Interview with Julian Kostov

Interview: Ekaterina Spiridonova.

Photo: Diana King, Valentin Danevski, Nikola Borissov, Victoria Sirakova and Julian's social networks.


Julian Kostov is a Bulgarian actor, producer and former professional swimmer. He's been acting in movies for many years and has also attracted a lot of audience's attention after his appearance in the fantasy series on the Grishaverse universe as the heartrender Fedyor Kaminsky. Read our big interview to find out about his acting journey, sport achievements, production and preferences.


Julian, when did you decide to become an actor? How did your journey into the world of cinema begin?


— When did I decide to become an actor? Well, I've always loved movies, and especially American movies, specifically fantasy and sci-fi, and action. Well, I guess, a lot of comedy and drama. And so... because of the fall of the regime, after 1989 Bulgaria and everybody in Bulgaria was very poor; massive recessions and inflation (I'm sure you know) as the same in during 'perestroika' in Russia... So, I think, I was born in 1989 so I don't really remember communist's times but i do remember the transitional phase and now, as a grownup I understand that there wasn't a lot of money to create movies and so Bulgarian movies didn't have those budgets that a sci-fi or a fantasy series needs. There were never any fantasy, sci-fi or action movies made in Bulgaria when I was growing up, so I've always looked towards American cinema. But because there were no people like me in American cinema or British cinema, Eastern-European actors, or Balkan actors, or Slavic actors, — because of that reason I never really thought, it never really crossed my mind that I could be an actor in Western productions. And so... years passed, and I was a professional swimmer, and I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated Spanish high-school in Varna, Bulgaria. My mom is a Judge and my dad is a businessman, so these were really two options to me in my head. And I was like: "Okay, I'll just choose business because it sounds like less studying and more money down on the line, so that's probably the easy choice". So, I did that and I started studying in Netherlands in Tilburg. I was swimming for PSV Eindhoven still and the national team in Bulgaria, but then I also didn't like swimming much so I quit swimming after a year, I didn't care about university, I was just passing barely because I would just study the day before the exam. And out of the depression of not really having a life there I was just sitting at home and lying in bed, really not even sitting, and watching over and over movies and TV-series, and I was watching The Dark Knight for like the one..- ten..-billionth time, and I had learnt the lines — Heath Ledger's lines - by that point just because of I've rewatched that so many times. And I was like: "you know what? if I actually record myself doing monologue, what would happen?", and so I did that, and I watched it back, and I was like: "Oh my God, it's pretty good! And also, very fun." And I had this epiphany that being an actor is a real profession, and that just because something hasn't been done before doesn't mean... just because there aren't examples of Eastern Europeans, or barely any examples of Eastern Europeans having a career in the West, then... Maybe… I don't care? Maybe I just wanna do what I do, and I'm going to go and try and do it? And so, I moved to London, didn't tell my parents why, — I said it was because my English was downgrading in The Netherlands, which was kinda true because I wasn't really talking to anybody, because I would just stay home. And so, I moved to London to pursue this acting dream and had no clue how to go about it, I didn't know anybody in this industry in Bulgaria or the UK, so I was just there and figuring out. But... yeah, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was my main catalysts. That’s what really woke me up to the idea that I could pursue this as a career.

You are a professional swimmer, master of sports in Bulgaria. Have you been involved in this sport since childhood? Can you say a few words about the person who trained you? Have any of your trainer's advices helped you not only in sports, but also in your further career in general?


