It is with much sadness that we learned of the passing of actor Ravil Isyanov, who so memorably played the character of Anatoli Kirkin on NCIS: Los Angeles. Isyanov’s Kirkin brought comedy, chemistry and heart to his role as a former Russian mobster turned fashion designer, best known for his devotion to Eric Christian Olsen’s Deeks. Isyanov was born near Moscow in 1962 and it likely wouldn’t surprise fans to know that he studied theater growing up. But he also studied music and ballet, played ice hockey and soccer, and even boxed. He went to Great Britain to do more theater and stayed on there when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1998, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue work in film and television, where he stayed until his death last week at the young age of 59.
NCIS:LA has been blessed with a number of memorable recurring characters, and Isyanov’s Kirkin is definitely among them. He came to occupy a larger place in the fandom than his mere seven episodes might have indicated. Let’s take a quick look back at some of the highlights from his appearances.
Love at first sight – well, infatuation anyway
NCIS:LA fans first met Isyanov back in 2013 in Season 4’s “Wanted.” Who could forget that first scene, when Deeks, wearing only a towel, works his way through the close confines of a Russian bathhouse before disrobing completely to try to charm Kirkin into helping them fake his death. Kirkin is immediately intrigued by Deeks, who is most definitely his type. Later at a hotel bar, Kirkin nonchalantly winks at Deeks as he strolls by on the way to playing out their charade. His infatuation made us laugh because Kirkin seemed so at ease with expressing his feelings, and because ECO’s reactions, showing Deeks’ discomfort, were so funny.
Isyanov’s next appearance on the show didn’t occur until Season 7’s “Active Measures,” where the flirting continued ever so briefly as Kirkin was being arrested:
Kirkin: Mmm, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.
Deeks: If I had a nickel.
A “relationship” blossoms
It wasn’t until his third appearance, in 2016’s “Matryoshka, Part 1,” that it appeared that Kirkin’s infatuation began to grow into something more. In this episode, Deeks (and the team) rescue a kidnapped Kirkin from a shipping container bound for his Russian enemies. Being saved by his crush seemed to let Kirkin’s desire loose. At one point he tells Deeks, “This playful arrogance of yours, Marty, it really works for you. You got it. On every level, you got it… My ‘me day’ is beginning to look up.” This leads to a memorable line when Deeks tells the team that Kirkin finds him attractive, to which Anna affirms, “…No one is immune to the Deeksness, man or woman.” As Kirkin leaves to go into hiding, we get this exchange:
Kirkin: Marty, when I get set up, I will send for you.
Deeks: Well, that sounds promising.
Kirkin: And pay no attention to the critics. Your hairstyle is glorious.
The duo’s “relationship” deepened in Season 9’s “Warrior of Peace” when Callen endeavored to swap Kirkin for his father in a prisoner exchange to free an American family. Deeks repeatedly acts as the group’s conscience, arguing on Kirkin’s behalf and trying to make sure they’re doing the right thing. He says, “Listen, Callen, not to play the devil’s advocate here, but I think this needs to be said: even if we find Kirkin – which is a big if unto itself – we’re essentially handing him over to be tortured and killed.” Kirkin makes it out of the episode safe and sound (not so much for Callen’s dad).
Perhaps the sweetest moment is when Deeks shares with Kirkin, maybe for the first time, that he cares too, when he tells him, “I’m just gonna be honest here. I’m glad you’re OK.” Kirkin’s reaction is priceless as we see him take in the feelings behind Deeks words. Of course, he immediately takes the conversation back in a different direction than Deeks intended, tells him that he’s flirting with him, but that he’s moved on.
A love lost
By the time “Till Death Do Us Part” arrived in Season 10, the show seemed to have fully embraced the charms of this duo, and Kirkin featured prominently in all the shenanigans that occurred on Densi’s big day. This conversation sums up Kirkin’s feelings about the wedding plans:
Kirkin: Relax, Marty. I’m here to save you. Now, get in.
Deeks: Oh, my God.
Callen: Put the gun away, now.
Kirkin: I wish I could, gentlemen, but if I did, you will try and stop us.
Deeks: Okay, first off, there is no “us.” And second, I don’t need saving, so…
Sam: We’re not playing here, Kirkin.
