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Marina and Michael Levitis: Russian Dolls stars' first prelaunch video-interview

, Interviewed by Gennady Katsov

Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show - Marina and Michael Levitis.

Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show - Marina and Michael Levitis. Photo RUNYweb.com

IN RUSSIAN  > > >

On August 11, Lifetime premieres the first of 12 episodes of the «Russian Dolls» reality show. This is a show about Russian Americans of New York. There has never been anything like this in the history of American popular culture, and the excitement about the launch of the show is huge today. Almost every day the English-language press publishes articles and interviews about what those Russians can show, tell and offer, what can they use to entertain, surprise or shock American viewers, as well as what they can teach.
We at RUNYweb.com are glad to present to you an interview with the main characters of the Russian Dolls - Marina and Michael Levitis, the first video-interview in the Russian-language Web, pre-launch and frank.
About a year ago rumors started to appear, about a planned TV show tentatively called «Brighton Beach». The rumors stirred controversy in the Russian-American community. Comparisons of the upcoming show with the scandalous Jersey Shore show on MTV, depicting the lives of young Italian-Americans, gave a reason to believe that the characters of the Russian Dolls will throw insults at each other, swear, behave aggressively and spice up their stories with fighting, hardcore sex and drugs.
Even after it had become known that the show would be produced for the female-oriented and quite respectable Lifetime network, and that would depict the lives of three generations of women living in the “Russian America”, Russian-language mass-media continued to describe the show as one that would defame the community, show it in the worst light, damage its reputation and image.
The launch is near. We’ll wait and watch all twelve episodes. And then make a final judgement. Just three months of weekly vieweing, and everybody will pass his or her own verdict on the case.
So, before making a judgement, please do tune into the Lifetime channel at 10:30pm NY time on August 11. And of course, you should first read the following interview first.
Have a nice time!

Main character of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina Levitis.
Main character of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina Levitis. Photo © RUNYweb.com

My dear friends! We're in the cozy dining hall of the Rasputin restaurant, a very well known restaurant in the borough of Brooklyn, and beside me are the owners of the Rasputin and, so to speak, TV celebrities Marina and Michael Levitis. We are on the threshold of a historic event, the premiere of the "Russian Dolls" reality show on American television. Misha, I'm sure you'll let me speak to Marina first, and then we'll all talk together.
Michael: Agreed.

Ladies first. Marina, first a couple of words about the show: we're nearing the launch date and nobody has seen the first episode yet. On Lifetime's website there's very basically nothing detailed about the show. I understand about the commercial secret and all, but, on the other hand, I'm sure you could tell us at least something.
Marina Levitis:
Sure. Several years ago we were visited by the creators of the show. The show was to be called "Brighton Beach". They were looking for families and youths of varied ages and backgrounds for a show about Russians on Brooklyn. They came to us because they had already found the youths: three girls and two boys in their 20s - something like the cast of the Jersey Shore. The guys like to party around, have a drink, a date or a fight.

Jersey Shore is the show about young Italians who spend their time at New Jersey's beaches.
Marina:
The original idea was to use this format, but the network execs said: "We won't be making a second Jersey Shore - there's already on television, on MTV. Lifetime channel is a female-oriented channel, so they asked for families to be in the show, asked to find women in their 30s to 50s, women of different generations, which will make the show closer to Real Housewives - a show that's very popular on TV now, but about Russians.

Let's clear things up: what is this "network" - you mean Lifetime?
Marina:
Yes, Lifetime. At first, that was an original idea by two girls, creators of the show. Later they turned to a production company…

These "Russian" girls?
Marina:
Yes, two girls of Russian origin. First they turned with their idea to a production company, and then to the network - Lifetime network. The network took up the idea and said they had to make the show more family oriented: we need women of various ages, situations and social statuses.