— I started to swim when I was about ten. Evgeny Stavrev was my first coach and he really led the foundation for my style, my technique, he was really pedantic about it. And a bit of 'tough love' actually about it. But I think it served his purpose and is making me the person that I am, but I'm very grateful to him, always, for really initiating me into the world of competitive sports and, you know, creating this mindset of winning but also learning how to lose with dignity. So Evgeny coached me until I was fourteen and then he went into being the head of Eurosport for the Balkans for about ten-fifteen years, so I started training with Borislav Georgiev who was my coach for the rest of my career. And then of course I trained in PSV Eindhoven with some wonderful coaches there for about a year before I kind of decided I didn't wanna do this anymore. But it was amazing, looking back at it I'm very proud, especially proud because I didn't like training, I didn't like swimming in particular, but I loved competing. And I stuck with it despite it being a very annoying thing to do: to get up every morning, go to practice... So, I think that's especially the first time I realized that I'm really proud of my achievements 'cause it was something that I did against my will, more or less. And I just did it out of spite, out of stubbornness just to prove to myself that I could achieve well in that. I was national champion ten times, had many medals and I was a part of the Youth National Team for a little bit. With the things I do I always want them to be kind of world class and a lead level, so for me the next level was: "I either have to be Olympic champion or I don't wanna train for just being the Olympics because my heart wasn't really in it". My club, PSK Black Sea Varna, has been the best club in the country for the last seven years. We had several olympians come through under head coach Nikola Petrov. But back then when I was swimming we were a team of seven people (Nikola included), we didn't have a swimming pool, we would swim ten miles away outside of Varna, and our short course swimming pool with two lanes or one lane sometimes, had no heating, no showers, no changing rooms, at minus five degrees in winter. And then we were at one point asked not to swim and not to kick with legs above the water because we were annoying the people who were staying in the hotel. They were like: "Can you kick under water? That would be very helpful", and I was like: "We're trying to prepare for the nationals and the Balkan Games, what are you talking about?". So, I don't even know how we ended up becoming champions at relays and a few of us individually so many times. As I said before, there was a lot of corruption in the system politically and they were lying to us for 10 years that they will fix the swimming pool in Varna. Millions of euro vanished into that “project” but the swimming pool was finally done after 10 years. Now Black Sea Varna are the best in Bulgaria, and we have a few Olympics swimmers that came out through the system, and some of them are in semi-finals now, in World and European championships, so I'm very proud of the team and I'm currently actually involved as a part of the board members of the club. I'm very proud to be continuing, to be involved with it. One of my best friends, Nikola Petrov is a head coach, and so I think he's really making a dent in the industry and making an impact with his career. So, I'm very proud of him and the boys and girls who just came back smashing national records at the World Championships in Australia.

What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?


— When I was a kid I was really just playing with my tiny soldiers and action figures, creating little movies I guess... I was a director, a screenwriter, a voice actor and a puppet actor, but it never really occurred to me that acting was a thing. I guess it makes sense now because as a kid I wanted to be a different thing almost every day, so I guess I really achieved that as an adult.


You're into music now, right? Can you tell a little bit more about it for us and our readers?


— I'm into music now, yeah. I feel like I really grew up on Eminem, Limp Bizkit, Metallica, Bon Jovi and Linkin Park, Dr.Dre and Snoop Dog. R&B and Hip-Hop became my favorite genres, but I like a lot of different genres as well. I've always wanted to be a singer, I've always dreamt about being either like John Bon Jovi, having concerts in front of hundreds or thousands of people, or Robbie Williams, or Eminem. But it never occurred to me until recently. It's always been like an actual dream, and as I used to say, "if I was more talented in singing, first I would be a singer, and then an actor". But now, after the pandemic I started taking singing lessons, started progressing, and then I randomly started rapping one day and realized: "Oh, I'm not bad at this either!" And so, I kinda manifested a role where I play a rocker-rapper in the movie which is about to come out I think next year in 2023. I'm really looking forward to that 'cause it was a pure manifestation and then that in turn gave me the confidence (because I sing/rap a few songs in the movie) that I could actually do this on my own, and I think, a part of my, let's say, political voice or social critique and also the introspection of what scares me and what gives me power, the mental health issues that I struggle with (and I'm sure most people struggle with, right?), so a few songs that I've already recorded, I just submitted one for mix and master and the other one is on its way soon. The songs are about how I mistreat myself and how I realize that, and how it's all a vicious circle, and how really I should be better in taking care of my mental health. It's really a retrospection of my life up until now, I suppose: how I've been and how I'd like to be, and the irony of me knowing the answers but not being able to change, the fight with the shadow self, the complexity that is being a human, being passionately involved with life, the contradictions that we face every day with our actions, and what our needs are, what our wants are... Hopefully it's gonna be like therapy music for millennials! I really think that's kind of what it’s shaping out to be...Of course, there's some really hardcore, politically incorrect songs, in the sense that I really kind of go after the rich elite and the politicians who benefit from supporting these cartel like big businesses and media organizations. So, I hope I don't get killed or shot after some of the things I'm going to be singing about. Or worse - canceled… ha ha! But I'm excited! I walk around every day and I think about music and lyrics, and I just smile as if I'm in love. This is what it's really been. It's amazing to be a novice at something, but I feel like this is going to be for a life, there is no way I'm not making music from now on. I just hope and I'm sure I'll get better and better in writing, in performing, and technically, and learn to play instruments and produce. I’m 7 piano lessons in and I love it but my brain will explode!

