German-born Serb Branko Tomović has bagged the sought-after lead in a biopic about the prodigious scientist Nikola Tesla. The London-based actor will play Tesla in The Mad Scientist, a film with a modest budget but big ambitions to raise awareness about the often forgotten great man and his hugely influential discoveries.
“Nikola Tesla has been a great idol of mine for a very long time,’ Branko Tomović told Wild Rooster. “I think he was an extraordinary man with a remarkable life story. Tesla was an inventive and very intelligent genius who lived for his work. He was ahead of his time and often misunderstood.
“People back then didn’t understand him so they labeled him as eccentric or ‘mad’ in this case. It is a very great honour but also a huge responsibility to be allowed to breathe life into this wonderful character and to tell his remarkable story.
Tesla: A Great Inspiration
“Tesla is a great inspiration for me and I do know already a lot about him but still there is so much work to do before filming starts,’ said Branko. He is an extraordinary man and such an interesting character to portray as an actor.”
For such an inspirational man whose life included money, intrigue and exploitation, Tesla’s story would seem to be ready made for the big screen. However, the life and impressive legacy of Nikola Tesla has been relegated to the sidelines, remaining relatively unknown outside of his homeland. “I am still surprised that so many people actually don’t know who he is, or they maybe have heard the name but are not quite sure what it stands for,’ said Branko. “There seems to be a lot of confusion about what his inventions actually were. I quite can’t understand it. That’s why it is so important to tell his story.”
Now American screenwriter and director Michael Anton has grasped the nettle and intends to right some of these wrongs with his film The Mad Scientist, to be produced by Silvermask Productions and North Shore Pictures.
Rather than play to the intrigue and conspiracy that cloaks Tesla’s story, Michael is determined to represent the man behind the science, as much as to showcase his works. “There are such extreme views in regards to Nikola Tesla,’ he said. “Although some could possibly be true and I admire people for having such incredible imaginations, I needed to bring him down to earth, so to speak.
Michael Anton Delivers a Script Worthy of Nikola Tesla
When Branko received Michael’s script, he was in no doubt that this was the best Tesla story ever told. “I had read quite a few Tesla scripts already but, most of the time they were too far away from the truth or too commercialised,’ said Branko. “So when Michael Anton’s script came along I was almost looking for flaws but I couldn’t find any!
“This is a very well written biopic, which captures Tesla’s essence and persona, his passion for his work, his extraordinary mind, his eccentricity and his ambition. The movie will show that he was not a mad scientist – but one of the greatest minds and inventors that ever lived. I always thought that if his story is to be told it has to be something grand, and this film is that.”
Interest in the film drew actors from both sides of the pond wanting to net the part. “I read the script and did a casting for the director and producer,’ said Branko. “I had to prepare scenes from the script, with Tesla at different ages. In one scene he was already in his 70’s. They liked my screen test very much, so I had some talks with the director about the movie and his visions, and then they offered me the part.
“The director liked the idea to cast a Serbian actor as Tesla to make it more truthful. That will also make a stronger contrast in the film between Tesla and all the American characters, like Edison, JP Morgan and Westinghouse etc.”
Branko Tomovic Beats Tough Competition
Michael Anton explained how, after he was directed to some of Branko’s previous work, the search was all but wrapped up. “We knew if we were to bring Nikola Tesla to life on the screen appropriately we had to find a great actor who could handle the challenge of the role as well as understand the culture of the man,’ he said. “It came down to two incredibly gifted Serbian actors who both delivered incredible performance during the audition process. They were both very passionate about the script and the history behind the man. But in the end Branko’s performance was on another level that I had not seen before. And I found myself watching his performance over and over again. He made an incredibly hard decision an easy one. He is the perfect Nikola Tesla.”
For Branko, this is a dream come true. Back in 2008, MovieScope Magazine asked him what kind of roles he was drawn to. “I’m attracted by broken people, tormented characters and lost souls’ he said. “I usually find myself playing the guys with sad eyes. A dream for me would be portraying Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor.”
Now that he has landed his ideal role, the work really must begin, including a great deal of learning about the man beyond the science. “Definitely, you can’t create a character as you usually would with your own imagination, as Tesla obviously really existed,’ said Branko. “There will be references and material out there already which describe him, his demeanour, his persona, his accent, his everything, so you have to stick with that and can’t leave it up to your imagination. It’s about being truthful and respectful to history.”