So, basically, the story of a family?
Marina:
In our case - the story of a family. But in other cases there are young girls who are yet to find their men, or there are two older women with children who already have families of their own. There is also my mother-in-law, who will be taking part in a granny beauty contest in the first episode. She's in her 50s, so her children have their own families, and she's a grandmother of four grandchildren. Again, different generations - different stories. We come across here at the Rasputin, in other places in Brooklyn, so we believe the show will be very interesting for everybody. There hasn't been a show like this in history. There is the Real Housewives, about mature women, there is the Mob's Wives about Italian mobsters' wives, there are other varieties, there is also the Jersey Shore about youths, but there is no single show that incorporates all of these aspects. Our show will. All this will be in a single show, the Russian Dolls on Lifetime.

I've heard "our", "we" and would like to ask Misha: who's "we"? Is this your family? How did all this take place?
Michael:
Our family takes part in the show. Lifetime shows the relationships in our family, between us, between us and our children, between my mother and me and between my mother and Marina.

Is this a reality show - was the camera inside your house?
Michael:
There was a camera in our house, and there was a camera at the Rasputin.

How did you cope with that?
Michael:
It was a difficult task. At first it was very difficult. The camera was actually with us almost 24 hours a day for half a year.

Wait a minute! In the bedroom too?
Marina:
Not in our case. Maybe it was with others, but not in our case. 
Michael: Not in the bedroom - only up to the bedroom door.

And then they listened on you? So, the reality show is filmed  during the daylight...
Michael:
Our life is quite eventful, all the time something happens - that's why we were chosen, because of our life.

Video of the interview. Filming August 04,  2011 © RUNYweb.com:

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You were chosen. Why you?
Michael:
They came to the Rasputin and asked me to introduce them to "colorful" people.
Marina: Those with full, eventful, colorful life. 
Michael: I at once recommended my wife.
Marina: He said: "The most suitable person I know is my wife."

And a beauty, and has a story to tell.
Michael:
Yes, and a story to tell. Some critics ask why the network chose us instead of librarians, nurses or programmers. This is because a lot of things happen in our lives. All those professions are respectable. But our profession is respectful as well, but also entertaining. And one needs to realize that this is entertainment, amusement, show.

I understand you are on everybody's sight. But I'll venture a question many, I think, would like to ask too. It also may be not entirely appropriate. Anyway, did the owners of the Rasputin have to pay for the opportunity to appear in the show?
Marina:
On the contrary - it was me who was paid
Michael: And the Rasputin.

In other words, you were really invited as participants. Now let's go back to the plot. We were talking about three generations. How scripted was the show? How much of what you said was given to you by writers? Did you have to learn anything, or was this a real show with real relationships being demonstrated?
Marina:
The reality show goes like this. There is no script. We are not actors, we have no acting experience. They want real people, they are not interested in actors. That means that if they see that a participant is an actor, they reject him/her. They want everything to be real. 
Of course, they've filmed a boatload of material, but we won't see everything - there are only 12 episodes. They take the most interesting moments from each participant's life. Then they do the editing and create the final edition. We haven't seen the final edition ourselves yet, but we've heard it's already been sent to various media outlets and many critics. 
The first episode is ready, it's premiere will take place on August 11 on Lifetime, right after the Project Runway - the strongest reality-show on Lifetime now. This is a show with a supermodel as the main character, who selects young designers to create interesting projects in every episode. In the end, the winners become famous, receive money and prizes. Lifetime believes in us and in our show to such an extent, that they've scheduled Russian Dolls right after this show, at 10:30pm.

Evening prime time. My congratulations!
Michael:
We are gunning for the Jersey Shore, we are ready to beat it in ratings.

This is the same time Jersey Shore airs on MTV?
Michael:
Yes, the same time. 
Marina: Their slot is from 10:00 to 11:00pm, ours is from 10:30 to 11:00pm. 

A tug of war?
Michael:
A tug of war. I think they really need to give it a proper thought.
Marina: Maybe they need to move over? They'll have to move over.

