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Moscow News
January 30, 2009
Bob Van Ronkel, Hollywood’s Man in Moscow
By Robert Bridge

Moscow News: What is one of your most memorable moments with a Hollywood client or clients while in Moscow?

Bob Van Ronkel: During Jim Carrey's second visit to Moscow, we went to a nice restaurant with a group of friends. Just as we were getting ready to order, Jim yells out, "Seafood anyone?" We turned to look, and there was Jim with his big smile and two clam shells covering up his eyes.

On another occasion, in May 2007, friends of mine from the First Channel said they had a high-rated television show called ‘Ring King,' which involved actors participating in boxing matches. They said they wanted an exhibition fight for the final show with Mike Tyson, Mickey Rourke or Steven Seagal fighting against Russia's former fighting champion, Oleg Takarov.

I agreed and called all of them, but these guys were either uninterested or unavailable. So, with less than 10 days until the event I suggested Dolph Lundgren [of "Rocky" fame]. ORT approved the idea, so I called Dolph, thinking he would tell that I am crazy and that would be the end of it. After all, Oleg Takarov is a killer in the ring. But to my surprise Dolph immediately said, "I'm in." At this point, I began to watch some videos of Oleg's past fights, which really made me worried about what I had done. I mean, if Dolph gets knocked out or injured, possibly endangering his career, it would be my fault. Moreover, Dolph had just flown 13 hours from Los Angeles, was on an 11 hour time difference and only had one day to train before the big bout.

Sunday morning, the day of the big fight, Dolph saw that I wasn't eating lunch and asked what was wrong. I told him. Dolph looked at me and said with a smile, "Relax, I'm fighting Takarov, not you. Don't worry about a thing, I've fought bigger, tougher and younger and am still here to tell about it."

Well, Dolph was right. The fight went the entire distance and both fighters fought hard. Dolph lost by a decision, but he didn't have a mark on his body and was smiling the whole time. (Anyone interested can watch the fight on YouTube, ‘Dolph Lundgren vs. Oleg Takarov')

MN: Could you say that you are living out a real fantasy in terms of a job? It seems like you have the ultimate occupation.

My job is definitely a fantasy, and it's a business I knew nothing about before moving to Russia. Imagine: anytime your phone rings it could be Steven Seagal, Mickey Rourke, Pamela Anderson, or one of your other friends from Hollywood. Think about being able to pick up the phone and call Jim Carrey, Val Kilmer or Luc Besson, just to say hello?

Russia has changed my life and this business has made me feel like a kid again. I thank god every night for allowing me to discover this niche and making a business out of it.

MN: Does the job have its pitfalls? What are they, if any?

One of the downsides I have experienced has been bringing a star over who thinks he can out-drink my Russian client [Laughter].

MN: You also manage the Grand Havana Room in the center of Moscow. Could you tell us a bit about that project?

RVR: Around 2003, after I had been bringing a number of well known stars to Moscow for wealthy Russians, Arnold Schwarzenegger said to me, "with all the successful people you know in Russia, why don't you open a Grand Havana Room in Moscow and make it an international business club?"

Three years later, I met my dream partners, Pasha Rychenkov and Togrul Bagirov, and the dream became a reality. The club opened in January, 2008. After just one year in business, GHR is the most exclusive international business club in Moscow.

MN: Have you fulfilled all of your aspirations? Is there something else that you would like to accomplish in your life?

There are four more things I would like to accomplish in Russia before leaving.

One is to produce the Doors to Hollywood Film Festival. This will be a retrospect and forum, not a competition and jury. I would like to do this with a number of Russian film makers, sponsors and the Russian government. I plan to bring ten actors, four well known directors, many producers, distributors, writers, Hollywood agents and international journalists. I feel this can be the biggest positive promotional event ever for Russia and at a time when people need something new and exciting to visit and talk about.

Two others are to bring Al Pacino and Arnold Schwarzenegger for a party at Grand Havana Room Moscow and introduce them to the Russian President and Prime Minister and many of my Russian members and friends.

The last one, which I have been working on since 2001, is to produce a US television series, in Russia, called "From the Files of the KGB." It will be short stories of individual agents who risked their lives on heroic missions all over the world, similar to James Bond stories.

MN: How much time per year do you spend in Moscow?

RVR: I would say I live in Moscow approximately 10 months of the year and love every minute of it, until the snow and cold weather arrives and then it's time to re-evaluate things.

MN: Tell us something about yourself that would come as a surprise even to your closest friends.

RVR: Before I came to Russia in 1998, I had lived in Hollywood all my life but only had two friends who were actors: Martin Landau and Peter Lupus from the television series "Mission Impossible."

In 1999, the organizers of the Moscow Film Festival asked me if I could invite over some Hollywood stars to attend their event. The only actor I was successful in convincing to come was Oscar winner Martin Landau... The next year I was the US representative of the festival and succeeded in bringing over the president of Paramount Studios, Sheri Lansing, Director Billy Friedkin and Producer Peter Hoffman. I also convinced E-Television USA to cover the festival and broadcast it around the world.

In 2001, I got my first big break. After networking half of Hollywood... I learned that Sean Penn had recently directed a new film, "The Pledge," and Jack Nicholson was the star. I met someone who knew Sean's assistant and got her number. I called her to say I was a producer and representative for the Moscow International Film Festival and we would like to invite Sean and his film for a European premier. Two days later Sean called me back to speak about it and agreed to bring his film to the festival. I immediately started calling everyone I knew to try and reach Jack Nicholson. Eventually, someone gave me his office number. I called his assistant and explained that Sean was going to come to Moscow with me and premier their film at the festival and I thought it would get so much more world recognition if Jack could attend as well. The next day, Jack's secretary called and asked how soon could I come to his home to discuss the proposal? I said in 10 minutes, and a meeting was set up for the next day. So I went to Jack's house, spent one hour speaking to him and convincing how much fun he would have, how great Moscow is and that he wouldn't need to bring bottled water (which he told me is the only kind he drinks). Jack called Sean while I was sitting there, they spoke, they laughed and then Jack said he would be in Moscow.