Actor Ken Davitian Transitions into New Genres
By Michael Melkonian
Ken Davitian, a prominent actor, best known for his co-starring role in the blockbuster comedy, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” continues to evolve and advance the Armenian cause and venture.
He was unforgettable in the movie, speaking Armenian when playing the role of Azamat Bagatov, the Kazakh agent of the title character. One of his most famous scenes in the movie involved wrestling Sacha Baron Cohen in the nude, a scene so shocking that it was one of the comedy’s stand-out clips.
After years of trying to get his big break in Hollywood, Davitian made his mark thanks to a breakout role in “Borat,” released in November 2006. With a budget of $18 million and box office revenue of $262 million, this critically-acclaimed film is labeled by many to be one of the greatest comedy films of this generation.
Recounting on how he got the role of Azamat, Davitian describes how tedious the process was. “The casting directors were looking for a shabby foreigner who didn’t speak very good English to play the role, which in a way, is like what many of our grandfathers were like when they came over,” Davitan stated. “I remember calling the casting agent multiple times to read for the role but was declined due to my American accent and nationality. The last call we made however, wasn’t to the casting director, but to the associate. I came in full character and acted just like a person like Azamat would’ve acted.” Many industry experts believed that Borat wouldn’t succeed commercially since its budget was considered too low for a movie to garner commercial success. However, Davitian and his co-star Sacha Baron Cohen were not fazed by the cynics. “We were in London in a cab, when one of the producers said to us that Tim Allen’s movie, ‘Santa Claus,’ is opening the same day as Borat,” Davitian said. “He said we aren’t going to be number one, so let’s just hope for number three. Sacha and I both said to the producer, you’re nuts.” Looking back at the huge commercial success of Borat, Cohen’s and Davitian’s predictions were spot on.
Born in LA
Davitian was born and raised in Los Angeles, after his family took varied paths to get to America. His maternal grandparents came over after the Armenian Genocide, while his father was a Soviet soldier in World War II who was captured by the Germans and put into a concentration camp. His father was then brought over to the United States by the Armenian-American philanthropist, George Mardikian.
Davitian’s desire to act got its roots at home. Davitian’s maternal grandmother was part of an Armenian acting troupe run by Virginia and Zachary Mamoulian. Davitian noticed at a young age how actors in the troupe — and the Mamoulians themselves — were treated with great deference.
“When the actors came to our house, the way they were treated was just so above everyone else. They were so respected,” Davitian said in a recent interview. “I remember running across the stage as a kid and telling myself, ‘I am going to be a movie star.’”
During the interview, Davitian was outspoken about his political beliefs. While much of Hollywood is considered liberal, supporting the Democerats, Davitian stressed that he is a moderate Republican.
People: Ken Davitian
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“I believe in some of the conservative policies of the Republican Party, especially on the issues of the economy and guns,” Davitian said. “I’ve only shot a gun twice, I don’t own a gun and I don’t want a gun, but I believe everyone should have the right to have one for their own protection.”
On foreign policy however, Davitian strikes a more dovish tone. “Instead of nation building, I believe that nations should build their countries themselves. On the Syrian Civil War, I believe that Russia and America shouldn’t be involved, and to let this dispute be settled by the Syrian people only.”
Davitian added that he believes that there are many closet Republicans who remain hushed. “I think there are a lot of Republicans in the industry, but they keep their views private due to intense backlash.”
The country of Armenia has had a rich film history dating back to 1924, when the first Armenian film studio, Armenfilm, was established.
Davitian has also been pursuing the idea of bringing about modern film studios in Armenia and establishing a cost effective film production industry which can generate jobs and create new revenue for the country.
“I have the ability because of the connections I have to know how to build a proper studio in Armenia,” Davitian said. “A film production incentive will have to be offered to attract producers to bring projects there as many other countries currently offer. This would help stimulate the West to invest in Armenia and create new jobs.”
Armenia went through a velvet revolution earlier this year which completely changed the complexion of the entire Armenian government. This changeover is expected to attract potential investors, such as those brought by Davitian, as the new government is encouraging foreign investment and development. A production tax rebate is a proposal that Davitian plans to present to the government officials to attract more investors to come into Armenia.
“I want solid studios such as Universal and Warner Brothers to oversee the build out so that the improvements would be permanent and not short-lived,” Davitian said. “However, most of the new leadership is young and with the tumultuous nature of the past year, it will take a few months for our studio incentives to be considered.”
Davitian feels strongly about his heritage and his reasons for wanting to help his ancestral homeland. “Because I am Armenian-American,” Davitian said. “If we don’t help Armenia, no one else will. The AYF (Armenian Youth Federation) also helped me become passionate about Armenian issues, and the swearing-in ceremony when I was 21 really helped open up my eyes to its purpose and how we can help and make an impact.”
Davitian has been an actor, comedian, producer, and a restaurant owner. However, on what achievement makes him the most proud — his granddaughter, Talia. “Talia just turned 3 and she is the light of my life,” Davitian said. “I spent the last two years, three days a week with that girl, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
On what is next in the life of Ken Davitian, he describes his numerous pilots in development. “I have four pilots, I started six years ago with a pilot called ‘Popo Papa.’ The show is about how an Armenian father goes to live with his daughter and her African-American husband,” Davitian said. “The next pilot is called ‘Ass and Garcia.’ My character is Boris Asatoryan, a captain of the Russian police in Moscow who goes to Las Vegas to track down his daughter, and meets Natasha Garcia, a member of the military police. The third pilot is called ‘Assbasator,’ where I am the illegitimate son of Gorbachev and I have his birthmark on my butt. I am the Russian Ambassador to the United States and I have a great time partying and having fun until a hardass new American President comes along. My fourth pilot will be a story on how my character, Al, an older Armenian man, dates a transgender woman and invites her into his Armenian home, where Al teaches her Armenian values and his girlfriend teaches him the ideas of the LGBT movement.”
The veteran actor has guest starred in many movies and TV shows, including “The Closer,” “Boston Legal” and “Mind of Mencia,” among many others. He is also working on many TV series and movies, including “Stupid Cupid,” “African Mystique” and “The Wicket Path.”
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