Maybe, on the eve of the first episode, they're already thinking about it. Maybe they aren't laughing anymore? Anyway, we wish both shows success. I believe that competition is what moves progress. Misha, we've been talking about relationships between women, but you can't base 12 episodes on this. You say the show was filmed here. As far as I understand, when it comes to mobsters' wives, nobody would watch the show if not for one of the wives' tearing out the hair of another wife and then taking off her shoe and beating the opponent on the head with it. The same is true for the Jersey Shore - fights, street jargon etc. As far as I can see, same action had to be present in all 12 episodes of your show?
Michael:
This is called drama. We had drama too. This is heating up the emotions. We showed how we celebrate and how we behave in conflicts too.

Did anyone "pump you up", when a conflict was about to arise?
Michael:
No one pumped us up. Again, this is a reality show.
Marina: If a like a person, I like the person. If I have a problem with someone, then I won't keep silent about it. 
Michael: Marina is a very emotional person.
Marina: I speak frankly, and that's why I was chosen.

Were you put into a situation where you opened up?
Marina:
I think we all opened up - maybe even more than we thought.

Was it some artificially created situation? Lets say, there is an episode filmed at the Rasputin, there are characters with roles, and you are sitting at the table at start quarreling?
Michael:
Nobody ever set up a situation for us. Those were real life situations. Anything can happen in real life: sometimes everything goes well with somebody, sometimes it doesn't. A conflict arises by itself, it's not provoked by anyone... 
Marina: The other side will always provoke the conflict.
Michael: ...I mean nobody of the producers. There are arguments. If everything is civil, it's even interesting. It's not possible to have everything go right and by the plan.

Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina and Michael Levitis. Photo  RUNYweb.com
Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina and Michael Levitis. Photo © RUNYweb.com

Weren't you afraid to open yourself up in front of the camera, for all to see?
Michael:
Of course I was.
Marina: But this is a show! You need to remember that this is a show.
Michael: Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages here.

So you felt as a kind of actor?
Marina: No, not when we quarreled - not between ourselves, but with other participants, we never quarreled between ourselves. 

This could very well lead to a divorce?
Marina:
We did our best to avoid serious conflicts between each other. We mostly had conflicts with others - conflicts that were quite real and which exist even now.

A serious quarrel?
Marina: 
Very serious. There are positive people and negative people, and there are those who try to get in between, want to make peace, but this is impossible. An that's why even with them a conflict arises. These are real situations, which were in the show.

So you found new enemies during the filming? Foes?
Marina:
Thank God, we've got enough enemies and foes.

"Thank God, my friend, for our enemies / That means we may have friends as well." - there is a song about it.
Marina: More envious people than foes.

Another point. I can perfectly remember the first publication about the upcoming show (it was called Brighton Beach at that time) in The New York Post. It was last year, spring if I'm not mistaken. In that publication, I remember there was a photograph of Snooki from the Jersey Shore, and right next to her a Russian girl who was to become the main character, and below a caption: "Here you will see: Russian vodka, borshch, fights..."
Michael:
Vodka is present. 
Marina: Vodka is always in stock at the Rasputin.

... Leggy girls falling into fountains etc. 
Michael:
Girls are present as well.

To be frank, at that time here there was quite a serious backlash from the Russian community - people were saying: "They'll distort and damage the image of our Russian community!" Did you take these sentiments into consideration when you decided to take part in the show?
Michael:
Well, to be fair I wish our show the same success as the Jersey Shore, which is watched by 9 million viewers. Our team strives for the same results, but by different means. We didn't have such distortions as in the Jersey Shore, but we had same young people who behaved accordingly. That means they had fun, drank and partied.

Wen you say "our team", what do you mean? How much did you feel to be in a team? How many of you are there?
Michael:
Officially, there are eight participants: three young girls, three women and two guys. But besides, there are husbands and boyfriends.

And you and Marina are the main characters?
Michael:
We are two of the main characters. 

