Steven Berkoff: actor, director and playwright

It may have begun with Pantelis Voulgaris’s «Brides,» but Steven Berkoff is already promising more – this time, in the theater. The risk-taking British actor, playwright and director, and one of the London cultural scene’s most controversial artists, is currently in discussion with award-winning set designer Dionysis Fotopoulos on the possibility of a collaboration within the framework of a British/Greek production to be staged in Greece in 2004. A highly respected man, Berkoff is known for his daring theater choices, where he usually writes, directs and acts, while his broad range of cinematic appearances makes even the most open-minded cinephiles gasp: His credits include «A Clockwork Orange» and «Professione: Reporter,» as well as «Beverly Hills Cop» and «Rambo: First Blood II.» In Voulgaris’s «Brides,» the 66-year-old actor takes on the role of a ruthless pimp – matching his rather distant, harsh-looking physique. Berkoff’s reputation was confirmed during an interview recently on a hot Athenian morning. How did you land the role in Voulgaris’s new film? Through my agent. He didn’t know of me, I didn’t know of him. He was looking for someone who could pass for a Russian. I have acquired a reputation for Russian roles and so here I am! I was not familiar with Mr Voulgaris’s work, because I had no contact with Greek cinema. I realized how important he is once I came to Greece. And I have to admit that it was very interesting, not to say unusual, to work with a director who is so composed and calm. Was the story itself any incentive for you? It is a most peculiar and unusual story – almost like a fairy tale. What’s strange is that no one knew about it, not even in Greece. I think that the film has all the ingredients to do really well. You are one of those artists who seems comfortable doing unusual things. Let’s just say that I take bold steps when working on my own stuff, when I’m directing and acting on stage. I channel all my craziness into projects over which I have complete control. What about your work in the cinema? Acting in films is a completely different story. It’s fun and it helps me a lot. I love cinema people. They are less poised when compared to theater folk. It is an industry that is tougher, merciless, more expensive and closer to real life. In theater, you often depend on the good will of others. That is why I slowly reached the stage I’m at today, namely doing everything on my own, a real one-man show. It is very liberating. Don’t you miss acting in great plays? Yes, I miss it. It’s only natural. That is precisely why I’m planning to return to Greece next year and direct something more than a monologue. What are you working on? Unfortunately, I cannot divulge more at this point. I have spoken to many people, including Dionysis Fotopoulos. And there’s something else too: The plot is based on a Greek play. A few years ago you staged «Greek» in London? Is this the play you are referring too? Indeed, it was my own personal version of the myth of Oedipus, an honest confession on love and passion, and which was based in London. In Oedipus, fate seems to be predetermined. I wanted to show the opposite, because that’s what I believe. We determine our own fate. The gods play with us but we are obliged to fight. You have also appeared in numerous films. As I mentioned before, I love cinema. Sometimes, I do it just for the money, though this does not nullify the pleasure involved. But it is this money that allows me to do whatever I like in the theater. Among the three plays of yours staged at the Edinburgh Festival in July was «Requiem for Ground Zero,» a personal look at the tragic events of September 11. A few years ago, the American authorities refused you entry into the United States because your passport had expired a day earlier. How do you feel about this incident today? That was back in 1997 and I was on my way to Chicago to deliver a lecture on Shakespeare. I have given so much to the United States and in return they treated me like a criminal, regardless of the fact that I was ill at the time. It’s rather ironic: They were barring my entrance and opening the door to the terrorists… This interview was translated from the Greek text.