Three Great Things: Alec Utgoff

The Stranger Things actor, currently starring in the social satire Never Gonna Snow Again, on the activities that keep him sane.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release in select theaters of the social satire Never Gonna Snow Again, starring Stranger Things’ Alec Utgoff, the Ukrainian-born actor shares some of the things that make his life better. — N.D

Learning Spanish
I live in Spain at the moment, and I spent part of my lockdown here. During that time, I was just relaxing, because I am friends with quite a few of the locals. The problem was that I couldn’t really converse with them in Spanish, even though I’ve been coming here for 20 years. So, I decided lockdown was the perfect opportunity to finally learn Spanish, and found someone who would teach me on Skype.

My teacher only speaks to me in Spanish, so the first three months were a real headache. I’ve been learning Spanish for about a year and a half now, and I’m on level B1. I need to get to C2 to be able to speak and understand like a native, which would take about another year and a half. Right now, I can converse comfortably, I can get my point across, but I’m not fluent. I’m still very much like an immigrant who’s not yet got a perfect grasp of the language, like my character, Zhenia, in Never Gonna Snow Again. If people talk fast, I get the gist of what they are saying, but not all the time. And I struggle if they constantly use words that I’m not familiar with. At the moment, my teacher is getting me familiar with a variety of situations and slowly building up from there; for example, by teaching me the vocabulary to discuss climate change.

Learning a new language also expands your world and increases the amount of literature you can read. It’s completely different, for example, if you read Dostoyevsky in Russian, because in translation you won’t really understand it as it’s meant to be understood. I am now getting used to reading in Spanish. I’m reading Fernando Aramburu’s novel Patria, a classic of recent times, at my teacher’s suggestion. She told me I probably wouldn’t understand it all the time, but that it’s good practice. As expected, I don’t always know what’s going on in the book, but I’m enjoying the process.

Playing the Piano
My mother is a professional conductor and my dad is a heart surgeon, but he’s also a very gifted pianist and music has been part of our family for a very long time. I play the piano a lot and really enjoy it. It’s very relaxing, and learning a new piece is almost a meditative thing to do for me. I think playing a musical instrument, in general, is very important in any person’s life.

I started learning to play when I was young, but my parents wanted me to learn more than I did and I just didn’t have enough patience. When I moved to England at the age of 10, I stopped taking piano lessons, but then when I was 18, I started wanting to be able to play some simple songs, inspired by the melancholic piano music on the Japanese video games I enjoyed playing then. Slowly, over time, I built up my ability, because I wanted to learn more complicated pieces. So I started to teach myself to play. I’m now at the point where I want a piano teacher again, just to help me understand the technical aspects a little bit more. Predominantly, what I like to play is Chopin, Schubert or Shostakovich, which I play in Never Gonna Rain Again. I tend to play classical music mainly, apart from the song “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo.

Working Out
I go to the gym and work out, just like anybody else. It might be mundane, but I honestly believe that before you do anything else in your day, you have to work out so that your body functions well. When I was a kid, my dad used to wake up my brother and me at 5:30 or six o’clock in the morning to go for a run. It didn’t matter to my dad whether it was snowing, every morning we would run through the park and then work out at an outdoor gym. When we were done, my brother and I would go back home and then on to school, and my father would go to the hospital to work.

That routine has stayed with me. In the morning, I always feel like I need to wake up and get in shape. Like music, working out is something that connects me and my dad. When he and I are both in Spain, he always waits for me in the morning so we can exercise together. In life, I generally like to mix things up, so when I work out, one day I’ll do boxing, the next I’ll go to the gym, and sometimes I’ll play football with some of my actor friends, so I get into a group mentality as well, to open myself up a little bit more. I think physical expression is incredibly important.

Alec Utgoff currently is starring as Zhenia in the social satire Never Gonna Snow Again, which is in select theaters from July 30 through Kino Lorber. Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Utgoff moved to Great Britain at a young age. He graduated from Drama Centre London in 2010. Later that year, he appeared alongside Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Tourist. He has also appeared in several notable big-budget productions, including Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Brad Peyton’s San Andreas, David Koepp’s Mortdecai and Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation. He has worked with such prominent actors as Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor. Utgoff is also known for his roles in TV series, most notably in Season 3 of the Netflix hit Stranger Things.