When I first meet actor George Tchortov, antagonist of both Molly’s Game and Designated Survivor, it’s a freezing cold Montreal afternoon in December. I am immediately warmed by his smile that illuminates Larry’s cafe. “I wore a cozy sweater, like the name of your blog!” he says. He is friendly, and thoughtful. “I wanted us to meet in person. You could talk for years over texts and never get to know each other the way you can in person.”
George is unique. He is unusually generous. He gives me his cell phone number so I can reach him anytime. He invites me to the apartment he rented with his friend Jay Baruchel so I can photograph him away from the cold. He then voluntarily edits my pictures for the better. He gives me hours of his time, driving me around to share his favorite NDG haunts.
Here is the story of how George went from being bullied in small town Ontario, to teasing director Aaron Sorkin.
Growing up in Ontario, George always wanted to be an actor. He started his career at 14 as a stuntman thinking he could transition into acting. But after 10 years of trying, he realized it would be harder than he thought. Stuntmen and actors are viewed very differently.
So he moved to New York to attend the prestigious Stella Adler Conservatory. For three years he focused on acting classes. He ate up Shakespeare’s English, attended ballet classes, and tended bar on weekends. He then returned to Toronto and fresh out of school, landed a role opposite Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly) in the television series Covert Affairs.
“Piper taught me what it means to be a leading lady or a leading man. It’s about being nice, being easy to work with, being friendly and warm with everyone. You treat one person badly, and the crew will turn on you. It trickles from the top down. Working as a stuntman in the film business gave me a totally different perspective, especially about how people look at actors, and how actors look at themselves; which are two very different things. I noticed from a young age that no one liked that. They like the actors that are easy to work with.”
On the addictive Kiefer Sutherland led ABC hit show Designated Survivor, George’s character Catalan was often the only actor on set when filming his scenes. “I was essentially the leading man on those days. I used all my energy to make sure things went smoothly for the crew. I think that might be why my character lasted so long.”
Not knowing if his character would last 2 episodes or 10, George had a fortuitous meeting with leading lady Maggie Q, when his stunt expertise came in handy. “I bumped into Maggie Q, and she looked right at me and said ‘Nikita’. She remembered that we had worked together on that show. When I told her I was playing Catalan, she said ‘It’s a big role, Congratulations!’ She hugged me. She was very welcoming. Our dogs played together. She went to the producer and said, ‘I need to fight this guy.’ I basically owe the big fight finale to Maggie Q.”
Currently in theatres, in Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut Molly’s Game starring Jessica Chastain, George plays Russian Gangster Michael Davidoff.
I ask him about being near Jessica Chastain all day. “She’s very professional. She’s quiet. She doesn’t come in attracting attention. She comes in looking amazing. Ready to go. She sits, and she waits until it’s time.”
Of director Aaron Sorkin, George says “He is obsessed with language. Once the scene sounded the way he wanted it to, he’d yell ‘Amazing, perfect, move on’ and everyone would say ‘No! We need to do it again!’ because it was out of focus or whatever. Aaron was so excited all the time. Full of energy! I called him the ‘Sorkin Express’. That made everyone laugh. He looked at me very seriously after I cracked that joke, but playfully serious. It’s so cool to be a part of his first directed feature.”
George romances the incandescent Katherine Waterston in the soon-to-hit theatres State Like Sleep. Directed by Vice documentary filmmaker Meredith Danluck, George was keen to work with her. “We had to shoot a scene in a bathroom, and Meredith was in the bathtub practically doing the splits. I called her Van Damme and that got a good laugh. She is very cool, the way she dresses, how involved she gets. She cares a lot, and I think that’s going to show.”
Katherine Waterston (Manhattan Romance) also studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory, a fact that George only found out after 3 days of shooting.
“Katherine ignored me when I arrived. I had to fight to get her attention. Eventually I realized that she was keeping things between us exactly like our character’s relationship. It was only once they started getting intimate that she took the time to get to know me. I respect that approach, and do the same myself sometimes. It made our scenes authentic. Things get a little wacky. I can’t wait for people to see it.”
Katherine plays a woman whose husband, a famous Belgian actor, dies of what seems like suicide. A year later she discovers that his death was due to his double life. As she investigates, she gets entangled in a twisted sexual world in Belgium.
On that set, George shared a moment with the formidable Michael Shannon. “His dressing room was next to mine. On my first day after I got changed, I was sitting on my steps having a smoke, and Michael was sitting on his steps also having a smoke. We were 3 feet away from each other. We grunted and nodded our heads a couple of times. I thought it was perfect. It was like two Marlboro men crossing paths. Damn, he’s something else. Even to see him in person, I was like ok, I get it. I see what they mean.”
