CRF Blog

Russia’s Hottest American

by Bill Hayes

In Russia’s Hottest American, New York magazine profiles Odin Biron, the unlikely American star of a popular Russian sitcom.

Biron is one of the stars of Interns, a hit medical sitcom watched by 3.7 million people per episode and one of Gazprom-Media’s flagship programs. On the show, he plays Phil, a bright-eyed American doctor trying to negotiate life in Russia. Interns’ phenomenal success has turned the 30-year-old Minnesotan into an unlikely heartthrob and the de facto face of America in Russian pop culture at a time when relations between the two countries have deteriorated to their lowest point in recent memory.

The TV star makes his way into the darkened ballroom and finds a spot near the back where he can stand undisturbed. Enormous crystal chandeliers hang low over the heads of beefy, taciturn Gazprom executives. They are all facing the back wall, which is covered in ultrahigh–definition screens showing promotional segments for Gazprom-Media programming. Occasionally Vladimir Putin appears onscreen to profess support for the company. Suddenly, there’s Interns’ Phil, mugging innocently in the midst of some typically madcap hospital high jinks. Sipping his wine, Biron winces ever so slightly.

He, after all, is the kind of guy who exclaims “Oh my gosh!,” loves baking bread, and plays old-timey fiddle for fun. That is to say he could not be less suited to the excesses of Russian stardom — and yet here he is, in this mock-imperial ballroom with these Bond-villain executives, watching himself ham it up onscreen.

His Interns co-star Ivan Okhlobystin, standing across the ballroom, by contrast, is the kind of celebrity who could exist only in Moscow in 2015. A tattooed nationalist former Orthodox priest, he made international news last year when he said, in a weird bit of public performance art, that he would put all gays in an oven and burn them alive. Which puts Biron in a strange position, since neither Okhlobystin or the Russian viewing public knows that he’s gay. Oh, and there’s also the fact that, Okhlobystin, 48, has become one of Russia’s most vehement anti-American loudmouths, calling frequently for the U.S. to be bombed to oblivion. [more]