Corneliu Ulici about “Comrade Detective”: “I’m flying. We’re going to Los Angeles, for the premiere.”

From Release: Comrade Detective (aka Tovarasul militian) is a Romanian propaganda series from the 80s. No, no. Comrade Detective is a series filmed during our post-revolutionary times, as if it were an anti-capitalist product of Ceausescu’s Romania. The work is lost & then found by actor Channing Tatum, who dubs it in English together with a Hollywood all stars. And, look, it’s on Amazon Prime!

The world premiere is on Friday, the 4th of August, and the main characters are played by Florin Piersic Jr and Corneliu Ulici, two militians in search of an assassin with a Ronald Reagan mask on his face, a sinister murderer of communist ideals. GQ says that you’ll laugh a lot at this comedy in 6 episodes, Channing Tatum says that the Romanian actors are so good that he didn’t really feel like doubling them. But that was the convention so the series is dubbed in English (including by, oh, Kim Basinger!) and each episode starts with an intro where Tatum and Jon Ronson (the guy who wrote the The Psychopath Test and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) discuss about how this Romanian series from the 80s is a classic of the genre, Stanley Kubrik’s favorite. Ha-ha. They say it’s about how propaganda works, about how the image of the foreigner is consolidated and about the eternal fight between communism and capitalism.

Until the series becomes available in our country, because for now it’s only available in USA, Great Britain, Australia and New Zeeland, I sent my questions to Corneliu Ulici, the young militia, the partner of the older militia played by Florin Piersic Jr. Corneliu was not in Bucharest so I send the questions over in an e-mail. Enjoy. (Luiza Vasiliu)


Where are you now?

In Tuzla, on the beach.

What can you see out the window?

I can see the beach and the sea, seagulls, cormorants, and, a little earlier, I saw the sunrise.

Is there any detail around you that makes you think about the universe of the series „Comrade Detective”?

Yes, the furnishings of my caravan, which date since that period and which I bout a few months ago with the money I was paid for the film.

Do you watch series?

In general, I do not watch series, but, I can caught up in one every once in a while. That’s how I ended up seeing the first season of Prison Break, all the episodes, one after another, until the next day at noon. It was the same with Breaking Bad, Suits and, of course, Game of Thrones.

You’re 34 and you ended up playing in a coproduction of two important American studios: Amazon and A24. What’s the story behind this?

I was called for an audition at one of the casting agencies I’m registered with. I did the audition and I imagine they liked be, they called me to do another audition for another character, namely for Iosif Baciu. We were two actors left in the end for the role and they did a series of combinations with the other characters to see how we hit it off.


The story is as simple and natural as possible and that’s wonderful.



What did you know about the series before you started shooting? How did you like the idea of the lost and found propaganda film?
I knew exactly what you know now. That it’s going to be a comedy, a policier, which will star two militians from communist Romania and which will be dubbed in English, and one of the voices will be Channing Tatum’s.

How did they come up with the idea of a series located in communist Romania?
I think they like Eastern Europe. Probably they find in Romania a very good playground, exotic, with endless possibilities. I think it will be a hit with the public, regardless of the generation they are part of. It’s a comedy littered with subtle jokes, but also obvious ones, not necessarily the kind of „inside jokes” which could limit the impact to a certain category of people.

Where did the shooting take place?
The shooting took place in Bucharest, Constanta and on the Castel Film set.

What was the most difficult moment during the shoot?
There were several difficult moments. For me, they had to do with the cold, the rain or the escape from the burning bus. But, if I were to only mention one moment, I would probably say the last day-night and morning of shooting were great, but difficult. The shooting day was long, it took effort, it was cold, we had accumulated exhaustion, and the last sequence was taking place in a car, where it was warm. You can imagine the challenge! 🙂

The captain started with a preachy speech, and we were listening, and then I had a line. We were actually falling asleep in between the lines, but, inexplicably, I was waking up exactly before my turn.

We still have a lot of fun, me and Florin, when we remember this scene.



Have the Romanian actors had any input in the script?
I worked very well with Rhys [Thomas] – the director and the two writers, Brian [Gatewood] and Alex [Tanaka], they were completely open to our ideas, but the film didn’t aim to be a faithful rendition of that period, so there are things that are not necessarily specific for communism, but which work very well in the economy of the story and of the situations.

How did you research the role? Have you talked to militians, have you watched Nicolaescu’s films?
I’m 34 and I still have many memories from the communist era and I started stirring my memory for sensations, smells, curiosities and queries from that period. I listened to patriotic songs and I watched footage from the communist congresses. Also, I found to be very helpful the preparation sessions and the discussions with my good friend and fellow actress, Ana Popescu. She was my coach and together with her, I built the base of the character and of the important situations.

The role in this series and all your work with the rest of the crew, did they help you in any way to get a clearer image about how it was to live back then?
First, I believed that I was not going to have any revelation, that I knew what it was all about, having heard so many stories about it, that nothing could have surprised me. This film was so well done from the point of view of the stage design, of the costumes, of the text, that I changed my opinion. It felt like I was there. In many of the scenes, I had the sensation I was traveling in time.

What’s is unusual about this militian in Romania in the 80s?
He doesn’t smoke.


How do the two militians complete each other: Gregor Anghel and Iosef Baciu in the series?
Gregor is fire, and Iosef (my character) is a mountain river. Where Gregor’s passion and determination fail, Iosef’s patience and skill succeed slowly but surely.

How was working with Florin Piersic Jr? Have you met before?
We knew each other, but we had never met or worked together before.

I say we were a perfect match. I hope he agrees. Florin is a generous actor, and I’m only starting out. He’s always in a good mood. We didn’t have fights or ego, only team work and many moments when we ended up crying because of so much laughing. It felt like he was my policeman partner who you know will have your back.

We are friends now and for me that is one of the biggest rewards of this project.



How does it feel to know that you act but your voice is not going to be in the final edit?
I worked like there was not going to be any dubbing. I didn’t make any concession quality-wise. I accepted the idea of the dubbing as being an essential part of the project in its entirety. The American actors did a great job.

What do you think people will remember after the first season?
I don’t know. Probably they’ll be left with the stupor of having seen a Romanian film dubbed in English and they didn’t expect to like it.

How important do you thing this role is for your career?
It’s the role with the biggest visibility so far and that brings me great satisfaction. The other day, I saw the entire season and I am pleased with what I did and happy with the attention I gave the project so far. Also, I am aware that it’s a phase, a stop in my „journey’’ and I welcome happily what going to come, without making any illusions or plans. I know who I am. I don’t feel like proving anything to anybody and I don’t want fame or celebrity. It’s obvious that I’d be happy if it meant an open door towards other projects, but I don’t deceive myself. I’m living the moment.

Now that you’re done answering my questions, how does the rest of your day look like?
I’m flying. We’re going to Los Angeles, for the premiere.

Comrade Detective Gif:

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