From Hungary to Hollywood with Actress and Filmmaker Klaudia Kovacs

November 22, 2011

Home » Commentary » From Hungary to Hollywood with Actress and Filmmaker Klaudia Kovacs

On a cold and windy late afternoon in Tehachapi, as light mountain rain pricks my bare arms, I hustle inside Beekay Theater to see the annual Playwright’s Festival, nine ten-minute plays created, produced, directed, and acted by local talent. Ordinarily, Los Angeles induces theatrical binges but I’m intrigued by a newspaper paragraph noting “Bill and Coo” will be directed by new part-time Tehachapi-area resident, and Hollywood Hills dweller, Klaudia Kovacs, a Hungarian actress and filmmaker who came to the United States at age nineteen. She co-produced the documentary Panic Nation about immigration hysteria in this country and directed Torn from the Flag, which reviewers describe as a vivid and moving account of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution crushed, at least physically, by military might of the Soviet Union.

Beset by inexplicable bias I envision Kovacs as taut and grim, perhaps a little Kafkaesque, and cautiously accept an usher’s offer to pay one dollar to send a message to a cast member. I print that I’ve written numerous immigration articles and ask her to contact me.

As “Bill and Coo” begins, the audience knows former lovers are going to coincidentally meet in a coffee shop. He spots her but cringes and shields his face, hoping she doesn’t notice. She discovers him and jerks her head the other way. Coo, played by Kathleen Siciliani, is a tall, buxom woman in a low-cut blouse, and, sitting at the opposite end of a table from her ex, she crosses long legs and pumps the top one with nervous intensity. Ultimately, they see each other and through thick ice she rebukes him for deserting her. He doesn’t apologize but tries to appear contrite. They still have that spark. Romantic Bill places a paper atop one of Coo’s breasts and writes his phone number. And with promise they part. The actress looks at the paper: Bill’s left her the bill. Viewers applaud and the announcer reveals that actress Siciliani is “indisposed” and her part was played by the director, Klaudia Kovacs.

A couple of days later Kovacs emails me and we arrange a phone interview during which she reveals she acted in children’s theater in Hungary but was rejected by an acting school in Budapest and brought much ambition to New York City at age nineteen. As a beginner in English she babysat a six-month old girl, studying English books several hours a day and watching TV to learn the language and its twelve verb tenses, unlike only the present, past, and future in Hungarian. Within a year she was fluent, and as a former adult ESL teacher I certify that’s fast.

“Even though I know English well, it’s still a second language, and it’s harder to learn lines,” Kovacs says, with only an occasional hint of accent. “The actress playing Coo was injured two hours before the show on a Friday, when the plays opened, so we had to cancel ours while I studied and we rehearsed. We were ready Saturday night.”

“Had no idea you’d just learned your lines,” I say.

“I’ve done lots of theater and feel I’m more suited to the stage. Subtlety is more important in movies.”

“Have you done any screen roles?”

“I had a small part in the movie I Spy with Eddie Murphy and Clive Owen. It was shot in Hungary and I just did the voice over for several background voices. I think my best performance as an actress came in an Off Broadway play in 2003. I was the heroine in The Insanity of Mary Girard. It’s based on a true story from the late 1800s in Philadelphia. Mary is a beautiful woman about age twenty-five who marries a cold businessman twenty years her senior. She can’t produce a baby by him, then she has an affair and gets pregnant by her lover, and her husband has her locked up in a sanitarium.”

“Must’ve been a demanding role.”

“It was mentally taxing. I did a lot of research in a sanitarium and learned there’s a fine line between someone being super sensitive and going mad. At the end Mary’s delusional but her soul is becoming free. I had to cry eight times a night for three weeks.”

She also molded challenging material in Torn from the Flag. Relations between the Soviet Union and Hungary had been poisoned since 1941 when Hitler and Nazi Germany forced Hungarians into the Axis alliance that invaded Russia and eventually killed millions. By 1944 the Soviets had battered the Germans along the Eastern Front, and Hungary tried to make peace with the Anglo Americans. The Nazis countered with an invasion of Hungary, slaughtering and imprisoning thousands of soldiers and citizens. In 1945, the Soviet Union, victorious and enraged, occupied Hungary and much of Eastern Europe, and began to suppress fledgling democracies.

In a few years Soviet coercion turned Hungary into a one-party state. Free market economic practices were trampled and replaced by a communist system that, typically, suffocated spirit and initiative, suppressed the intelligentsia, and caused economic decline. The Hungarians were also paying twenty percent of national income in reparations. The Soviet Union further ensnared Hungary with a mutual assistance treaty that guaranteed the presence of Soviet troops. Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 didn’t lessen Soviet dominance. In 1955 the Warsaw Pact military alliance was established. While Austria gained neutrality, the Hungarians did not. On October twenty-third, 1956, two hundred thousand citizens protested in the streets of Budapest. As their anger intensified they threw steel ropes around the neck of the huge bronze statue of Joseph Stalin and blow-torched the base for an hour, pulling the dictator down and leaving only his empty boots.

The shield of repression is Torn from the Flag of Hungary, and Klaudia Kovacs’ documentary focuses on the ensuing days of tumult. Distinguished cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond have filmed many events of 1956, and some archival footage is used in this project. While their cameras roll, Klaudia Kovacs interviews Henry Kissinger and several Hungarian patriots and politicians. Easy Rider and Shampoo are among Laszlo Kovacs’ cinematic efforts while McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Deer Hunter highlight Zsigmond’s resume. Torn from the Flag is Laszlo Kovacs’ final project.

