you feel receiving this award?
I first heard about this from general director of the Mongolian Film Union J.Solongo on December 26, 2016. She immediately congratulated me on the phone and I was baffled by it. Last year, actor G.Zolboo and I were nominated for this award from the Mongolian Film Union. I was very nervous at the award ceremony for some reason – probably because I was only with my wife there.
My friends and students congratulated me first. The news had already spread on Facebook and Twitter before I realized. I was quite scared though.
What were you scared of?
Mostly, I was anxious of people’s reactions.
But haven’t your fans been waiting for a long time for you to receive the State Honored Actor title?
I didn’t read comments on my Facebook wall at first due to anxiety and fear, but I was very surprised to find out that people were very supportive and happy that I won the title. Many people had shared words of encouragement. I felt ecstatic to learn that viewers valued my talents and skills. Even now, I’m unable to suppress my joy.
Are you proud of yourself?
The thing is that my parents waited for me to receive an award for a long time, my mother in particular. Unfortunately, they passed away before seeing it. At the ceremony, I really wanted a kiss from my parents on my cheek. I’m happy to be able to realize my parents’ wish. Right after exiting the State Palace, I looked at the blue sky, took a deep breath and smiled. I’m sure my mother and father watched me receive the state award from the heaven above.
I’m forever in debt to seniors G.Dorjsambuu, L.Lkhasuren, D.Maamkhuu, and S.Sugar, who passed away after teaching me everything they know about acting. I whispered “thank you” to them quietly.
Can you tell us how you entered the theater and film industry? Is it true that you failed the first audition for the Mongolian State University of Education (MSUE)?
I finished middle school in 1983. I decided to become an actor back then. I auditioned for the film and drama class of the MSUE, but failed. I’d passed the skills test but failed the general education test. Since I was determined to become an actor, I was really stuck after failing the audition because I had declined all the other university offers.
What happened afterwards?
I was standing in the corridor when instructor G.Dorjsambuu came and asked me what I was doing. I said I failed and after a while, he led me to the drama department room. He wrote a letter and told me to take it to the Children’s and Youth Theater. I was hired at the theater and worked there for nearly two years before I re-auditioned for the MSUE drama and play class again.
I almost failed again. It was because I didn’t pass the skills test.
You have been acting at the Children’s and Youth Theater for two years. So why did you fail your second audition?
I did every movement done by actor J.Janchivdorj, who was working at the theater at the time. I thought doing the same as him was the way to becoming a great actor and didn’t realize that I’d become only his imitation. G.Dorjsambuu was judging auditions and told me that he only saw J.Janchivdorj from my acting and told me that an actor mustn’t be bound to only one style of acting. I was shocked, scared and upset to have been disqualified since I was sure I would pass with flying scores. Not a single judge complimented my acting. Right when I was about to exit, onc of the judges called out to me and asked me to perform something else without impersonating or imitating another actor. The judges didn’t watch my performance. Instead, they chit chatted and laughed among themselves. Apparently, I wasn’t acting in my own style, but I didn’t realize it because I was so engrossed in my acting.
I left the room dejected. I thought I’d failed but I’d actually passed. This is how I started my journey to becoming an actor. I was in the same class as State Honored Actress I.Odonchimeg, O.Enkhtuul, Yo.Altangerel and G.Zolboot, who are all amazing actors now.
..I’m happy to be able to realize my parents’ wish. Right after exiting the State Palace, I looked at the blue sky, took a deep breath and smiled. I’m sure my mother and father watched me receive the state award from the heaven above…
Did you return to the Children’s and Youth Theater after graduating?
No. G.Zolboot, I.Odonchimeg, O.Enkhtuul and I were assigned to a theater in Dundggovi Province. Later, I.Odonchimeg and O.Enkhtuul went to the State Academic Theater of Drama while G.Zolboot and I were recruited by the Army Drama Theater.
How long did you work at the Army Drama Theater?
I worked there until it shut down. The Army Drama Theater renamed itself to Orchin Uye (Modern Times) and transferred some actors to the State Academic Theater of Drama. In the end, it shut down. Since I had no job, I even did what everyone else was doing and started trading, but it wasn’t meant for me. So in 1999, I stepped into the film industry.
You probably made many good memories at the Children’s and Youth Theater. Did you also meet your wife there?
My wife J.Erdenchimeg was a makeup artist. I still remember the day I saw my wife for the first time. After failing my first audition, I went to the Children’s and Youth Theater on July 20, 1983 while holding G.Dorjsambuu’s letter addressed to L.Lkhasuren. Some staff members were playing tennis downstairs and so was my wife. She was very good at it. Soon after, we started talking, became attracted to one another and started dating. It’s difficult to marry an artist. I was able to receive the State Honored Actor title only because I had my wife – a real hero of labor.
You’ve taken roles in more than 50 plays and 100 films. Which role was the most difficult to portray?
In 1984, I was given my first role, which was Tulgaa from “Ikh Zamiin Toos” (Dust on the Main Road). This role is very dear to me as it helped me find my road to stardom. I played the role of Bogd Khaan in “Etsiin Shiid” (Final Decision) play at the age of 24. I learned so many things, almost enough to graduate a school, just by working on this role.
I got to meet with famous veteran actors N.Tsegmid and Ts.Gantumur through this play. I listened carefully to every word they said. I played Bogd Khaan in a film production as well. However, I still want to take part in a documentary or film about Bogd Khaan.
The Mongolian film industry was in a crisis from 1990 to 1999. Most actors left the industry during that period, right?
I’m proud that I chose to continue acting. The late 1990s was a difficult time when the film industry was stagnant. G.Zolboot and I worked very hard to continue producing films and stayed in the film industry along with some of our fellow actors. It’s true that film quality degraded, but everyone was trying to contribute in the industry and produce films even if it meant that we had to put our homes and property on the line for loans.
Haven’t you written and directed several films?
The first film script I wrote and directed was “Tsusan Kholboo” (Blood Relations) inspired from “Tavilan” (Fate). The film featured children living in manholes – a very popular topic back then. The whole nation was concerned about their wellbeing and future.
The film “Blood Relations” was my way of expressing my distress and the thorn in my heart. So far, I’ve written and directed four films: “Blood Relations”, “Mori Buusan Shagai” (Ankle-Bone Lands on the Horse Side), “Chi Itgekhgui l dee” (You Won’t Believe It) and “Khairlakhsan”(Wanting to Love). I plan to do another film this year.
Tell us about Grand Film Production, which you founded?
I started Grand Film Production under Jiguur Grand Group, but then closed it down. Now, I work at Khangarid Studio, which I founded. The studio makes all types of audiovisual recording such as commercials, music videos and documentaries. Our most recent production is a short film titled “Jiguur”.
What are your talents? Is it true that you’re very talented in arts and crafts?
I used to fix and personalize my uniform all the time – even when I was in middle school. During the transition to free market economy, I used to sew and sell things.
I’m quite good at long song singing. I participated in many school talent shows. My father advised that I become a long song singer instead when I told him that I wanted to become an actor.