Busy, but far from the limelight

« You’re mysterious, you know,» says the servant Jean to Miss Julie. When Ioanna Tsiringouli plays the role of Strindberg’s heroine, the dialogue acquires additional interest. Julie, with her heightened senses, fragility, and the extreme romanticism which leads her to suicide, is a sister spirit to the actress. Tsiringouli doesn’t belong to the mass media and PR era. She avoids interviews, insisting that an interview is «a public speech, meaning political speech, so you speak when you have something to say.» You have to get close to her to realize that her attitude is not a pose, that she isn’t pretending to be absolute. She devotes herself body and soul to every part she plays, pushing herself to the limit. «When I undertake a role, that’s it. That’s all there is in my life,» she says. These days she is working in the basement of Kefallinias Street Theater for Strindberg’s «Miss Julie,» a charismatic production to which all involved have contributed with imagination and sensitivity: Giorgos Depastas (translator), Effi Theodoros (director), Antonis Daglidis (set designer) and Tassos Nousias (the young actor who plays Jean). Last week brought the release of Penny Panayiotopoulou’s film «Hard Goodbyes: My Father,» with Tsiringouli in the leading role, as the mother of two boys. She is in another two Greek films, Katerina Evangelatou’s multi-prizewinning «You’ll Be Sorry,» and Stella Theodoraki’s «Para ligo, Para Ponto, Para Tricha,» which is to be released soon, while filming has finished on a third production, Thanos Anastopoulos’s «The Weight of the Whole World,» in which she plays a Polish woman. She’s so busy you’d expect her to be in the news. But she prefers to be invisible and silent. She jokes: «I consider myself blessed that I was born here and not in Hollywood. At least I can go to the local market without being recognized.» Here is an undeniably talented actress who has espoused the principle of the least possible exposure. Perhaps this is because she gives so much of herself to the parts she plays that she hasn’t enough time to burnish her public image. The PR which is so vital to the career of an up-and-coming artist makes Tsiringouli feel nothing but pressure and displeasure. Ever since the actress started out in theater – she graduated from the National Theater’s drama school in 1986 – she has mostly played heroines who are fragile and intense, such as Nina in «The Seagull» (directed by Jules Dassin) and Anya in «The Cherry Orchard» (directed by Oleg Evraimov). Then she moved to the Amore Theater, where she starred in Zola’s «Therese Raquin» (directed by Yiannis Houvardas), and Euripides’ «Helen» at Epidaurus under the same director. During her 15-year career she has played selected roles, demonstrating a desire to experiment and work hard. «I don’t only act,» she says. «I participate in all stages of the production.» And indeed, at the end of the Strindberg performance she stayed behind, removing the props left on stage. The mother whom Tsiringouli plays in Panayiotopoulou’s film is living through the grief of losing her husband while bringing up her two boys, 10 and 15, alone. What’s more, the younger boy refuses to accept that his father is dead. «I remember feeling grief and loss ever since I became aware of myself,» says Tsiringouli. «Though I lacked nothing as a child – the people I loved were there for me, and still are – I used to cry because I felt nostalgia for something I’d lost. What? The lost Eden. It is the idea of the Fall, as I realized while growing up.» The mother she plays in the film has reserves of tolerance and resistance. The actress rejects the suggestion that the character is more modern than the 1960s when the film is set. «What does it mean, a mother of the 1960s, 1980s or 2000?» she asks. «She’s a woman, a tragic mother, who is bringing up her children. The method depends on the person, not only the era. What matters is what you want to say through that role. In the cinema I’m in favor of moderation in acting a part.» She collaborates best with children: «Perhaps because they know how to handle silence. Adults feel uncomfortable with silence. It frightens us, maybe because it reminds us of death.» She has not yet experienced motherhood, but acknowledges that children are «the only absolute applause.» Are her roles like children? «Yes,» she says. «But you have to treat them innocently, the same as children.» For Tsiringouli, a role means study, first of all. «Study so as to structure, with the aim of transcendence, which is a full deconstruction.» «When you say deconstruction, do you mean subtraction?» we ask. «Yes, subtraction and a sliding into the character you’re playing, but which mustn’t happen just by chance. I hate that; I hate what we say sometimes in the theater too, ‘Greek pride will save us.’ Let’s be clear. In life, chance may exist in the form of harmony or internal mood. But the theater can’t be operated that way; it requires serious study. Another mistake we actors easily make is to try to copy and repeat our best performance moments. That guarantees failure. My best moments are when I am absolutely present, when I’m focusing on my role. Then the audience surrenders. You can’t even hear them breathe. But when the actor is ‘absent’ then you hear coughing and chairs creaking. I mean that the audience synchronizes with us and reacts accordingly.» Relations between audience and actor are not much different from relations between friends or lovers. «The bad thing is that fear reigns. The fear of letting yourself go. It’s a blessing or generosity.» she concludes. «Are you mysterious?» is the last question. «Like anyone else, I’m not a simple person. It’s just that I’m aware of my complexity.»

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