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'Stalin' Gets Lenin's Office in the Kremlin : Movies: Soviets grant unprecedented access to HBO movie starring Robert Duvall as the brutal dictator.

November 16, 1991|DAVID GRITTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOSCOW — For the first time in history, the interior of the Kremlin has been used as a film location. Shooting has been taking place here inside Lenin's original office on the TV film of "Stalin," an HBO production starring Robert Duvall in the title role and Maximilian Schell as Lenin.

Few people manage to obtain access to Lenin's office, which is in a continuous state of restoration and is kept as a museum and archive. Security precautions were tight, and producer Mark Carliner had to negotiate for several hours with KGB officials before the cast and crew were finally allowed inside the Supreme Soviet building.

As shooting took place, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was working in his own office just one floor below. Filming was eventually halted for security reasons as a result of an order from Gorbachev's office, but the unit is scheduled to return to the location in the next few days.

After the first day's filming, an elated Carliner described the day as "historic."

As a result of other careful negotiations between Carliner and high-ranking Soviet officials, other intriguing locations have been opened up to the "Stalin" unit. These include a Moscow prison where Stalin had detainees tortured, and the magnificent country house inhabited by Stalin during the latter part of his life. Since his death in 1953, it has been closed to all but a handful of visitors; most Muscovites do not even know where it is located.

In makeup that at first took four hours to complete but which has now been refined to 75 minutes per day, Duvall looks uncannily like the brutal Soviet dictator. Playing the role, however, is a tough challenge.

"It's hard to intellectualize this guy," Duvall said during a break from filming. "He was a complex character and I'm not sure I'll ever understand him. You have to look for contradictions in his character to give him some extra colors. I'm taking it day by day, but so far it's been fine."

In his trailer, Duvall is constantly watching black-and-white BBC-TV documentaries about Stalin. Carliner also introduced him to a number of eminent historians before production started, to acquaint Duvall with Stalin's character.

That the film is being made here at all is remarkable. After the brief aborted coup against Gorbachev in August, Carliner and "Stalin's" director, Czech-born Ivan Passer, decided filming was impossible and regrouped in Budapest. But as the coup collapsed, Carliner received word from officials close to Russian leader Boris Yeltsin that shooting could go ahead after all.

"To make 'Stalin' is an achievement, but to make it in Russia is an event," Carliner is fond of repeating.

But its significance may be lost on ordinary Muscovites, who seem more preoccupied with the precarious economy and the need to wait in line for food.

Schell reports that, in his full makeup as Lenin, he strolled through the GUM department store near Red Square. "And no one took any notice of me. People in Moscow have other things to think about."

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