You're two of these eight participants?
Marina:
I am on of them, and my husband is a family member.
Michael: I am a Russian Man. 

By the way, Russian Dolls was the name of a film in 2003. Are there any similarities? And do you know why this name was chosen?
Michael:
It's not for us to decide on the name of the show, but I like the name. 

"Nested dolls" is all it means...
Marina:
Exactly, the famous Russian nested dolls.
Michael:  I like the name. It's a bit of a provocation, and a bit sexy.

This is way better than, let's say...
Marina:
Brighton Beach?

Yes, or "Vodka", or "Borshch". A show named "Borshch" would be something...
Michael:
 Why didn't they leave the name "Brighton Beach"?  It's because Brighton Beach is only known to New-Yorkers, and the show is watched in the whole world. We're getting calls  asking us for an interview from Australia, India, the Philippines, Russia and Great Britain. This show will be broadcast at the same time here, and in Australia and Great Britain. And the show has been already sold to Russian channels.

Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina and Michael Levitis. Photo  RUNYweb.com
Main characters of the Russian Dolls reality show Marina and Michael Levitis. Photo © RUNYweb.com

Marina, what do you feel right before the airing of the first episode? The thing is that when all 12 episodes are through, you will say, postfactum: "This was good and that was bad". You say you basically haven't seen the final edition. What are your feelings, any anxiety today? You could see yourself in an undesirable aspect, you could hear yourself say something you didn't mean to say?
Marina:
Every day, as we get up in the morning we don't know what our day or our mood will be, how we'll communicate with other people and what their opinion of us will be. The same is true here, the life that's been filmed for half a year: there were good days, there were bad days, there were many beautiful events here at the Rasputin, there was the Old New Year... I won't name all the events, but there were many interesting ones. Some will be shown, some won't, on some days we all were friendly, on other days we argued, but you can't think about this when the filming is on.

Marina, right now, before the airing of the first episode, are you anxious, worried?
Marina: Yes, of course. But I knew what I was getting into. I am a grown up woman, I'm not 23 like some of the girls. The thing is that you already understand this: yes, there was good and bad, but we went for it as a family. We wanted to show that you can be young and successful, you can have a world-famous business, you can have good and bad things in your life, but that's what reality is. 
For this show, we were somewhere in the middle when it comes to age: we have older women, we have women in their 40s, and women in their 20s. I'm 34, and I'm right in the middle. I'm the only one with little kids who still live with me and will be living with me for several years before leaving for college. And that's why I showed how you can manage the Rasputin, your home, your friends, your mother-in-law and your kids altogether - this is what real life of a women is like.

I have the same question for Misha: what are your feelings before the airing of the first episode?
Michael:
The feelings are joyful. I'm expectant.
Marina: He really likes seeing me on TV.

Misha, the thing is - this was a new experience for you, you've never had a profession like this. You're not familiar with all this.
Michael:
This was a chance we took.

Great, my congratulations!
Michael:
No risk - no champagne!

Another point: what have you learned about yourself? You had to be angry, nervous and harsh, or kind and soft. What new traits of character have you discovered - maybe some trait that you hadn't even known about?
Michael:
It turned out I'm not afraid of anything.
Marina: Except me.
Michael:  Turned out I'm ready to show our life as it is. I hadn't thought this is possible.

Is this daring or manliness?
Marina:
I think one must be brave. We invited very many people, but they didn't even want to try. In some things they were too shy, in some - too scared. We don't have anything to be afraid of or to be embarrassed by anymore, thankfully. Because we've already shown how it is in reality. Yes, there are good days and bad days, sometimes we are friendly, sometimes confrontational. Sometimes it's difficult to keep everything together: kids, home, husband, mother-in-law, business - and then look good and smile to everybody. This is normal. All people, all women, go through this, and that's why we went for it.

