“The turning point was when he started playing comedies”: Josef Abrhám recalled

Josef Abrhám

Josef Abrhám, one of the most popular of Czech stage and screen actors, has died at the age of 82. Abrhám starred in a number of the best-loved movies in Czech cinema and was married for many decades to actress Libuše Šafránková, who also had a firm place in the nation’s hearts. I discussed Josef Abrhám’s career with arts journalist Veronika Bednářová.

“I think his generation, and the best players of his generation, were fortunate to meet the second part of the 1960s, when the movement of little theatres started to pop up in Czechoslovakia.

“He was one of the founders of the Drama Club [Činoherní klub] in Prague and he spent a long 17 seasons there, between 1965 and 1982.

“And I think this constant teamwork and team effort turned those actors into unique sort of masters who were getting better and better every season.

“That’s what made him really outstanding.

Josef Abrhám,  Libuše Šafránková | Photo: Czech Television
“One of his most famous roles was in a production of O’Casey’s Boarding House for Bachelors, which was on for decades.

“Or even some serious roles, like the character Trofimov in Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard – it’s unforgettable for people who had the chance to see it.

“Or the classic Gogol, in The Inspector General.

“All of those are roles that are deeply written in the history of Czech theatre.”

But I guess for many people he will be best-known as a movie actor. He had a very long filmography. What, for you, are some of his best films?

“I think the theatre and the film movement, or the Czechoslovak New Wave movement, were kind in interweaving in the1960s.

“I love his very first movie, called The Ceiling, Strop, which is coincidentally also the first, student movie of Věra Chytilová, the excellent Czech New Wave director.

“I also love his second movie, which is called Scream, Křik, by Jaromil Jireš.

Josef Abrhám,  Libuše Šafránková | Photo: Czech Television

“For me the turning point in his career was when he started to play in comedies in the movies, like in a couple of Smoljak and Svěrák films: Mareček, Pass me the Pen in 1976 and, of course, Run, Waiter Run! in 1980.

“I think those are the movies which made him so wildly popular, as comedies.

“I also find important one of his later movies, which is Leaving, directed by Václav Havel in 2011.

“I know that was also important for him – that he was able to be part of it and play the leading role.”

Josef Abrhám was married for many decades to a very popular actress, Libuše Šafránková. Do you think that their position as this kind of golden couple of Czech cinema cemented his popularity, or both their popularities?

“I think so.

"I think they were also helping each other very much professionally, not necessarily by analysing each other’s work, sort of theoretically, but simply being there for each other, watching rehearsals, being able to share the new roles they were rehearsing.

“It’s an irony that she died almost exactly a year ago, because in a way the couple were inseparable during their whole professional lives.”