MOSCOW — The rise to fame of brothers Vova and Sergei Kristovsky is one of biggest stories from the modern Russian scene.
But the singers, whose chart-topping tunes as the duo Uma2Rman have earned them millions of adoring fans, are still waiting for a Hollywood ending to their story.
That's because the Kristovskys have an unusual quest — to meet their muse, American actress Uma Thurman.
In fact, the brothers like Thurman so much that they named their band after her. And "Uma Thurman," the title song of the group’s debut CD, released last year, charts the campaign of the two Russian bards to meet their favorite actress.
“We just like her a lot,” says Vova Kristovsky about Thurman, who has been popular in Russia since her role in the 1994 cult film “Pulp Fiction.” “She’s very unique.”
Maybe their luck will change now the band is headed to America for their first U.S. tour, with concerts in New York City and Chicago from May 5 through May 7. (See schedule below.) There's no word yet, though, on whether the real Uma will show up.
Joke turns into a quest
Fans have showed up, however, with the duo's CD selling more than 500,000 licensed copies — an almost unheard number in Russia, where piracy is rampant. (The Kristovsky's record label estimates five to ten times more unlicenced copies may have traded hands.)
In fact, the almost-overnight success of the band forced the Kristovskys to change the group’s name from Uma Thurman to Uma2Rman, to avoid copyright problems.
And what started out as a humorous tune has turned into a semi-obsessive wish to meet the star.
“We feel like we have a connection to her,” Vova Kristovsky says. “I mean, we named our band after her, and fortune has smiled upon us. We want to share our success with her, but we don't know how to do that."
Rise to fame
Invited for an interview in central Moscow, the brothers were quickly recognized by fans. Singer-songwriter Vova, 30, is known for his scruffy beard and cheerful fedoras. Brooding Sergei, 35, backs up his brother on bass.
Fame still appears to surprise the two musicians, who call themselves “simple farmers.”
That might be stretching the truth, but not by much. Though Nizhny Novgorod, the city where the pair was born and raised, is Russia’s third-largest city, it's hardly a happening place. The brothers worked odd jobs for years — Vova pumped gas and worked nights cleaning the floors of the local morgue; meanwhile, Sergei was a mailman and truck driver.
And on the side, they played music, working in different bands for 10 years before coming together to form their own group in the late 1990s.
It took several years to get noticed. Vova wrote the “Uma Thurman” song years before it became famous and it took hundreds of calls and CDs to Moscow record labels and producers before attracting any attention.
“I dreamed for a long time that my songs would catch on. But for many, many years, almost 10 years, there was no success,” says Vova.
Box office success
Eventually, though, their calls were returned and in 2002 the brothers moved to the capital and took the name Uma2Rman. The band got another break when a movie producer needed a quick tune for the closing credits of what turned out to be a smash box office film in Russia. Vova wrote “Nochnoi Dozor” ("Night Patrol") in a day. The song went to number one.
“God must be helping us along,” says Vova. “We attribute our success to lots of random occurrences.”
But the brothers, who say they want to give Thurman a statue awarded to them for “Best Song of 2005” by a Russian music TV channel, remain frustrated in their attempts to meet the star.
They did manage to track down Thurman’s father — a renowned expert on Tibet — during a lecture in Moscow and gave him a letter for the actress. That was last year.
Meanwhile, efforts by NBC News to contact Thurman through her publicist, Robert Garlock, were also unsuccessful. “She will not be available … due to other work scheduled,” Garlock said in response to an e-mail request.
“If you meet Uma, wish her all the best,” says Vova.
Preston Mendenhall is an NBC News correspondent based in Moscow. Uma2Rman's U.S. concert schedule is: May 5 in Brooklyn at the Millennium Theater at 8 p.m. and Orion Palace at 10:30 p.m. In Chicago on May 6 at Mather High School at 8 p.m., and back in Manhattan on May 7 at the Supper Club at 8 p.m. Please contact venues directly for exact details.