FINNISH ACTOR JARKKO LAHTI CHARMED THE AUDIENCE AT SOUTH SOCIAL FILM FESTIVAL
South Social Film Festival organised a Finnish evening Friday 12 May together with the Finnish Institute in London, Finnish Embassy and The Finnish Church in London. The British audience was thrilled especially by the nude scenes of the Finnish film “Hymyilevä mies”, screened at the The Cinema Museum and its unique environment. After the showing Manna, a Finnish singer-songwriter, performed her songs.
Before starting the programme Martin Humphries, founder of The Cinema Museum, gave a tour in the museum to the performers. The two stars of the evening, Manna Mariam and the main actor Jarkko Lahti were treated to stories about the history of cinema. The Cinema Museum’s building is filled with old film posters and technical equipment and the building itself used to be formerly a workhouse and the place where Charlie Chaplin grew up.
After the tour a group of photographers gathered outside the museum around Jarkko Lahti to take pictures. He posed for them, slightly amused because of all the attention, nonetheless entertaining the photographers. Finally, after the pics, we got the chance to ask Lahti a few questions before the screening.
Lahti’s interview began with a bite of a proper Carelian pie, that were served by the Finnish Church in London: “I came a long way to have Finnish food.” Then he was ready to tell us the story behind the filming of “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”, director Juho Kuosmanen’s debut film about the legendary Finnish boxer.
“Juho’s experience of Olli Mäki’s story must have been some kind of a metaphor of his own situation, as there were high expectations of his first full-length film.”
Lahti has the air of an experienced interviewee. He has already been interviewed by British media during the day. Besides, he has been travelling all around the world last year promoting the film. Despite all the publicity Lahti seems down-to-earth and grateful.
“When Juho asked me to play the role of Olli Mäki, I felt greatly honoured. He was the great boxing legend of my childhood. When our lads talked about boxing Olli was on a par with Muhammad Ali. He was this working-class hero kind of guy. In Kokkola there were many legends about him and I heard them as a child: ‘Olli Mäki ate raw lard before the match’. ‘Olli Mäki caught flies by hand because of his quick reactions!’” says Lahti, thinking back and eating the last crumbs of his Carelian pie.
Four years of preparations for Olli Mäki’s role
In 2011 began the four-year-long preparation for the role. Lahti began his training with fitness boxing and after a year he had his first match. His opponent was Ruslan Viktorov, a young silver medallist from the 2012 Finnish championships - also four inches taller than Lahti.
“The first match was a total beating” says Lahti laughing. ”He was a great man, that’s for sure, but boy he pissed me off when he came to me saying it was an honour to fight ‘cause I could be his old man”
There was a documentary made about Olli Mäki in the 60s. It was the story about him getting ready for a big match. Lahti says he watched the documentary dozens of times in order to be able to imitate Mäki’s movements and gestures as precisely as possible. During the filming the actors sparred and maintained their original positions of the match in the ring. The director did not even tell them about all the shots.
“One of the best things Juho said to me was just before the shooting. He said to me: ‘You have played the role. It’s ready. There’s no need to act, let’s just shoot. Let’s do it.’ That released me from all the pressure, so the shooting was excellent and relaxed, yet focused at the same time.”
According to Lahti, Director Juho Kuosmanen talked through the meaning of each scene with the actors. They also did technical rehearsals before the actual filming, and then usually shooting long scenes.
“The longer scenes were a benefit in terms of acting. I could jump into the role of Olli Mäki and live through it. We didn’t over rehearse the scenes, which was particularly great” says Jarkko with a smile on his face. “I remember saying to the cameraman JP Passi that we should enjoy every second, now that we are here. We sustained the good feeling, as we’d been waiting for the actual filming for so long.
Raija and Olli Mäki have lived together for over 55 years. Olli Mäki has dementia now, but the couple has offered their support whenever the director and the actors needed them during the making of the film. The match between Olli Mäki and his competitor Davey Moore was shot in Helsinki Olympic Stadium just moments before the stadium’s refurbishment began. Raija and Olli were there to see the filming. The cameramen helped Olli to climb up into the ring and take the same spot as in August 1962 when he had his historical match against Davey Moore.
“When Olli pushed himself through the ropes into the ring, his body started to move immediately. His muscles had not forgotten anything.”
For Lahti it was important to play the role with respect. He admits he was nervous before the premiere especially because of Olli and Raija. He felt responsible for the end result being right for them. Fortunately they were both pleased with the film - they watched it up to six-seven times after the premiere: “Raija was sentimental after seeing the film and I was relieved!”
Lahti remembers a very special moment with Olli Mäki. They had just finished shooting the final scenes of the film where Raija and Olli appear as themselves. Lahti was walking alongside Mäki by the shore of Siltasaari in Helsinki. “All of a sudden Olli was fully switched-on, bright-minded, and said to me ‘You know Jarkko, I think it’s a brilliant thing that you guys are making this movie.’ ‘So do I’ I replied, and then he sank back into his fog.”