Your filmography includes dozens of roles. Which one is the most memorable for you and why?


— I mean, obviously "Another Mother's Son" was an incredible role, there was a lot to work with, and playing a real person, Fyodor Polikarpovich Buryi, it was a remarkable experience. I will never forget it. I was really, really in the role. And working with some amazing actors and BAFTA winning director Christopher Menaul, working with Ronan Keating as somebody whose music I love. And John Hannah, Amanda Abbington and of course Jenny Seagrove...And Brenock O'Connor who plays John Hannah's son — actually Brenock and I are gonna be in a TV-series, seven years later. We're about to reunite for in early January 2023, so I'm looking forward to it, it's going to be super cool. He's a super talented kid.


You've worked on several films as producer. How did you come to this? Are you planning to do this in the future?


— All of my work as a producer was driven by me trying to self-produce to myself to prove that I can do certain things as an actor, also to get good showreel material that's not showreel material for showreel’s sake, but actually a short film, from which I can use bits and bobs, and I've realized that as Eastern European, even as an American sounding speaker I'd still have limited opportunities in UK compared to most actors who speak in any British accent. So, I had to make my own breaks; this comes from this mentality, from swimming, you know — you never give up, you just have to figure out new ways to give yourself opportunities and be successful. And actually, survive financially, 'cause it's very important too, it's not an easy life — the life of an actor, especially in London, the most competitive place for acting in the world. Barring LA. And for anything really. If not the one of the top-3 the most expensive cities in the world. So, it was definitely a choice to go into production for that reason. And then I produced the feature film called "The Dare" because I wasn't working as an actor that time, I wasn't booking anything, so I was like: "Well, I'm not going to just sit on my ass". This opportunity came along and I pitched a movie to Yariv Lerner that my friend Giles Alderson wrote with Jonny Grant, and Yariv liked it, and then the rest of this history. It was a debut projects for everybody. Giles was a first-time director of a feature film, it was Jonny's first thing he's written that’s being made, and our first AD, our line producer — that was also their first project. So, it was a very awesome experiment that luckily turned out well; the movie was highly successful in certain territories, won a few awards at festivals for Horror films and was №3 on Netflix Canada on Halloween week in 2021. So, I'm very proud how that movie turned out, and also the cast that we had. I pride myself in also understanding casting really well and being able to see talent and help it grow. Bart Edwards, our lead actor, it was his first leading role in a movie, he then blew up and went on to be in The Witcher and he was a lead in the TV series called "Unreal". So, it was great to see that even tiny roles that we cast, you know, they were actor friends of ours — for example Joivan Wade and Percelle Ascott, who ended up being cyborg in DC Doom Patrol and was the lead in The Purge, and Percy’s already done two original series and one movie on Netflix as a lead. So, they all blew up and I'm so happy that a lot of us grew up together as starving actors in London, and now we're all doing… okay. I mean, they're doing great, and I'm just trying to be humble. But we're doing good! We're happy, I think. So that's the story of production and kind of how I started out helping out with casting for a lot of different productions behind the scenes, because I suppose I'm a natural connector.

If you could play any existing character, which one would you like to choose and why?


— I would love to play Anakin Skywalker or Frodo, or Aragorn, or The Joker, or Batman or Gandalf (I’d have to wait a few decades)…or any other amazing dramatic or comedic roles. But I would say, I'm a nerd, so I'll go with these five or six that I mentioned.


We can't help but ask about the Shadow and Bone series beloved by millions of fans. Everyone knows that it's based on the books of Leigh Bardugo. Have you read them? If so, which one did you like the most?


— Shadow and Bone! I love it! Yes, I have read the books. I've only heard about them after I had my first audition, but then I downloaded them as audio books and I started listening. And I thought they were amazing! I have to be honest: my favorite one is "Six of Crows". It would be great if I could go on a "Crows" adventure.


If you could choose, who would you like to be in the Grishavers universe? Would you remain a heartrender or would you choose other Grisha or the Six of Crows?


— To be honest, I love Fedyor, so I couldn't ever be unfaithful to him. So, I'll stick to Fedyor in this question. But I do love other characters as well, obviously. I love Jesper, I love Amita's character — Inej, who is essentially "Batman". And The Darkling is amazing, as well. And my God - what wouldn’t I do to play Nikolai. What an unbelievable character! Paddy’s gonna smash that though!


