Mikhail Baryshnikov on "The Orchard" and Putin's war

In a new adaptation of "The Cherry Orchard," at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, the center's namesake is playing an old servant. "I am almost 75, and I am playing 85 years old, you know? Okay!" he laughed.

The white hair is for his character, named Firs. "It's bleached," he advised correspondent Anthony Mason. "It's not mine – yet!"

One of the world's most acclaimed dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikov has worked only occasionally as an actor, most notably an Oscar-nominated performance in the 1977 film, "The Turning Point," and playing Carrie Bradshaw's Russian boyfriend on "Sex and the City."

But he learned from some of the best. "James Cagney, he was good friend of mine," Baryshnikov said. "I said, 'James, how you play?' He said, 'Listen what the person is telling you, and then tell him back the truth. And if you're not dumb, you observe.'"

Ukrainian-born Igor Golyak is directing the Soviet-born actor in this Russian classic. "He has some sort of a light or some sort of a presence that is extremely unique," Golyak said of his star.

"So, what's that like as a director?" asked Mason. "There's no way to control it!" he laughed. Baryshnikov has another role, as playwright Anton Chekhov, in the virtual production.

In Chekhov's play, the matriarch of a family (played by Jessica Hecht) faces financial troubles and has to face selling their beloved orchard. Golyak said, "The orchard, in the bigger sense of the word, one of the characters says, 'All of Russia is our orchard.' And it's very relatable right now. There is a complete loss of Russia right now."

As Golyak was planning the production, Russia invaded Ukraine. His family had left Kyiv for Boston back in 1990, when he was just 11. "But when this war started, you know, something in the stomach started twisting," Golyak said. "And it just hurts."

Mason asked Baryshnikov, "How has it been for you to watch what's happening in Ukraine?" "Horrific," he replied. "Just now I have shivers, you know, about it." Baryshnikov made headlines around the world when he defected from the Soviet Union in 1974. "Does it seem a long time ago?" asked Mason.

"No, it's been so, it's been very fast. Unfortunately!" "You never wanted to go back to Russia?" "No. Somehow, maybe instinctively, I knew that one day something like that would happen."

In his Soviet years, as a principal dancer with the Kirov Ballet, Baryshnikov was privileged to travel, but he was watched. Mason said, "You were usually followed by KGB agents when you went, yes?"