“Freedom is a state of mind.” One can only hope, especially while watching Michael Goorjianis the main character in his new Armenian film AmerikatsiThe focus is on an American who travels to Soviet Armenia in the late 1940s to learn more about his roots. From then on, it’s desperation personified as he is immediately sent to a Soviet prison for reasons simply beyond his control. He’s not a threat, as they say; He’s a charming, hopeful person who will continue to inspire viewers long after Goorjian’s new film is completed.
We recently caught up with Goorjian, who, in addition to starring, is also writing and directing his new comedy. He talks about wearing multiple hats on the COVID-19 filmed production, one of his fun little connections to Charlie Chaplin, and more.
“Do not worry, be Happy”
As Goorjian’s new film comes to an end, a title card appears on the screen that reads, “Dedicated to my grandfather.” Amerikatsi is already based on true events that take place in a tense time after World War II, but Goorjian takes it a step further and uses personal memories to tell a heartwarming, sometimes tragic story. “Many Armenians who came to America and survived the genocide reacted differently,” Goorjian told MovieWeb, continuing:
“My grandfather took the path of just putting an end to it and letting his children grow up to be Americans. And I remember as a child he never talked about the genocide, he just told me, ‘It must be you.’ Happy.’ The Bobby McFerrin song, [my grandfather] used to say that before Bobby McFerrin said, “Don’t worry, be happy.” And he always reiterated that to me. In a way, I dedicated myself to him because the character of Charlie is truly who he was.”
Amerikatsi is also a special project because of its timing on the production side. Given the global pandemic, these are strange times we are living in. And as Goorjian told us, they started filming his film in March 2020. “Five days after we started filming, we had to lock down,” he said. “And I ended up stuck in Armenia for about seven months. Me and my cameraman came from the USA; most of the crew and cast were all stationed in Armenia. But yes, we were there. It was crazy.”
In AmerikatsiGoorjian plays the imprisoned American who ends up forming an unlikely bond with a guard who lives nearby. Tigran is his name and he is played perfectly by Hovik Keuchkerian. While talking about the complications caused by the pandemic, Goorjian noted how Keuchkerian’s mother contracted the virus in real life in Madrid. All of his scenes were filmed at some point, but it sounds like it took some time. Goorjian went on to detail the shooting during the COVID-19 experience:
“We were in lockdown for a good two months. And then the government said, ‘Okay, we’ll just let you do the scenes in the cell because it’s just you and a few crew members.’ So there aren’t too many people there. And I remember that day, you know, after two months of everyone waiting to see what was going to happen, that was one of the happiest days on set that I’ve ever experienced. People were just so excited to be able to do something.
“And so obviously it was a challenge to shoot all of those sequences, but I mean, the pandemic actually made the movie a better movie in the long run,” Goorjian added. “We did our best to overcome all the challenges it brought us [my character] Charlie – just find the opportunity in it.”
Directing other actors and representing Armenia
Goorjian has led projects in the past and has therefore served in multiple roles Amerikatsi wasn’t exactly a daunting experience. “I chose directing because I love acting. I love working with actors,” he said. “I tend to rely on my DP to do what he was hired to do, which is camera work. And he knows everything I’m looking for… I really relied on him and my ADs. But for me that’s not the case.” It’s too different directing other actors and me acting in a scene with you; it feels the same. So it’s not too difficult, but you have to have a good team around you.”
It was a good team that put together this new film, which has a lot of good jokes. Finally, Amerikatsi is a comedy-drama despite its dark subject matter. The Soviet guards often call Charlie “Mr. Charlie Chaplin and, interestingly, Goorjian played the legendary actor’s son in the 1992 film with Robert Downey Jr. That was pure coincidence, says Goorjian: “Actually, it was just a joke. Someone just started calling.” [me that] because the character’s name was Charlie […] Even in the Soviet Union, knowledge of what America was like in the West was very limited at the time. They knew Mickey Mouse and things like that. And Charlie Chaplin seemed like one of those weird guys from the West.
Another project Goorjian worked on at a young age was musical film Newsies alongside fellow rising star Christian Bale. And it seems that in addition to acting, Goorjian was always destined to be a filmmaker as well, as the cast members were on set making their own horror film Newsies – it says There’s a lot of blood dripping in Newsies Square. “We literally had a VHS camera on set,” Goorjian said.
“We were bored, so me and a few other guys started making our own horror film. It’s about [Don Knotts] Does not appear on the set of Newsies and go on a killing spree, and it’s hysterical. And we literally shot it in sequence with the camera, one shot at a time… It’s crass, young humor. Christian Bale is there. Bill Pullman is there. Everyone wanted to be a part of it.
And one final note about Amerikatsi — His Armenian themes cannot but shed light on the country’s current situation and Tensions with Azerbaijan. Goorjian is aware of the situation and commented on how he is helping to raise awareness:
My version of the goal is attention. So few people even know where Armenia is. And right now, given what’s going on, there are 120,000 people who have been blocked for eight months and can’t get food or water. It’s crazy. And it’s crazy that no one knows about it.
“So I thought about it a lot,” Goorjian added. “I think if I make a film that shows what Armenia is, that gives humanity to Armenians, that goes beyond the stereotypes that people know – that helps in a way. That’s my way as an artist. “To help means to attract attention.”
Out of variance films, Amerikatsi will be released exclusively in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, with a nationwide rollout to follow.