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Andrey Ivchenko talks ‘Stranger Things,’ Schwarzenegger comparisons

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Andrey Ivchenko, as Russian assassin Grigori, in a scene from season three of Netflix's "Stranger Things." Andrey Ivchenko, as Russian assassin Grigori, in a scene from season three of Netflix's "Stranger Things." (Image courtesy of Netflix)

If you’re not quite up to speed on the third season of Netflix’s supernatural fantasy blockbuster “Stranger Things,” you won’t find any true spoilers here but there might be a couple of details below that you’d rather discover through watching the show.

The third season of “Stranger Things” is set in 1985 – the year of Live Aid, New Coke (and yes, Coca-Cola Classic) and We Are the World. Though the Cold War was still pretty frosty in those days, arms and trade negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, followed by with a late-year summit in Geneva, gave us a glimpse of a possible thaw.

As season three of “Stranger Things” unfolds, we discover that Russia’s involvement with the secret lab in Hawkins, Indiana could have profoundly horrifying consequences.

Actor Andrey Ivchenko of Ukraine offers some firsthand perspective on what the mid-1980s olive branch extended between the U.S. and Russia meant for Russian citizens and how American popular culture slowly began infiltrating his world.

Ivchenko plays Russian hitman Grigori in the third season of “Stranger Things.” As his fierce features enter the frame, one can’t help but be reminded of the action star whose career was its zenith as this story takes place. Riding high as “The Terminator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger became one of the highest paid actors of all time, not to mention a two-term California governor. Ivchenko was 14 years old in 1985 and was told even then how much he reminded people of “The Arnold.” As he explains in the following interview, he understands – and he’s fine with it.

The Maine Edge: Were you a fan of “Stranger Things” before signing on for the show’s third season?

Ivchenko: I was a big fan of the show beginning with the first season. I was impressed with the acting and the writing. I also liked that it was happening in the 1980s when so much happened.

The Maine Edge: As you were growing up in the ‘80s – how much American popular culture had worked its way into your world in the Ukraine?

Ivchenko: At the beginning of the ‘80s, almost nothing from America was in Ukraine. We didn’t have American movies or TV shows at all. Once in a blue moon – I don’t know how, because the censorship in Ukraine was very tight – a John Wayne movie would be on the TV. Somehow, it would sneak in but that was very rare.

That was nothing compared to when perestroika started (the restructuring of the former Soviet Union’s political and economic system) later in the ‘80s. Suddenly, we could watch some American movies in the theaters. When Moscow would hold their International Film Festival, we would have American movies for a couple of weeks. That was kind of our introduction to American culture. We would sometimes hear stories about how differently people lived in the United States and how great America is, but it wasn’t until 1986 or so when we would actually get to see American movies.

When I was 14 or so, I was introduced to Arnold Schwarzenegger through his bodybuilding and acting career. I was introduced to the first “Terminator” movie and I saw a couple of issues of Muscle and Fitness when they wrote about Arnold on almost every page. That’s when I started to form an image of who I wanted to be.

The Maine Edge: Are you tired of being compared to Schwarzenegger?

Ivchenko: I’ve gotten used to it because people have been comparing me with Schwarzenegger or The Terminator since I was 15 or 16 years old. It’s really not a bad comparison to make so I’m good with it.

The Maine Edge: Without giving anything away to someone that hasn’t seen season three yet, I think it’s safe to reveal that your character and Chief of Police Hopper are involved in a brutally intense fight scene. It’s one of the most realistic and believable fight scenes I’ve ever seen on television. How much of what we see is actually you and David Harbour beating the daylights out of each other?

Ivchenko: I would say that the majority of the fight was actually me and David doing our thing. We shot that fight for three days with 12 hours of shooting per day. We fought each other for 36 hours and it was very painful.

The Maine Edge: You’re in a great position right now. You are featured in one of the most popular television series of its time. It’s something you’ve been working toward for most of your life. What words of encouragement do you have for other actors out there currently struggling to find a role?

Ivchenko: I would say they should do their thing and don’t listen to anybody. Stop listening to what people say around you. If you do, you’ll never get to where you want to be. Never give up. It’s a very hard business because you will receive a lot of rejections along the way. I’m talking about a lot of rejection. Just keep moving, do your thing and get to your goal. If you keep moving and you are focused and dedicated, the end result will surprise you.


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