TAEM- The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has an around-the-world following with those interested in the Entertainment and Literary fields. For that reason we reach out around the globe in search of actors and writers who will fill the interest of our readers. One such actor is Byron Habinsky who immigrated from Riga with his family and learned his trade here in America. Byron, tell our readers about your early youth and your family’s decision to come to the United States.
BH – I was a regular kid growing up. I’m an only child so I always relied on myself for entertainment, therefore active imagination was a must. It’s amazing of the things you think of when there’s no one else around all the time. In major Russian cities there were these small communities of several buildings with a common playing ground in the middle. So all your friends usually came from that same community. And just like most boys, sport was a huge part of my growing up. My father was an amateur boxer when he was young, so he made sure to get me involved in sports early. His good friend was a well-known trainer in Russia, so he took me under his wing for a while. I still remember being seven, eight years old and being thrown into training with the older kids, going through all the same paces, it was insane but definitely served a good purpose. Then at eight I discovered hockey and everything else instantly took a backseat to it. We’d play day and night, right out in the street during winters. When it got warm we’d sneak into the arena where the local hockey team played and play until someone noticed us and kicked us out. We did that every day, we’d cut school to go and play. Until they finally realized they wouldn’t stop us, so they allowed us to use the ice before practices. Then suddenly at ten years old, you’re told that you’re moving away. You don’t have a choice in the matter, nor do you really care why or would even understand if you knew. So you do what your parents decide. It was bittersweet but it was the best thing that we could have done for ourselves. I’m forever grateful to my parents for making that decision. We were actually one of the last to leave, soon after the immigration window closed and two years later Soviet Union no longer existed. We spent the next half a year being vagabonds in Europe. We lived in Austria for a bit. I celebrated my eleventh birthday in Italy. Then in fall of 1989 arrived in New York City.
TAEM- You moved to the Bronx, in New York City, which is actually the place of my own birth. How were you able to adjust to your new surroundings and learn to speak English?
BH – What’s interesting is that when you’re 11 you don’t really think of adjusting in any way. You’re just thrown into an environment and you make the best of the situation you’re presented with. Looking back at it in hindsight, yes it must have been a major adjustment having just spent the first 10 years of my life in Soviet Union, growing up in what at the time was still a communist country, to suddenly finding yourself in New York City, and in The Bronx of all places. Most other Russian immigrants settled in Brooklyn, we had to be different. Not surprised though, individuality has always been a strong trait in my family. So it definitely was a stranger in a strange land scenario for a while. And I’ve never been the one to follow or try to fit in, so it all made for an interesting next few years. Television, movies in particular, played a huge role in learning English. We lived three blocks away from a video rental store, so a lot of VHS movies made their way in and out of the house often. I was introduced to many great films and performances at a young age.
BH – It was a huge influence. Watching some of the greatest films and actors was amazing to me. Even if I didn’t understand much of it at first, there was something about the art of it all, the performance, the story. It fascinated me, I wanted to do that. I wanted to learn everything about it.
TAEM- Tell us of your training for your career, and what made you choose this route.
BH – I never received any formal actor’s education. I’ve studied with some notable teachers in New York City, and I appreciate all they are doing, but going out there and diving into the work made the best sense to me at that moment. Experience is the best teacher. I’ve always been a big believer of acting being instinctual and not something that can be taught. Acting is about defying rules, and I fear that certain teachings and techniques provide a particular set of rules. When I’m in character I don’t want to think about anything but that exact moment of his existence. That moment of truth is what acting is to me.
TAEM- What was the name of the first stage play that you appeared in, and the role that you played?
BH – I played a horse in kindergarten, does that count? A white horse, my father actually sawed the costume with meticulous detail. Twenty-some years later I played Chris Keller in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”, which was my first actual stage play.
TAEM- How excited were you about it, and what confidence did it give you?
BH – Oh I was very excited. I love the play as it is, am a big fan of Miller’s work. So to actually be a part of it was a great thing for me and provided me with a lot of confidence moving forward.
TAEM- What other stage productions did you take part in, and tell us about the characters that you portrayed?
BH – I played Phil in “Hurlyburly”, it was amazing to step into the shoes and tap into the soul of such a colorful and unbalanced character. I also portrayed Valentin in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and it too was amazing to take on and deal with all of his issues and beliefs.
TAEM- Tell us about your first ventures into film, and the first movies that you played in.
BH – Some of my early work was in low budget independent films, many of which I haven’t even seen. But it was always the work that mattered to me, the writing, the characters. And they were some amazing characters. I’ve always had strict views on things I want to do in my career, which has allowed me to be selective in the work I choose. I don’t want to do television commercials or industrial videos, don’t want to sell anyone’s product. It’s just not who I am. I’m an actor, a storyteller. And to me that doesn’t go past the stage or a good film.
TAEM- You also crossed into television and played parts in several well known shows. Tell us about these, and how this differed for you as opposed to the silver screen.
BH – Yes, I’ve had bit parts in some well-known shows as well as some newer shows that are finding a place in today’s television. To be on the set of “30 Rock” and to just watch and learn from some of the finest professionals working today was amazing. That level of writing, that comedic genius, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a small part of it all.
TAEM- You’ve taken your first shot at producing your own film this year with the critically acclaimed drama, ‘The Sea Is All I Know’. What is the theme behind the film, and tell us about the cast and crew behind it?
BH – Yes, I Executive Produced “The Sea Is All I Know” written and directed by the super-talented Jordan Bayne. It stars Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, Peter Gerety and Kelly Hutchinson. Eun-ah Lee’s cinematography is stunning and provides a beautiful setting for the film. And then of course there are the performances, amazing across the board. Melissa Leo actually won the Grand Prize for Best Actress at the Rhode Island International Film Festival for this film. We’ve had a great festival run this past year premiering at the prestigious Palm Springs International Short Fest where we were voted by the audience as one of the “Best of the Fest”, then going on to play at the Woodstock International Film Festival, the Hamptons International Film Festival and Carmel Art & Film Festival. It’s a powerful story of love, faith and family. It has been described as an unconventional love story. It’s definitely a film that sticks in your mind for a long time after you see it.
BH – I’ve recently started my own production company Delirium Picturehouse, we opened our doors last November actually. We have few projects currently in development and our eyes are always open for quality content. Our first feature film currently in development is titled “I Wish I Had a Fourth Wish”. It is an action, thriller revenge story unlike any other, which is about all I can reveal at this time. Some notable actors have expressed interest in this film including Natalie Gal who we are in discussions with to play the female lead. She is an amazing young actress and we are confident in her abilities to bring our heroine to life. So five years from now, although I’ve never been much of a planner, I expect to still be doing what I love to do. I expect to be producing meaningful and quality pictures and continue to have the opportunities to bring interesting and challenging characters to the screen as an actor.
TAEM- Byron, like all the great producers before you, you have had your beginnings before the camera and learned your craft from the bottom up. For the many students of the Arts that follow our magazine this is an important lesson for them. I believe that your name will rise amongst the Hollywood elite in the years to come, and that we will hear more of you in the future. We want to thank you for your interview with The Arts and Entertainment Magazine, and wish you much luck in all that you do.