Kirkin: Nor do I when it comes to matters of the heart.
Callen: I thought you had a fiancée.
Kirkin: So did I. Pray you never fall in love with a millennial. They will only break your heart.
Sam: How did you know Deeks was getting married?
Callen: Have you been stalking us online?
Kirkin: The two of you? Of course not. But I like to know that Martin is safe.
Deeks: Okay, I appreciate the concern, Anatoli, even the gesture, I mean, somewhat. But I am happy and I am safe, and I’m getting married today to a woman that I love more than anything in this world and the next, arguably.
Kirkin: Ah… So be it. As Shakespeare once said, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost “than never to have loved at all.’
Sam: That’s Tennyson.
The scene is hilarious in its ridiculousness, but Isyanov brings real heart to Kirkin’s actions and words, particularly when he admits defeat. Later he brings the humor back again, telling Deeks, “I’m sorry about all of this, Marty. I will never forget the first time we met, frolicking naked together,” but he also pleads with Kensi to, “Never hurt him.” Our final glimpse of him in this episode is of him handcuffed between Eric and Nell, overcome with emotions during the ceremony.
Silliness and heartbreak
By the time of last season’s “Russia, Russia, Russia,” showrunner and writer upped the silliness from these two another notch, and we delighted in watching Deeks first ask Kirkin for a favor, and then have to return said favor by modeling the man’s ridiculous “fashions.”
Their conversation at the House of Kirkin is amazing. Throughout the scene, it seemed like Kirkin could barely restrain himself from reaching out to touch Deeks. He’s just so happy to be in his’ presence. Then in the boatshed, Kirkin’s concern for Deeks’ well-being again brings humor as he makes sure Deeks is alright after being thrown to the boatshed floor, and then compliments his “performance” with, “It was truly chilling. Gave me goose bumps.” Isyanov’s ability to bring complete sincerity to lines like this are what kept Kirkin from becoming a cartoon. His ability to deliver these hilarious lines with such utter earnestness is what allowed us to see the goodness in Kirkin’s heart.
And that’s why Isyanov’s final appearance, in “The Noble Maidens,” was so painful to watch, as Kirkin met his end in a last brave and selfless act, diving in front of a bullet meant for Deeks. Before he was killed, Isyanov delivered yet more humor, including small touches like seeming to be able to sense Deeks’ presence by smell alone (by “the sweet ambrosial bouquet of those honey-crisped locks”), or the way his eyes lit up at the idea of Deeks handcuffing him. And as always, ECO’s reactions offered a perfect balance. These two clearly had a connection.
Kensi: You did all you could.
Deeks: He pushed me out of the way… Why would he, why would he do that?
Kensi: Same reason you would’ve, you care.
Deeks: What’s crazy is he was trying to put this life behind him. Shouldn’t end like this.
Kensi: No. It really shouldn’t.
Thank you Ravil
I think my wikiDeeks colleague Brenda summarized what Isyanov, ECO, and R. Scott Gemmill (who wrote or co-wrote every episode in which Kirkin appeared) accomplished really well in her “Warrior of Peace” review: “‘Comical villain attempting to seduce cop’ is not a shtick that is easy to play without coming across as implausible or cringy.”
Kirkin is obviously a pretty over the top character, but there’s so much truth in his feelings for Deeks that he feels real. He’s just so darn sincere. It’s not lust, it’s love. It differentiates him from a character like Talia, who also can’t seem to stop crushing on Deeks. And it makes him very sweet.
It also makes him a stand-in for a large part of the Deeks-loving audience- it’s almost like he’s voicing our own concerns and feelings. We love Deeks from a distance too. We care about his well-being. We want him to stay safe and, at the end of the day, we want him to find happiness.
It’s incredibly sad that we won’t ever get to enjoy new appearances from Kirkin, but I’m glad the showrunners were able to give this beloved character – and actor – a fitting sendoff, having him romantically sacrifice himself for the man he loved. And perhaps we’ll still hear from him occasionally in the form of the criminal empire he bestowed to Deeks on his passing.
To paraphrase Deeks and Kensi, it really shouldn’t end like this. Thank you, Ravil, for bringing moments of real delight and joy to the the show we all love. You won’t be forgotten.