“Are you related to him?” I ask.

“Unfortunately, no,” Kovacs says. “But it was an honor to work with him and Vilmos. They’re so talented and experienced that I left most of the technical decisions to them. Everything had to be properly handled. Henry Kissinger said he’d give us twenty minutes and not a second more. I was well prepared for him.”

Key elements from five Soviet divisions stationed in Hungary surround Budapest the first evening and enter the capital at two a.m. on October twenty-fourth. Hungarian protesters and communist soldiers battle until a ceasefire on the twenty-eighth when the Soviets withdraw to the countryside. Marshal Georgi Zhukov, supreme Russian general during World War II, advocates withdrawal. Premier Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders agree, but on the thirtieth Hungarian protesters attack the secret police contingent occupying headquarters of the Hungarian Working People’s Party. They kill about twenty officers, some by lynching. The following day the Soviets, determined not to appear weak to Cold War adversaries, reverse their position and order a massive invasion.
Early on November fourth, 1956 Operation Whirlwind begins with coordinated strikes by seventeen divisions, a thousand tanks, artillery, and warplanes. Prime Minister Imre Nagy broadcasts pleas for help. The world can do nothing, and by November eleventh the revolution has been shattered and a ceasefire declared. Twenty-five hundred Hungarian civilians and protesters die and about seven hundred Soviet soldiers perish. Afterward, two hundred thousand Hungarians flee to other countries. They’re lucky to escape. Soviet-directed Hungarian justice puts twenty-six thousand people on trial. Half are imprisoned, and several hundred executed. Deposed Prime Minister Nagy is one of the latter.

Editorial notes: Klaudia Kovacs can next be seen on stage at the Beekay Theater this Christmas season as she portrays a young mother dying of tuberculosis in the 1950s.

The Hungarians and Soviets battered each other during a water polo match in December 1956 at the Summer Olympics in Australia.
To read “Water Polo War,” please click here

George Thomas Clark

George Thomas Clark is the author of Hitler Here, a biographical novel published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States. His commentaries for are read in more than 50 countries a month.

Recent Commentary


HITLER HERE is a well researched and lyrically written biographical novel offering first-person stories by the Fuehrer and a variety of other characters. This intimate approach invites the reader to peer into Hitler’s mind, talk to Eva Braun, joust with Goering, Goebbels, and Himmler, debate with the generals, fight on land and at sea and…
See More
Art history and fiction merge to reveal the lives and emotions of great painters Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, William H. Johnson, Lee Krasner, and many others.
See More
This fast-moving collection blends fiction and movie history to illuminate the stimulating lives and careers of noted actors, actresses, and directors. Stars of this book include Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, and Spike Lee.
See More
In this collection of thirty-eight chiseled short stories, George Thomas Clark introduces readers to actors, alcoholics, addicts, writers famous and unknown, a general, a lovelorn farmer, a family besieged by cancer, extraterrestrials threatening the world, a couple time traveling back to a critical battle, a deranged husband chasing his wife, and many more memorable people…
See More
Anne Frank On Tour and Other Stories
This lively collection offers literary short stories founded on History, Love, Need, Excess, and Final Acts.
See More
In lucid prose author George Thomas Clark recalls the challenges of growing up in a family beset by divorce, depression, and alcoholism, and battling similar problems as an adult.
See More
Let’s invite many of the greatest boxers and their contemporaries to tell their own stories, some true, others tales based on history. The result is a fascinating look into the lives and battles of those who thrilled millions but often ruined themselves while so doing.
See More
In a rousing trip through the worlds of basketball and football, George Thomas Clark explores the professional basketball league in Mexico, the Herculean talents of Wilt Chamberlain, the artistry of LeBron James, the brilliance of Bill Walsh, and lots more. Half the stories are nonfiction and others are satirical pieces guided by the unwavering hand of an inspired storyteller.
See More
Get on board this collection of satirical stories, based on news, about the entertaining but absurd and often quite dangerous events following the election of President Donald J. Trump in November 2016 until January 6, 2021, shortly after his loss to Joe Biden.
See More
Join Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and other notables on a raucous ride into a fictional world infused with facts from one of the roughest political races in modern U.S. history.
See More
History and literary fiction enliven the Barack Obama phenomenon from the African roots of his father and grandfather to the United States where young Obama struggles to control vices and establish his racial identity. Soon, the young politician is soaring but under fire from a variety of adversaries including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh.
See More
These satirical columns allow startlingly candid Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush to explain their need to control the destinies of countries, regions, and, ultimately, the world. Osama bin Laden, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Karl Rove, and other notables, not all famous, also demand part of the stage.
See More
Where Will We Sleep
Determined to learn more about those who fate did not favor, the author toured tattered, handmade refuges of those without homes and interviewed them on the streets and in homeless shelters, and conversed with the poor in the United States, Mexico, Ecuador, and Spain, and on occasion wrote composite stories to illuminate their difficult lives.
See More
In search of stimulating stories, the author interviewed prostitutes in Madrid, Mexico City, Havana, and Managua and on many boulevards in the United States, and he talked to detectives and rode the rough roads of social workers who deal with human trafficking, which is contemporary slavery, and sometimes used several lives to create stories, and everywhere he ventured he witnessed struggles of those whose lives are bound In Other Hands.
See More
In compressed language Clark presents a compilation of short stories and creative columns about relationships between men and women.
See More