Karolína Milerová – keeper of Krtek flame with big plans for future

Photo: Šárka Ševčíková

Karolína Milerová, who is 23, found herself running an international business following the death in 2011 of her grandfather, Zdeněk Miler. He was the creator of the hugely popular Czech children’s character Krtek, or Mole, which for over half a century appeared in a series of cartoons and countless books.

Karolína Milerová,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
Milerová is not only keeping the Krtek name alive with her company Little Mole, she also has ambitious plans for the future of the brand. When we spoke at her office, my first question was: when did you first become aware of Krtek?

“I don’t quite remember, but my father told me that when I first saw it I freaked out [laughs]. I was scared of the cartoon, because the Little Mole is black and he jumped out of a hole.

“My grandfather was so upset that I was scared [laughs]. But then I started to like it more and more.”

Given the huge popularity of the figure, as a child were your friends envious of you for having this very close personal connection to the Little Mole?

“I think during my childhood it wasn’t that popular. My friends liked it, but it wasn’t as big a phenomenon as it is now. Most of my friends and I played with Barbies [laughs] and cars. We didn’t see it that much.”

Apparently your grandfather used your mother and your aunt for the voices. Can you today recognise who was who? It must be an unusual family record.

“Well, we all have similar voices, so it’s unrecognisable.”

But it must still be a strange feeling for you to watch a film from, I don’t know, 1960, and hear your mother’s voice?

“They recorded it when they were kids, so for me it’s kind of funny [laughs].”

I was reading an interview with you in which you said that your grandfather was similar to Krtek, the Little Mole, in personality. Could you explain or elaborate on that, please?

“I think my grandfather was the best person I have ever met in my life. Their character was really similar. He was loving and caring and he didn’t lie – he was just a really, really good and nice person and everybody loved him. So it’s the same as the Little Mole [laughs].”

You spent a lot of time with your grandparents when you were a child. The final film was made in, I think, 2002. So were you around your granddad when he was making the films?

“Yes. I think I was around all the time when he was painting. I was playing while he was painting and we had the nice connection that we were together. But I wasn’t disturbing him.

“I still like to sometimes visit the room where he painted. It’s nice to feel that.”

Did you get some kind of insight into his working process?

“[Clearly hearing ‘insight’ as ‘input’] Yes [laughs]. It was only once. It was a big controversial thing. I asked him how kids came into this world – and then he made a short movie about a rabbit, and how they make kids [laughs].

“Everybody was like, oh my God, how did this happen? So it was my first and last input into his work.”

Zdeněk Miler,  photo: Jana Chládková
Did he teach you how to draw?

“He tried, but I couldn’t sit on a chair for five minutes, so I couldn’t really draw. That’s why I don’t paint, because it’s not my kind of thing.

“I’m just a hyper person and I cannot sit still for hours [laughs].”

You didn’t inherit his artistic gene?

“I inherited it, but in different ways. Because when I was younger I was acting in the theatre and singing and dancing. It’s the same, but it’s different.”

Little Mole is shown in dozens of countries around the world today. Why do you think it is that so many years after many of them were made it’s still so popular? What is it about the character that appeals to people so much?

“I think in first place is his character, because it’s a really, really nice cartoon [laughs]. He’s just like a little child that you want to take care of. You kind of feel everything with him. When he cries, you cry, when he laughs, you laugh.

“He has some kind of charisma that I cannot explain. It’s very unique and very simple. I love it and I think people everywhere love it because it’s simply connected with everybody.”

In which countries is the Little Mole most popular today?

“Right now I think it’s most popular in China, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, and also Scandinavia.

“I’m surprised all the time when people write us from strange countries like Israel, or Spain, Portugal, to say they’re interested in it.”

You were saying that it’s more popular today than when you were a kid. Why is that?

“I think because there are more and more violent cartoons and he is unique in this, he is different. I think it’s because of this.”

Is it also a question of marketing?

“Well, we try [laughs]. I hope so.”

You’re 23 years old, you’re working with a pretty big international brand – how have you found working in the business environment?

“It’s hard sometimes, but I got used to it. I think acting in the theatre helped me a lot, because it’s kind of the same thing, you get used to it. When you go on stage first you are super nervous, but when you go on every day, twice, three, four times, you get used to it and you start to enjoy it.

“Every time that I deal with big people – most of the time men [laughs] – I just try to look at myself in a different way and to try to see the brand that I represent, not myself as a person.

“That’s also my approach – I feel responsible for the brand, not for myself here. I’m just the medium of the brand.”

What have you learned in your brief business career?

“I have learned one very important thing. I always thought that I could work with people that have all the knowledge and are bad people in their personal life. But I can’t – it always ends really badly.

Photo: Albatros
“Now I choose people that have maybe less knowledge but are really good people in their hearts. They can learn everything and in the end it’s a better effect – because they’re doing it from the heart.”

You company Little Mole own the copyright on the character, but a different company owns the rights to the films. How do you coordinate with them, or how does that work?

“We have an agreement with them that we can distribute the movies when we want to.

“We also want to make new movies next year. We will do two productions, one will be in the Czech Republic and it will be short, and one will be in China with American production.”

Have you got any sense of nerves, or do you feel really very responsible concerning that? Because it’s been over 10 years since the last one, your grandfather’s dead now and people can often be very sensitive about new versions of old, classic cartoons.

“Yes, I do feel very responsible for that. But at the same time I feel that it’s necessary for the cartoon to develop.

“And we always try to choose the best people around and we have really good connections, so I hope they won’t screw it up [laughs].”

If those two new cartoons go well, can you foresee a longer series? What’s the ultimate plan?

“I hope it goes well, so that we can do every year or two years maybe 50 new episodes. It’s going to be like this.”

Will the new cartoons look exactly the same? How will they be produced?

“Yes, we really don’t want to change the form. We just want to change maybe the stories a little bit. But they will still be very simple, the drawing will be exactly the same, because we really don’t want to change it.

Karolína Milerová,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“We will do it slowly and well [laughs], so the effect will be good in the end.”

Will they be computer generated?

“No. They will not.”

I know also there are many Krtek books. Is that a similar process? Are you still bringing out new books?

“We still bring out new books. They’re kind of educational books. We use the old images and add new content.

“But also for the books it’s necessary to make new movies, because all the books have been reprinted and the publishing houses want new topics.”