Odin Biron may not be a household name here in the United States, but hop over to Russia and he’s one of the country’s hottest television actors.
The 30-year-old Minnesota man has made a name for himself starring on the popular medical sitcom Interns, the Russian version of Scrubs. The show attracts an average of 3.7 million viewers per episode and is a huge hit among Russian audiences.
The sitcom also stars Ivan Okhlobystin, the awful homophobe who, in 2013, said that all gay people should be put into an oven and burned alive, among other terrible things. Which puts Biron in an especially awkward position because… he’s gay.
But nobody knows it. At least, not yet.
In a new interview published in New York Magazine, Biron speaks candidly about what it’s like to be a closeted gay heartthrob in a notoriously antigay country.
Biron has kept his sexuality a closely-guarded secret since joining the cast of Interns five years ago. His family and close friends in both the United States and Russia know he’s gay. So do a few of his television colleagues. But other than that, he’s never spoken publicly about it.
“I’ve never lied,” he says. “Journalists ask, ‘What do you think of Russian women?’ ‘Well, Russian women are beautiful.’ ‘Do you have a girlfriend right now?’ ‘No, I don’t.’”
Biron first arrived in Russia when he was 20 years old, after enrolling in a study-abroad semester at the legendary Moscow Art Theatre. He quickly found work in the professional theater scene. Then, in 2010, he landed a role on Interns.
After Okhlobystin, who Biron describes as a friend, made those hateful comments about gay people in 2013, Biron says he felt like he’d been “punched in the gut.”
“I wanted to go to the station and make a statement that I would no longer work there if Ivan Okhlobystin’s going to be working at this station,” he says.
But he didn’t. In part, he says, because he didn’t think it would have much of an impact. Also, he’s never been very good at confrontation.
“[That’s] just not the way I want to operate,” he explains. “That’s the way things operate in the States. That’s not what this country needs. This country needs dialogue.”
He also considered quitting Interns and leaving Russia in a show of protest, but ultimately decided that wasn’t the solution either.
Biron realized he was in a unique position, as a beloved public figure, to help change people’s minds. Talking openly about his sexuality, he says, is “forcing my hand, and maybe that’s a good thing.”
So that’s what he’s doing. And he’s starting by speaking to New York Magazine. He says he has no idea what the repercussions will be when the Russian public learns he’s gay, but just to be on the safe side, he has a backup plan.
Last year, he signed a lease on an apartment in Minneapolis and enrolled in culinary school. He says he’s developed a special fondness for making bread. If his acting career in Russia can’t survive his coming out, he says he may open a restaurant, or a theater, or a dinner theater. He’s not sure yet, but he’ll likely have a better idea in a few weeks when he begins shooting the sixth season of Interns.
Until then, his focus is on his bread.
“I love,” he says, “how much thought you can put into one simple loaf.”