George credits his parents with giving him the strength he needs to make it as a successful working actor. “I was studying to be a teacher in case this acting thing didn’t work out, but at one point I decided it would, so I went to New York. I get my stubbornness and perfectionism from my father Ivan. He was Bulgarian and grew up under communist rule with a super strict father. He escaped the military through Greece, and arrived in Montreal wearing a t-shirt and a gold chain in the middle of January. He would perform acrobatics and fist fights for money on the side. I’m athletic, like my dad. My mother Milica is from Macedonia. They met in Canada on a Wednesday and were married on the following Sunday. They had their celebration dinner at the Swiss Chalet.”
A major event changed George’s life. “My dad was a trained tool and die maker and became a Chief Technician at Nabisco. He could make a pair of pliers out of a hunk of steel and a file. Everything was going perfectly, until he passed away when I was 4.”
“My mom was young. She worked 3 jobs. We always had food on the table, but we didn’t have a lot of money. I got beat up. My mother handled everything like The Queen; with dignity and grace. I got my persistence from her. I got to study and work while living at home as long as I needed. I wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for her. I used to be a hot head. All of my fire and fury comes from my father. It’s part of why I went into acting, to learn how to control that.”
George can imitate any accent. “I went to a public school in a super rough neighborhood, super multi-cultural. There were Russian kids, Filipino kids, Sri Lankan kids, and Jamaican kids. Their accents are stored in my head. I’d go to my Jamaican friend’s house and I’d get lost listening to the family talk. I was never shy. I’d always do accents with my friends. I tried to appreciate the nuances of each accent. A lot of people think I have an accent, that I’m from Montreal; which I take as a compliment because it’s secretly a way cooler city than Toronto!” This makes us both laugh.
George forges kinships easily. He has a relaxed warmth that attracts people. “On my first day of shooting Tin Star with Tim Roth, he was reading a book and he called me over to talk. We shared some beers and talked about life. The next day it was all over set that Tim had spoken to me. He doesn’t usually talk to anyone. I think he sensed that he didn’t need to “turn it on” with me.”
It was on the set of Goon, that George befriended Jay Baruchel. The Baruchel’s eventually became his second family. “I come to Montreal every year to spend Christmas at Jay’s mother’s house. I’m the only outsider invited to open presents and eat breakfast with them that morning.”
George grins when he tells me what they got up to on the set of the cult classic. “We played a lot of pranks on the set of GOON. At one point I woke up covered in garbage. The whole crew was taking pictures of me.” This makes us laugh.
“Jay was very generous with us. He treated us like the stars and brought me breakfast in my trailer. He is another one of those really generous guys. I’m writing a script under his tutelage that he wants to direct.”
I ask George what his dream role would be. “I just want to play the guy next door. People read me like a jock, a Guido. They don’t see me as an artist. I’m a lot more sensitive than I look. Even though I can fall down stairs on fire, and get hit by a truck, it doesn’t mean I can’t cry over a wilted rose petal, or find beauty in the simple things in life. I would love to play a part like Johnny Depp in Chocolat, I love that movie.”
When I try to simmer George down to one description, a brick wall comes to mind. I think about how hard he works before every audition. “I prepare for hours no matter who I am auditioning for.” I also think about him caring for Jay Baruchel’s new puppies. “I’m the only one around here who knows what they need”. He reminds me not only of the wall, but of the builder himself who works all day and then goes home to put his children to bed. It’s that combination of persistent strength and nurturing gentleness that transfixes an audience.
George appreciates everything he has. “Every job I get is a miracle. I am so grateful that I get to do the thing I set out to do. I believe everything is in your hands. You can do anything. Your mind must see it. Your body must do it. You can make your dreams a reality.”
George is not only an intelligent actor who loves playing Hamlet, a martial arts expert and script writer; he is also a talented photographer with a director’s eye.
Here are some photos he took while living in New York.
“New York is not a city for the faint of heart. Looking through my pictures now, I can see that I was attracted to the grit, and what it can do to people. New York taught me to maintain my intensity, and to always be ready.”
George’s New York
Restaurant: “Cafe Cluny. I’d order the Cluny steak tartar, pomme frites, profiteroles, and a Manhattan of course!”
Cafe: “Serendipity. Part of the experience is what it looks like. It’s like being inside a cake, or a doll house.”
Bar: “Central Lounge, where I worked in Astoria.”
Neighborhood: “Astoria, Queens or SoHo. If I really want to feel like I’m in the center of Manhattan, I would sit on the corner of Prince and Broadway on the window sill of the Prada store all day and watch people go by.”
Pictures in NDG taken by me. My fingers are still frozen, but it was totally worth it! Thank you for braving the cold with me George, and for your dedication.