5 Celebrities you didn’t know spoke Russian
Russian is widely accepted as being one of the hardest languages to learn, hence its invariable presence on lists of ‘the hardest languages to learn’. So when its revealed that a native English speaker, especially those with notoriety in the celebrity world, have studied or speak Russian, it never fails to attract attention from the media and linguaphiles alike. So what follows is a succinct summary of 5 celebrities you didn’t know spoke Russian.
The first, and only native Russian speaker on this list is Hollywood actress and star of Ted, Mila Kunis. Kunis was actually born in what is now Ukraine but was a part of the Ukrainian SSR and wider USSR in 1983. Despite having moved to the west coast US mainland aged 7 (following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), Kunis’ Russian-language skills have remained and has stated repeatedly that they are both an integral part of her indemnity and heritage as well as being the common language spoken amongst her family at home. Kunis’ Russian-language skills do however seem not as widely known about as one might expect, something a Russian-speaking reporter found out all too well in 2011. The famous interview, a part of Kunis’ media duties when promoting her new film ‘Friends with Benefits’, alongside co-star Justin Timberlake, proved Kunis’ Russian-language skills to be evidently fluent as she defended her Timberlake from a misleading question, all conducted in Russian.
The second celebrity with some Russo-linguistic proclivities isn’t quite fluent, but not far from it. British actress Kate Beckinsdale’s Russian-speaking skills came to the fore in celebrity media following an interview with Stephen Colbert on his US chat show. Beckinsdale, the star of films like Pearl Harbour and Total Recall, first studied Russian and French at New College, University of Oxford (a typical language combination) before leaving Oxford without completing her degree in order to pursue a burgeoning acting career. It’s safe to say from watching Beckinsdale’s interview, her Russian skills certainly haven’t waned in the intervening years since she was at Oxford.
The next surprising famous Russian speaker is self-proclaimed Russophile and Chekhov-lover, Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is likely the most recognisable of the celebrities on this list, likely owing to his infamous performance in the Harry Potter franchise, his starring role in the recent instalments of the James Bond franchise as well as a leading role in the 2022 horror-turned-comedy, The Menu. Fiennes has however expressed a great love of the arts beyond the mainstream, with a particular focus on the Russian variation. Fiennes Russian-language skills are far from perfect, but certainly passable, though his passion for Russian theatre, literature and even film certainly compensates this. In fact, Fiennes has appeared in stage adaptations of Chekhov’s Иванов, Turgenev’s Отцы и дети as well as starring in the leading role in the eponymous film adaptation of Pushkin’s Евгений Онегин in 1999. Not to mention, Fiennes directed and starred in the 2018 biopic of renowned Soviet ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, in which he played Alexander Pushkin (not the poet), but Nureyev’s ballet coach. Evidently, Fiennes’ love of Russian extends beyond just that of the language.
Nicolas Cage / Jared Leto
The two titans of Hollywood certainly aren’t fluent Russian speakers, but their performance in the 2005 crime drama, Lord of War, undoubtedly earns them a mention on this list. The pair star as a pair of Ukrainian-American refuges-turned-arms dealers, operating out of ‘little Odessa’ in early 80s Brighton Beach, New York. The film follows the hair-brain descent into the criminal underworld of Soviet arms dealing and consequently, both Cage and Leto try their hands at a bit of Russian, to lend some much-needed authenticity to the film, a vaguely masked retelling of real-life gangster, Victor Bout’s life. The Russian is far from great, but they get points for trying.
The final, and perhaps most surprising mention on this list is ‘MythBusters’ star, Jamie Hyneman. The iconic beret-clad American designer and TV presenter worked on the action packed show as many will remember; though few know that Hyneman earned a degree in Russian linguistics from Indiana University, and so speaks Russian very well. Though evidence of his Russo-linguistic tendencies seems to have vanished from the internet, you’ll have to take my word for it!
Patrick, currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz, Riga.