A vagabond on stage and screen

Between the compassionate, stoical Olia of Chekhov’s «Three Sisters» and the eccentric, rich, arrogant Mrs Calliga of Panos Koutras’s latest film «Real Life,» there is a role Themis Bazaka would love to play even though the opportunity has never arisen: «My dream is to play in an action film. I would love to do ‘Kill Bill’.» Coming from anyone else this would normally sound like a pipe dream, but when it comes from Bazaka it seems absolutely feasible. A disciplined actress who gives it her all with any project she undertakes, she never shies before the demands of a scene or those of a character. She is so well accustomed to the rougher side of life on set that she admits she would become quite suspicious if she were ever offered special perks and luxuries. «I have been acting for 22 years and have made 18 films,» she said in a recent interview with Kathimerini. «I love the cinema for its lifestyle. Dressing rooms stifle me. I am used to waiting around at a cafe or in a car, to changing costumes in the middle of the street behind a bed sheet. There is something of the vagabond in cinema that is also in me.» Over the course of her career, Bazaka has received three awards for acting (in Costas Ferris’s «Rebetiko,» Pandelis Voulgaris’s «Stone Years» and Christos Dimas’s «Cistern») and has worked with numerous directors, each time looking to do something completely different from the last. In «Real Life,» which is currently showing at Greek movie theaters, she plays the lead character, a woman who borders on the caricature in a postmodern melodrama (inflected with traces of Almodovar). Director Panos Koutras was looking for a leading lady who could handle hyperbole, who could strike a balance between the dramatic and the comical, the grandiose and the trivial. And he found it in Bazaka, or rather, in the many different things that Bazaka can be, including Olia, whom she is portraying at the Katia Dandoulaki Theater this season in a production directed by Nikitas Milivojevic. «The theater was a long time in discovering me,» she says. «The theater [in Greece] is still a ghetto and a very strong one too. To this day I am regarded with some skepticism and ranked among movie actors.» Is the world depicted in «Real Life» real or fictitious? It is very real. The film just chooses to present it in an overexaggerated light. Women like Calliga are real. To play her I had to go through all those lifestyle magazines looking at how celebrities live, as well as a whole bunch of melodramas and cassettes of Maria Callas. She inspired me with that skillful balance of hyperbole, histrionics and terror that she achieved. Were you not also inspired by the heroines of Almodovar? I have heard that before. I never studied Almodovar for the film, but Douglas Sirk, classic melodrama. Maybe there is a small wink of the eye to Almodovar. At the Toronto Film Festival people told Panos [Koutras] that I reminded them of Marisa Paredes, but I think I took off in more extreme directions. If we were to describe the film without its nuances, it would sound like a typical soap opera: Rich neurotic people who have reached an impasse versus poor miserable people, where cynicism is the point where the two worlds meet. What makes this film’s plot different from soap operas? It is not the plot that makes the difference, but the manner in which the director «views» life and these characters. Soap operas take themselves very seriously. Panos Koutras has fun with the genre. There are all these surprises and plot twists, and a profound sense of irony. Would you ever act in a soap? I did receive a proposal once, and for a lot of money, but I couldn’t do it, as an actress. I just don’t get the language. Obviously there is something in my conscience that won’t allow me to be real in that fabricated world. What is Calliga’s «real life»? The most real thing that happens to her is the secret romance with the deaf-mute gardener and it is not by chance that the role is played by a deaf-mute actor, Yiannis Diamandis. His warmth and serenity have brought the film to a different plane. Was it hard to communicate with him on set? Not at all. First of all I took sign courses for three months. Even though there are only a few scenes in which I use it, I had to work at it a lot. It is very difficult to compose a sentence with your hands. Yiannis’s presence, though, was pivotal to the entire project. You play a rich, arrogant, neurotic and unfulfilled woman on screen, and in the theater, Olia… Yes, who is like a huge embrace, the paradigm of patience. That’s what’s so wonderful about what I do, what makes us love it. We work our spirit as if it were a muscle and exercise it in all directions. Do you have anything in common with the character Calliga? Maybe that she’s a bit of a kook, like me. She has done a lot of unpredictable things in her life, as I have. But I can’t relate to the way she wants to imprison, control those around her, the way she stifles her emotions. What is the craziest thing you have ever done? My marriage. I married a man I had known for just a month (Japanese musician Genji Ito), I moved to New York with him and lived there for four years, from 1985-89. I used to travel back and forth during that time. I wasn’t even at the premiere of «Stone Years.» I missed that unique moment. I was pregnant when I got married and gave birth during my first year in the States. You said that Calliga is trying to escape reality. Aren’t we all… Personally, I hope I have found a healthier way by choosing acting. We all have an addiction. For some it’s alcohol or cigarettes, for others it’s relationships or power. In the film, everyone is trying to get away from an addiction. In Chekhov, too, the characters are looking for a way out, to Moscow. People always want to be somewhere they’re not.