By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN – Sam Page is the increasingly prolific television and film actor who is one of the stars of the movie “1915.” “1915” is premiering in the Boston area on August 27 and September 10, with the Mirror-Spectator and the Tekeyan Cultural Association sponsoring the latter showing. Page recently spoke with the Mirror about his role in the film.
In a sense, Page plays two roles in ‘1915’. His character, James West, is himself the contemporary actor who plays the Turkish colonel in the play being presented within the movie. When the writers/directors of the film, Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian, contacted Page’s representative and offered him the part, he first wanted to read the script and meet them. Page declared, “We did those two things, and it did not take a whole lot of convincing. I was interested immediately. … I liked them. They were very passionate. I thought they had a very creative look at the subject matter.”
In turn, Mouhibian declared, “We admired Sam’s work in ‘Mad Men’ and ‘House of Cards.’ He brings hidden layers to a role that come up to the surface in subtle, surprising ways. This made him perfect for a role like James West/Turkish Colonel, which is more complex than it looks.” Mouhibian suggested that viewers consider the following: “Why has Simon chosen a good natured All-American, well-meaning celebrity actor to play the role of the Turkish Colonel in ‘1915’ the play?”
The film’s focus — the Armenian Genocide and its denial — was one about which Page did not know much. He said, “I grew up in Milwaukee [Wisconsin], and did know a fair number of Armenians, but still, it was not a subject matter in school.” He had heard of the Genocide, but stressed, “I didn’t know the degree to which it was denied around the world, and that there was such a big population of genocide deniers.”
Page learned more about Armenians and the Genocide on the job, so to speak. He said, “It was a pretty quick shoot. There was not a lot of time to do research. I did get to spend a lot of time around the directors and actors, especially Simon [Abkarian] and Angela [Sarafyan]. They were very forthcoming about their family experiences, so I did get to learn a lot.” Furthermore, a lot of the crew was comprised of family members of producers and the directors, so, said Page, “it seemed like everybody was Armenian, almost. Alec’s mother would every day bring in a snack, sometime between lunch and dinner. I really got to love Armenian food as a result.”
Page as an actor worked to understand the Turkish colonel’s intentions in the play within the film. As he pointed out, “I was playing somebody who was playing a character, so I did not have to dig so deep to do the Turkish colonel.” But he did have to learn to do a Turkish accent, and he did not even know what one was. Consequently, he said, “I spent a handful of days before we started shooting listening constantly to YouTube videos of Turkish politicians. I took bits and pieces of the accent from those kinds of things.”
Page learned by accident the visceral feelings Armenians still have connected with the Genocide. He went outside the Los Angeles Theatre one day out the back door to a little alleyway for a break and to smoke. Page said, “There are all these Armenian delis and little shops there. It is a really cool street I never even knew existed. There were tables of men playing backgammon. They were staring at us and giving me weird looks. I knew they recognized Simon [Abkarian] because they waved to him, but I asked him why they are looking this way at me… He said you are dressed as a Turkish colonel. They are a little shocked to see this.”
Page had completely forgotten that he was still in costume. Abkarian walked Page over to the Armenians and explained what the movie was about and everybody had a good laugh.
So far, there has been no negative fallout from Turks about the film for Page. On the other hand, he has enjoyed warm receptions by the Armenian community in the Los Angeles area. He participated in some events there and answered audience questions.
Page enjoyed working with the cast and the directors/writers, and felt everybody was very supportive of one another. He said, “Simon is one of my favorite actors to work with. It has nothing to do with him being Armenian. He is just a wonderful actor.” Angela Sarafyan, he continued “was very sweet. She worked very hard in a difficult role. She had to be in and out of all these different streams of consciousness.” As for Mouhibian and Hovannisian, “we went to all these Q&A’s together, and had to wait around for the movie to end, so we got to hang out a lot again. They are really nice guys.”
Page is not a method actor. He finds the use of imagination and memory important. He explained his approach to any role: “I think there are a few keys to every scene. You certainly want to be aware of the character’s arc — where he comes from and why he does the things he does. You want to track where you are in the arc of the character in each scene, and how the character is affected by everything going on around them.”
He looks for doing different types of roles, and likes going back and forth between television and films. Success in each can help build your career in the other. An important difference is that in the television shows he has done, “you really want people to go in episode by episode with a feeling of enthusiasm. In movies, you can tackle harder hitting, tougher topics, and the audience only needs to hang on and be invested for one or two hours.” While he has not done theater, he would be interested in the future in performing in it, though in Los Angeles there is not as much of a theater community as in New York.
Usually, his first consideration about a new role being proposed for him is whether he can do good work. However, he said, “If I don’t connect with the character or the material, or the creative [element], then I will want to turn it down.”
Page graduated Princeton University and began classes in professional acting schools in Los Angeles. He got professional representation which began booking him jobs here and there. Each opportunity allowed him to expand his grasp and stature. He also had to choose a new name for himself when he entered the actors’ union. His given name is Samuel L. Elliott, but because there already was a very well-known actor called Sam Elliott, he chose the surname Page, which is a family name.
Page summed up his experience with “1915.” “It was really making a connection with the other actors, the writers and the directors, and by proxy, the audience. I learned about their experiences and their families’ experiences with the Armenian Genocide, and how much of a powerful world event it was … to be around that every day, and for it to be a big message of our movie was a unique and powerful experience.”
For more information on ‘1915’, see articles in the last two weeks of the Mirror profiling actress Angela Sarafyan and writer/director Mouhibian as well as a more general introduction to the film.
Tickets may be purchased for the September 10 Cambridge showing of “1915” at the Landmark Theater at www.tugg.com/events/25686. At least 112 tickets must be purchased for the Cambridge theater to agree to sponsor the showing. While tickets are selling rapidly, the Mirror offices may have some additional ones that it can provide after the August 30 online deadline. If you have any difficulties in purchasing your tickets online, or have further questions, you may contact Aram Arkun at [email protected], or call the Mirror-Spectator office at 617 924 4420.