CULTURE

A good actor can play anything

Can a closeup shot turn your world upside down? Eleni Kastani, the actress who has entertained us so much in the theater and on television, also has much to say about that closeup shot in «Safe Sex.» It convinced Constantinos Giannaris to give her the role of Morfoula without a second thought. By general consent, it is the most important role in his new film, «One Day in August,» playing now at the cinemas, while next week it will participate in the Berlin Film Festival. Before «One Day in August,» Kastani was a leading comic actress: not an ingenue, but sweet, cute, likable. Constantinos Giannaris managed to see in Kastani that which no other director had – her other side. The side that does not laugh, that is not a caricature. Today she expresses her gratitude toward him, and is awaiting the next proposal. A box-office success When clinking glasses a few minutes ago, you did not toast our health or something similar, but that «the film is a box-office success.» Yes, I say this. I want the film to be a box-office success. I come from a comedic background and am used to large audiences. When Constantinos offered me the part, I asked who the producer was, so that I could be sure that the film would be directed toward a large audience. It’s important to me. With «One Day in August» you moved impressively from comedy, your main field, to drama. Some people say that I should play dramatic roles as well. But someone would have to be very clever to have spotted this. Constantinos chose me having seen me in «Safe Sex.» And not only do I appreciate that he saw something others hadn’t, but, from now on, whatever he asks of me I’d do. I’m one of those people who never forgets those who have provided them with an opportunity. Ours was a good collaboration, and I want to work with him again. You emphasize the role’s dramatic side, but it’s not one-dimensional. The comic element coexists with the dramatic. All the roles in the film evolve. Giannaris works a lot with the actors: There are rehearsals; you don’t go directly into shooting. I didn’t like the idea when Constantinos first told me about it because I’m quite lazy. There were rehearsals, lots of rehearsals. I remember at our first meeting, being slightly worried and asking him, «How many rehearsals are we going to have?» But in the end I really enjoyed them, and I realized that only in this way – by talking with the director and with rehearsals – can I feel secure during the filming, can I stand on my own two feet. I have no uncertainties then, I feel very secure. And this is what real work should be. Here in Greece we don’t have the luxury and the time to work like this. What did you find most moving in Morfoula? Her magnanimity. And the fact that she represents a large group of women, i.e. women who find themselves somewhat marginalized. This is really important to me. And now that I have become a mother, I understand what it means for a woman to raise a child. It’s not just amazing or beautiful; it’s also extremely hard work. I’m starting to think that those women who don’t work, the housewives, are worse off than working women. When you go to work in the morning, you have something else to think about, you are rejuvenated, you change environment. You relax a little. Many women say this to me, I go to work in the morning and relax a little. Yes, I think it’s quite amazing that this woman, Morfoula, is raising two children pretty much on her own – her husband’s a sailor. And I believe that this role relates to all those women who have to shoulder this weight, plus the responsibility of a sickly child. I didn’t know anything about this illness. When something has such an affect on us, it usually leaves an open wound. Do you feel this? I feel very close to this type of woman. And I’m a woman who was born into a lower middle-class family in Crete. I feel that there’s something connecting me to these women. And the woman in the film is like these women, a working-class woman. Perhaps the fact that in Crete the women rule, not the guns and conflicts, plays a role. It is a matriarchal society. The women are like rocks. Rocks waiting to collapse? Yes, but with strength to resist. Look at Morfoula, who stands up even to God, for that which she believes in. When she prays to the Virgin Mary, she says, «You took her from me.» A mother in real life, too Was the birth of your child a watershed experience? A great watershed, the best. When Constantinos asked me to play in the film, I’d just given birth. And this role as a mother came coincidentally at the same moment that I had just become a mother – and for the first time as well. In those first few days, I was so dedicated to the child, I had the script for an entire week and didn’t look at it. At some point I picked it up and didn’t want to put it down. Did the arrival of your child push your career into the background at all? Yes, but I was never one of those actors worried about finding a play for next year or some television to do. I’m not being a snob, but I’m not an ingenue, the pretty girl who fears having a child, as it will ruin her figure. I don’t have an expiry date. I might play wonderful roles when I’m older. I’ve rejected many proposals for lead roles, especially on television, because there was no decent script. I’m not one of those actors who is in a rush. Now that you have experienced all three media – theater, television, cinema – do you have a preference? If I could live by cinema alone, I’d do only cinema. Cinema respects the actor. Theater has something aggressive about it, the aggression of the audience. The audience can be clever, stupid, prejudiced. You are dependent on it. In the cinema, you work, there’s space and time for proper work to be done. Television is the exact opposite. You feel like a worker on a production line. Do you feel that «One Day in August» marks a new phase in your life? Yes. The basic difference is that something that I believed I could do has actually been possible (showing me) I’m not crazy. I believed that I could succeed in a non-comic role, and I don’t think I did at all badly. This is something new for me, and I hope for others as well. I have no problem saying that I’d like to play other roles like that of Morfoula in «One Day in August.» I’d like it a lot. A good actor should be able to play anything. It sounds like a bit of a cliche, but that’s the way it is. And there’s something else I firmly believe in, that it’s impossible for an actor who plays good comedy not do well in a dramatic role as well.