German-Born Serb Proud to Play Nikola Tesla
Branko, who was born to Serb parents and brought up on stories from their homelands, knows that his portrayal of such a revered man will be analysed at close quarters. Not that he intends to let it dictate his performance, though. “With anything you do there will always be people who love you and people who hate you,’ said Branko, who was inspired to be an actor after watching David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as a child. “You can’t please everyone, especially these days. With the internet, everyone thinks he is a critic.
“But I am quite good at detaching myself from these things. I never read any comments or these things, be it good or bad. I think as an artist it is very important to have your own unique voice and not be influenced by other people’s opinion. As long as I make sure that I give an honest and truthful performance that is pretty much the only thing I should concentrate on, just on the work. I am very dedicated to this project and I absolutely want to make it right. I am my own worst critic.”
Branko was born in Münster, Germany, and was brought up as a member of the Serb diaspora, well aware of his roots and heritage. “I was always with one foot in Serbia, kind of living in two worlds,’ he said. “I guess it was a bit confusing as a young child as you don’t quite understand why people always like to label you. Maybe that is why I still prefer to live in big international cities like London or New York, where everybody is from everywhere and you are not constantly judged by where you are from.”
“We only spoke Serbian at home and, parallel to the German school, I had to go to a Yugoslavian school. It was always very important to my parents to raise me knowing where I came from. And with a name like Branko Tomović how could I ever be something else? My father even tried to force me into Serbian folklore dancing when I was a child, which luckily lasted only a minute as I have two left feet! Only because I started to play water polo for a Serbian club I think he let go of that idea!”
Grandfather Tells Tales of Tesla
As is too common, mainstream education did not teach Branko about Tesla. It fell to his family to reveal the importance of the man. “It certainly wasn’t taught to me in school who he was,’ Branko said. “I think my grandfather was the first to tell me about him, but it probably wasn’t until I moved to New York to study acting when I read his complete biography, learned about his work and got drawn in by his remarkable life path.”
After leaving Germany, Branko studied acting in New York, before going on to win Best Actor Awards and critical acclaim for his innovative shorts and features. His film Silent River, was recently nominated for a European Film Award. “I think any awards are always a nice recognition of your work, though that should never be your motivation, of course,’ he said.
MovieScope’s One to Watch
Then in 2007, Branko appeared alongside Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum. “The Bourne Ultimatum is so long ago,’ said Branko. “I have done so much since then. It was only a small part really, the opening scene of the film, but Matt Damon was a wonderful colleague to work with and Paul Greengrass is a fantastic director. It is true, it has opened many doors for me.” Such exposure delivered more roles, including The Wolfman in 2010, and led to him bagging MovieScope Magazine’s One to Watch. “I have always loved MovieScope Magazine. I think they are one of the best. You can tell that their writers and editors are passionate about film and filmmaking and know exactly what they are writing about. So yes, that was, of course, very nice.”
At the same time, Branko has become a bit of a regular face on British television, popping up in primetime staples such as Silent Witness, Casualty, A Touch of Frost, The Bill, Whitechapel, and Law & Order UK. “I especially love British TV,’ he said. “I think they have very original and interesting ideas that lures in all the best film talent. It is about trying to find the best material to work with and working with good directors and good scripts. It always comes down to that and it seems to be an exciting and innovative time for television. I would love to do something like Game of Thrones.” As well as appearing in the Luke Goss starrer Interview with a Hitman, he also appeared in the Chris Ryan series Strike Back.
Branko Plays to Eastern European Typecasting
It is fair to say, though, that many of these roles have called on him to play an Eastern European character, often of dubious integrity. “I think most actors are being typecast unless your name is Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis,’ said Branko. “I play many characters of Eastern European origin and that makes sense because that is who I am. For example, how better to tell an immigrant story if you haven’t lived through it yourself. It doesn’t frustrate me as long as it is an interesting part.
“It also happened a couple of times that the character was of another origin in the script and after my audition they changed it. In the supernatural thriller Entity, I play one of the leading parts, a young Russian man, but in the original script it was a middle-aged British professor.” Supernatural thriller Entity will screen in the UK, soon, featuring Branko in a lead role alongside Dervla Kirwan and Charlotte Riley.
So, would he like to make a Serbian-language film some day soon? “Absolutely,’ he told Wild Rooster. “I always follow Serbian cinema. I live in London and I am very often in Berlin so there are many good film festivals that show good Serbian films. There are many fresh innovative younger filmmakers out there now who show a different side of Serbia so that’s very exciting.
“I only care about working with good directors and a good script, no matter where and what language that would be. I still go back to Serbia regularly but can never stay long due to work commitments. So doing a film in Serbia would give me the perfect excuse to stay longer!”