Errikos Litsis: The face of the modern Greek man, or just a very gifted actor?

When he worked as a DJ in a Greek pop joint in Petralona, Errikos Litsis often looked askance on his own musical choices. So, depending on how far the bar owner and patrons would let him slide, he tried to throw in a bit of Rolling Stones together with the usual fare. «They looked at me like I was a moron,» he admits. «But, what I have seen in people’s eyes at night has all gone into my acting.» Indeed, Litsis himself is a remix of a lot of different things. Greek cinema has found in the 50-year-old actor the best representative of modern Greek society, a complete script without words, written with a look, a gesture, an expression. Ever since 2003 and his first cinema appearance in «Matchbox,» Litsis has already worked on nine movies, three of which will open at cinemas within the next couple of months: «False Alarm» by Katerina Evangelakou (opening February 15), «Soul Kicking» by Yiannis Economides (February 22) and «Parees» (Friends) by Sotiris Goritsas (March 15). He is also on stage in Thomas Vinterberg’s «Festen» at the Thiseion Theater. Litsis admits that he saw his life turning around after he was 40. That was the first time he stood in front of a camera to play Dimitris in «Matchbox,» a character living on the edge: Aggressive, explosive and loud, he tries to get through to a dysfunctional family in a dysfunctional world. Economides singled him out three years later to play the lead again, in «Soul Kicking,» as the silent Takis, who acts as his world’s dumpsite. He gets abused, cursed, yelled at, and he takes it all in with complete humility, all the while planning his dramatic exit. Chain-smoking over a cup of coffee, Litsis answers questions with the same directness he brings to the stage and screen. His life has been messy, unconventional: The son of Greek Jews, he grew up in Ano Petralona in central Athens, lived in Israel briefly, studied statistics at the University of Piraeus, played amateur theater in Nea Smyrni, worked in video wholesales and as a DJ, did stand-up comedy and took acting classes and met Yiannis Economides. By then, he was already 45 years old. How difficult were your roles in «Matchbox» and «Soul Kicking»? Well, I’d never done films before. Anyway, my poor dad was really loud too. His whole generation was a bit of a wreck. The Second World War, the persecution they went through was enough to do it. One character shouts all the time and the other is silent… Without it being a rule, the proverb says «where there’s bark there’s no bite.» Dimitris in «Matchbox» vents. Takis in «Soul Kicking» proves that silence can be dangerous. In the scene where the loan shark smashes my face against the car door, I cut my cheek. We kept it in the film. It’s not a special effect. I wanted to keep it too because we were trying to capture reality. We constructed a world with Economides that seems real. It’s convincing. It’s not a documentary, it’s a film and much worse things happen in life. Just recently a man with a gun killed five hunters. Do you feel that there’s a risk you’ll be typecast as the epitome of the modern Greek man? All the roles I’ve played so far are that: Dimitris, Takis, Andreas the macho cabbie in Katerina Evangelakou’s film, the poor devil who sells water in Nikos Panayiotopoulos’s «Delivery.» They are all very dissimilar, but they also form of picture of Greece today. Something lumpen connects them though? They aren’t lumpen. They are «Neo-Ellines» [a colloquialism in Greek], simple folk, with no working-class ethics, but not lumpen. To a great degree their environment is proletarian, especially in «Matchbox.» The taxi driver at the end of Evangelakou’s «False Alarm» breaks the windshield of a car because its alarm won’t stop ringing. The people standing around watching him applaud. Would you do the same if you were witness to a similar scene? Yes, I would be among those clapping. We often say «well done» to things we don’t agree with politically but which eat away at you. We may lack the courage to do it ourselves, but when someone else does it for us, it’s a relief. In the movie then, the people living in the neighborhood where the alarm is going off are applauding their own urge, but they simply didn’t have the guts to do it. It’s still bullying though… Of course it is. The idea of «he deserved it» is totally wrong. But, it would also be unrealistic if we showed the residents telling the taxi driver off. What you want is one thing and reality is another. The symbolism is clear. We don’t know where the violence and hooliganism that is accumulating in our society will lead. It’s an alarm bell to our politicians. There seems to be a lot of reality in your life. I like these roles. I would also gladly play in a fairy tale, as long as it has something to convey. I try to be convincing in all my parts. I experience other characters indirectly by using elements of my own character. I experience things, watch developments, get involved with politics, read, keep active in political circles, exchange ideas. I am an actively political person. It’s my salvation. Everyone should be an active citizen, instead of looking for the easy way out. I like to work for something I can be proud of.