Sat, May 18 2013
"It's funny - the thought that a redneck from Indiana would join the Peace Corps, come to Bulgaria, live in a village and make 300 leva a month for two years, come to Sofia and become a movie actor," says Jonas, but that's the way events are unfolding the movie of Jonas Talkington's life .
After graduating college in Indiana, Jonas worked as a scientist for a year in a factory as a chemist and biologist. However, he found he was getting tired of this and decided to apply for the Peace Corps - a process which involves "hundreds of pages of paperwork, and a more comprehensive medical than I've ever done before" - but was one of the lucky two per cent to make it through. He was given the choice of going to Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Romania or Bulgaria. "I did the research, went to the library, and I thought well, Bulgaria, it's got the seaside, mountains, Turkey, Greece, good infrastructure " . He arrived on June 15 2000.
He was posted to a small town called Zlatograd in the Rhodope mountains, where he lived for two years working for the Centre for Development Zlatograd as an ecologist and computer specialist.
"I got there and I was mad cause you could only get on the internet for two minutes a day, because the phone switches were from 1923!" But, not one to be perturbed, he enlisted the help of the local cable company and the USAID project and over next few months, succeeded in building an internet network for the southern Rhodope range, bringing internet to over half a million people.
After that, he had the opportunity to help pilot a new Peace Corps programme and opted to extend his contract for a third year. He came to Sofia, where he worked with the YMCA for a year in a youth development programme. During that year he met his now-wife, Galina, a Bulgarian, "it seems to be a pleasant infection that a lot of the foreign men get," he smiles. "She's wonderful; she speaks better English than I do which is kind of daunting."
As for Jonas' experience with the Bulgarian language, he attended the three month Peace Corps training programme and he lived with a family who spoke no English. "So, you either sink or swim." He studied a lot and can now understand, "about 95 per cent of what's thrown at me".
Jonas and Galina met at the beginning of his third year here and got married a little over a year later. "And she actually, oddly enough, doesn't really want to live in the Sates." They now own a personal training salon, Spider Sports (www.spidersports.com), near Pliska.
Jonas also has also just started on a brand new venture which came about through his acting work that he began at the end of his time in the Peace Corps.
It all started when a sign was put up in the Peace Corps office, looking for Americans for one day parts. One of Jonas' friends called and got a part. "The guy called him back and asked: `Do you have any friends who look like they could rip someone's arm off?' And he's like `Yeah' and hands me the phone!" Jonas got an eight-day part in an 18 day movie. That was his first film. Next month, he'll be acting in his 29th.
Two of the most bizarre parts he's played have been in films with Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame. The first, "Larry the Swinger", in Man with the Screaming Brain, was based on the character from an old video game, Leisure Suit Larry. "He was a white, American, slimy guy with gold chains and the pencil-thin moustache, the slick-backed hair, who's like (raised an eyebrow, cheesy grin) `Hey baby, how're you doing'. I (Larry) came to Eastern Europe to meet prospective internet wives that wanted to come to America. I met this one chick one who got really mad at me and killed me. That was fun," he laughs.
The other was in Alien Apocalypse, when Jonas played a bounty-hunter on a post-apocalyptic planet controlled by aliens, a part he describes as being like "Yosemite Sam on crack". Other roles have included soldiers, a doctor, a scientist, a cook, a pharmacist, attachй to the president and a British service agent. The latter required him to learn how to do an English accent. This is another area Jonas specialises in: he is a dialect coach. He works with Bulgarian and British actors, teaching them American accents, as this is what there is the biggest market for in the film industry in Bulgaria at the moment.
Jonas says that the film industry in Bulgaria is getting bigger and bigger. "If I was to draw a comparison to it, it would be like Prague 10 or 15 years ago," he says. But whereas Prague got "expensive" and "overused", Bulgaria has " so many different faces to offer" and it's still possible to make " a two million film that would cost you 20 (million) in the States." There a lot of sci-fi channel films made in Bulgaria, but some big name ones too, says Jonas.
Out of his acting, has grown Jonas' latest venture: he is currently casting his first film. About a month and half ago, UFO, a company he'd worked with previously got in touch and asked if he would be casting director for a film they were working on. The result is casting.ufo-bg.com. So far he's had a good response from foreigners and Bulgarian interested in getting involved in acting.
After nearly six years, Jonas seems at home with life in Bulgaria, but asked to name the thing he's found most difficult about living here, he says it would have to be the lack of English books. He's a big science fiction fan. "I live in this world, I'm here every day. If you're going to go on vacation, you're not going to go to the other side of your house. If want to go somewhere to escape, I'd rather go to a completely different world."
A self-confessed "gadget guy", he confesses his weakness is that he still enjoys video games when he has free time. Not that he has much of this, what with helping out at the training salon - where they're working on fitness tourism trips to the coast - casting and acting. But he's loving every minute, and what the next twist will be is anyone's guess.
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