A Famous Soviet Film Director Plants His Feet in Malibu and Casts An Eye on Hollywood

updated 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like a lot of moviemakers in California, he drives a convertible, lives in a beach house, and is holding a script for Nastassia Kinski. But film director Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky also possesses something that his Hollywood colleagues cannot claim: Soviet citizenship. With seven films and numerous international prizes to his credit, Konchalovsky, 45, is a major director in the Soviet film industry. He has, however, temporarily traded Moscow for Malibu and is busy talking deals and taking meetings. In strongly accented English, Konchalovsky explains, "I must make American movie. This is what I have decided."

Unfortunately for him, Hollywood has not yet decided the same thing despite lots of encouragement from high-level friends. Jack Nicholson touts Andron, as his pals call him, as "one of the most talented and important filmmakers of our time." Robert Duvall broke out vodka and caviar when he hosted the Los Angeles premiere of Konchalovsky's recent film Siberiade. Kinski insists that if studio chiefs would hire him, "they would be doing themselves a favor." But so far the Russian has been treated by the studios as a curiosity. "E.T. and I are the same," he says. "We are asked the same questions always: 'How did you get here? Where did you come from? What is it like from where you came?' "

Konchalovsky's family is prominent in the arts. Great-grandfather Vasili I. Surikov was a painter. His father, Sergei Mikhalkov, heads the Moscow writers' union and his mother is a poet and translator. Brother Nikita directed two popular Soviet films which Andron scripted. Nikita also starred in Siberiade, a three-hour epic that is the No. 2 box office hit of all time in the U.S.S.R.

Siberiade also served as Andron's passport to America. Following his divorce from a Russian actress, he met a visiting French au pair girl at the Kremlin wall. She became his second wife. The marriage earned him official permission to live in Paris. Jon Voight phoned him after seeing Siberiade and told him his work was "brilliant." Recalls the director, "He said, 'You are fantastic filmmaker. You must come to United States.' " At Voight's urging, Universal in 1980 made a production agreement with Andron, who then received a visa to work in the U.S. "I don't think any other Russian has such a full visa here," he says.

Getting to Hollywood, however, has proved easier than working there. The tentative agreement with Universal fell through, as have a few others. Konchalovsky turned down two offers to direct because he still felt unfamiliar with American culture. Says he, "I didn't know what was under people's beds yet, so to speak." The collaborative process of Hollywood moviemaking also confounds him. "In Russia," he says, "I was used to complete control." Although Andron is writing two scripts, the only film he has completed here is a short subject, Split Cherry Tree, which has been nominated for an Academy Award. Warns friend Margot Kidder, "He's an artist, not a businessman, and I suspect Hollywood might be rough on him for a while."

Meanwhile Andron maintains the life-style of a modest capitalist. His Malibu home is unassuming, and he drives a battered ragtop. But he also keeps an apartment in Paris, where his second wife, from whom he is separated, and his daughter reside. His 18-year-old son lives in Moscow, and Andron maintains an apartment there.

He has been in the U.S. long enough to put a Slavic slant on the movie business. "I compare Hollywood to a big monstrous animal who just devours," he says. "But everybody who comes here would like to be swallowed by this monster. There is an enormous crowd in front of this monster and he is very picky about whom he swallows." Andron is certain his turn is coming. "My projects are good," he insists. "They will be commercial and universal." Spoken like a man in search of a three-pix pact.

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