Could you share any funny story from the set of this series?


— Oh, funny stories... This is always so hard to do! Nothing ever comes to mind when any actor, I guess, is asked about a funny story. Because we have fun all the time. And most things are consequential, and you can't really explain them, so... I'm gonna pass on this one.

Are there any future projects you're already involved in? Could you tell us something about them?


— I just wrapped a project that was pretty cool... But I can't really talk about many of them. The one I'm talking about is unannounced, the one I do with Maria Bakalova as producer and co-star called "Triumph", it's a Bulgarian project based on a true story but fictionalized. It's about how Bulgarian military did look for aliens and artifacts in the 90s for a year and they dug up this tunnel, with the help of clairvoyants and psychics. Baba Vanga also famously said that “... down there - someone is sleeping. It is not a man nor a monkey nor a woman, and please don't wake him up or anger him because many soldiers will die", that's what she said. So, it's an interesting story that we did this summer and I'm looking forward to see how it turns out.

And I did an amazing movie about the 1st world war called "The Last Front” where I played a Belgian villager on the run from the Germans. It's got Iain Glen, Sasha Luss, an amazing Russian actress, who's probably my most favorite person. There was a cute meme recently on Instagram that says "Who's your most favorite person of 2021?", and I was like: "Sash, you're my favorite person!". We really hit it off and it was so amazing to have another Eastern European on the project! This never happened in my career and her career either, so we were like "Oh my God!", and we almost had like a secret language, Bulgarian-Russian version of us just trying to say secretly things to each other while other people are around, which was just amazing. So, she's become very quickly a good friend. She's amazing, and I'm looking forward to working with her again and making something together. So yeah, that movie is about the last stand that our characters make against what's left of this German battalion.


What do you like doing in your free time? Do you have a hobby?


— I don't know if I have hobbies... I mean, my life is basically one big hobby. I actually like playing video games, like Call Of Duty or FIFA, Batman or SW related RPGs. Sporting games, I like to laugh with friend dance, sing, clown around… So yeah, those are my hobbies.


Do you have certain rules of life that you adhere to?


— There's one rule: to be kind. Because it never costs anything to be kind. I guess empathy is the leading characteristic, as well as positivity. I want to be a force for good and every connection that I have, I want it to be a positive one for me and for the person on the other side.


What would you like to wish your fans?


— It's so weird to me still to think of people being my fans... To anybody who supports me and likes what I do, for the new year I wish to follow your dreams bravely and to kick ass and just smile and laugh, to stay healthy and I wish that all your loved ones to be healthy. That's the best we can wish for and the rest we can do ourselves. I believe in you!

Your favorite movie?


— "The Lion King".


Your favorite book?


— Let's go with "Sapiens".


Your favorite TV series?


— I guess, "Game of Thrones" or "Breaking Bad", and for animation — "Rick and Morty".


Your favorite singer/band?


— I'll go with Eminem.


Your favorite song?


— Usher "Yeah!"


Your favorite quote?


— "I have the high ground, Anakin!”, “My friends, you bow to no one!” “Are you not entertained?!” “Does it depress you, commissioner?”. 5 bucks if you know where all these are from! I can speak to you in quotes all day!


Your favorite time season?


— Summer.


Marvel or DC?


— DC for movies and animation, Marvel the cinematic universe.


Which Hogwarts house would you like to be in the Harry Potter universe?


— I would be from the Durmstrang Institute of wizardry.


Do you have any pets?


— Well, my parents have pets, personally I don't, but we have a cat called Chara and a dog called Mars. She is British Shorthair and he's a Cane Corso.


How many languages do you know?


— Bulgarian, English, intermediate Spanish and Italian, and I can mimic Russian, and I can kind of understand most Slavic languages and can read Portuguese.


Do you have an idol and if you do, who is it?


— I've never really had idols, I've always admired my parents. And if I would have to choose idols that would be them. But really, I've always had an independent way of thinking and I've always felt like I just aspired to be the best version of myself. When I learned that I'm not in competition with anybody that's when I really started excelling. And not just excelling but... Success to me is not nearly as important as being happy and healthy and enjoying my life. You can check a ted talk I did on ‘success’, might find it insightful right before the holidays when you are having to deal with your parents’ expectations and lectures!