Marina, I have the same question for you. So, what new things have you discovered in yourself?
Marina:
I'm a woman who, when I like someone from the first moments, will tell this person: "I like you, you're a nice person". But if I dislike someone from the first moments, I can't do anything about it. I will always dislike this person, and this will always end bad. I knew it to a degree, but realized it in full only after the show. In any case, we've quarreled with some, maybe made friends with others, and when all is said and done, I'm glad we've done it. We have shown how Russian-speaking Americans live, how to achieve success, how to behave. How sometimes you need to stand up for yourself. And how, thanks to the show, I managed to tell everything I think to a very difficult person, who is much older than I. For me, it was very hard... I was brought up a very polite girl, so it was hard for me to do. But I did it in the end. It's very important to tell the person everything you really think.

On the one hand, it's important to tell all, but on the other hand - and it's a tenet of many religious traditions - it's important to forgive. The 12 episodes will come and go. Relations with some people will be friendly, but with others they'll be torn. Will you be ready to forgive?
Marina:
You know, a person must ask for forgiveness first. Then he/she can be forgiven. When someone still believes herself/himself to be 100% right, you can't forgive such a person. Even the holiest man has his principles. If someone comes to me asking for forgiveness, then yes, I'll give it. If the person doesn't want to ask for forgiveness, why should I give it?

And you, Misha?
Michael:
I agree. We don't believe in the thing with the other cheek...

Turning the other cheek?
Michael:
Yes, turning the other cheek - we don't believe in that.
Marina: I'm not turning anything to anyone.

If you're offered participation in another show right now, another reality show, with a different plot etc. - will you agree, after all you've been through?
Michael:
First of all, now we have a 5-year contract.
Marina: Is my contract for 5 years?
Michael: Yours is for 5 years, and I don't have one.
Marina: Then you'll participate.
Michael: It's possible. Depending on the plot and the nature of the show.

Do you feel a need to be filmed now?
Marina:
Camera withdrawal syndrome? The first month it was weird.
Michael:The first month after the cameras were removed - it was really weird.

Just like in an old Jewish story about taking a goat into your home to make your life harder, and then feeling great relief after throwing it out.
Marina:
I just didn't know what to do with my day. I didn't have anywhere to hurry and run to! How can it be, anyway? This was a very, very weird feeling at first. The producer once asked me: "We've been with you more than with anybody else, how is your life now?" To which I replied: "All is well, but there's a weird feeling. I don't know how to spend my day." But after some time you get back to normal life.
Michael: A producer told me about a show he used to work on. When the cameras were removed, one of the female contestants committed suicide. She just couldn't imagine her life without cameras.

That's what I'm talking about - a kind of addiction, a habit. Did you have anything like this?
Marina:
Yes, I did at first, but it was gone later.  The first couple of weeks or maybe even the first month there was a weird feeling.

Well, guys, I wish you luck - luck in your career, since you've got a 5-year contract. This means you'll go on working and improving your acting. Of course, we wish the show luck. And we'd like it to be successful from the point of view of the image of our Russian-American community.
Michael:
We did our best.
Marina: We did our best.
Michael: I think Brighton Beach should be proud of us and celebrate, because now Brighton Beach will appear on the global map.
Marina: Now everybody on the planet will know what Brighton Beach is, what the Rasputin restaurant is, who comes here and what Russians look like.
Michael: So, dear owners of businesses on Brighton Beach, get ready for an increase in business - I guarantee that.

My last question: what are your feelings now? Do you like what you did in the show?
Michael:
I'm a believer of the "no regrets" principle - I never regret anything. This is true for the show as well.

Marina?
Marina:
As a whole, I agree. I don't regret anything. I know some moments won't be good for me, and I'll have to live through them, no matter in what light I'm presented, but I regret nothing. I agree with Misha, I agree with everything that was done in the show. We did our best to show our brightest side, but, unfortunately, anything can happen.

And now, as wise people in Hollywood say: "Mazel tov!" 
Marina:
Thanks! Thank you.

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