10 months ago, Themo Melikidze was biking around Los Angeles from audition to audition. Today, he’s garnering big screen buzz for his portrayal of Boston Marathon bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg’s film Patriots Day. Also appearing in FOX’s upcoming “24: Legacy,” which premieres immediately following the Super Bowl, I caught up with Themo to talk about his big year and what’s next.
In Patriots Day, you’re portraying the bomber. When your character is a real life person who is both a murderer and terrorist, how did you as an actor handle that internally? Did it linger with you after you left the set?
I can honestly say in the beginning it was mentally challenging. You want to commit yourself 100 percent as an actor, but committing yourself to such a horrible monster is draining. That was the hardest part. I would go home and watch the videos of him that I’d been watching since before the shoot to get into character and of course that affects you. But rather than fighting against it, I went with those horrible feelings when I was in character. In the end, that helped me be able to switch it on and off. I went to bed with the images in my head of this man and that helped me nail this character. What drove me was the hate and disgust I had for him. Mentally, it was draining, but once I accepted that feeling of being drained, it really helped me stay in character.
Beyond telling the behind-the-scenes story people might not know, what do you hope people take away from the film?
The movie tells us that at the end of the day, no matter what – where you’re from, what color or size you are, what religion you may be – people can come together to fight evil. The power of coming together as one, of no longer dividing and instead unite, you see in this movie how powerful that can be. That’s what Boston did that day, and when we see what’s happening in East Europe, Iraq, Syria and Palestine, this is the type of movie we need today.
You’re also a part of the new incarnation of 24 (24:Legacy), bringing new life to a well-known property. How did that challenge you as an actor?
The character I play revolves so much around his family and the struggle within his family. He becomes brainwashed that he needs to prove to his old man that he’s a real man. It was an amazing show to work on. I was a fan back in the day in Belgium so to be working on that project now, it’s an absolute honor.
What draw does live theatre have for you?
The true essence of acting is still theatre. That’s really the definition of living truthfully in the moment. Being offered a contract with the LiveInTheater after school meant that as an immigrant, I could work as an actor in the United States. The show was half-improv and half-scripted, which is fun for an actor. You have to be prepared and anything could happen. Being on stage every day gave me the skills and experience I needed and eventually to do what I needed to do in LA during big auditions. I learned that acting is just about having the look or delivering the lines – it’s about emotion and feelings and story and character.
So after these two huge projects, what’s next?
The promotion for Patriots Day has been busy and I just wrapped 24 in Atlanta. I’m enjoying this moment because ten months ago I had nothing. I was biking around Los Angeles for four hours a day trying to get an audition for any work. Now to have this opportunity to work with my idols like JK Simmons and Mark Wahlberg and get to know them on a personal level. It was my pleasure and honor to be involved with both of these projects.