GRANITE CITY — Before being selected to play in the motion picture “Men Of Granite,” Vic Bagratuni never had any basketball experience.
“I’m European, so I didn’t grow up with this whole basketball thing,” the actor said. “I never had a basketball in my hand.”
But now he’s starting to get hooked on the sport.
“I was born Armenian and grew up in Germany my whole life,” he said. “I went to high school there and European sports like soccer was pretty much what I did. Basketball was a warmup in sports class in high school. I never had a fascination for that. I don’t know why. But it’s such a beautiful sport. Once I got into it, I kind of followed games and stuff. I got the fascination through the whole process. I got a personal coach. For taping purposes, he showed a couple of tricks and showed me how to handle a ball and how to throw free throws.”
The 25-year-old Bagratuni will play John Markarian in a movie about the story of the 1940 Granite City High School boys’ basketball team that won a state championship. It’s based upon the book written by Dan Manoyan in 2007.
Bagratuni said shooting will start in the fall. The movie will also star William Hurt and Shirley MacLaine.
“Right now, we’re very close to start production,” he said. “We’re in the final stages of securing finance for this film and we’re all set to shoot by early November.”
Bagratuni said he found out about the movie from a mutual friend.
“I visited L.A. to see what kind of city it is because since I was an actor, I had to move to L.A. at some point,” he said. “The costume designer of that film, Mikael Sharafyan, is a close friend of my family, but I’ve never met him. So we met for the first time and he was also a friend of Valerie McCaffrey, who is the casting director and producer of the film. Me being Armenian and with this film having Armenian parts, he suggested to meet her for representational purposes because at that time, I didn’t have a manager. She’s also a manager of two actors. I met with her and we discussed the presentation.”
Bagratuni went to New York City to audition and won the part of John Markarian. He said learning how to play basketball was part of the audition.
“I got to understand that culture because people take that very seriously,” he said. “Especially in this region and that history, basketball is a legit thing and it’s like I’m studying law or something. You can get a college degree in that and you can get scholarships in that, so I had to dive into that. It’s fascinating. I love basketball. Right now, I wouldn’t say that I’m a pro. We have quite intensive training. Production hired a paid professional coach and as a team and a cast, we’re playing together in the style of the 1940s.”
In 1940, the Warriors rallied from a loss to Wood River in regional tournament play to win their only state basketball championship. They beat Herrin 24-22 in the title game at the University of Illinois.
Markarian played a small role on the 1940 Granite City state championship basketball team. He was added to the squad in the state tournament when one of the reserves suffered appendicitis.
Markarian, Andy Hagopian and Everett Daniels are the only living members from the 1939-1940 Granite City basketball squad.
Bagratuni got to visit the Granite City area last year.
“The first time I was there was in January 2015,” Bagratuni said. “I had an interview with John Markarian to start my research. We met at his home and we had a five-hour talk. I asked him everything I could come up with that would help me to understand who he is or who he was.”
He also got to visit Lincoln Place, where all of the players from the Granite City basketball squad grew up.
“This place needs to be on film because it’s the original,” he said. “It’s kind of cute because it has its charm, which a lot of cities don’t have that I lived in. It was kind of adventure to walk up all of those streets and see like modern buildings and regular buildings and here and there, you’ll see something that has been closed like an old factory.”
Bagratuni started acting when he was 5. His great-grandfather and grandfather were actors in Armenia and the former Soviet Union.
“When I graduated high school in 2010, I moved to New York and studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute, which is a very prestigious school,” he said. “I studied there for two and a half years. Being an immigrant here, the situations were pretty tough but the school provided with an OPT, which is optional practical training, for people who have a degree and who graduated from that school. So I was provided with a work permit and Social Security number. That’s how I start doing credited work.”
Bagratuni became a professional actor in 2013. He played in movies such as “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Entourage.”
“Acting has been always an integral part of my life,” he said.