Actress Daphne Alexander on glass slippers, glass ceilings and glossy dreams!
The talented and charming London-based Greek actress Daphne Alexander, whose gripping film ‘Siege on Liperti Street’ is expected to bag a few awards at the The LA Greek Film Festival speaks to Athens Insider on the eve of the festival’s launch. In this exclusive interview, following her latest film’s multiple wins at last year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival , Elena Panayides learns more about the actor over café lattes and egg whites.
When Daphne Alexander, the multi-faceted actor from Cyprus who has made London her home for over a decade, walks into the café of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, she’s wearing a covid mask but still makes heads turn. In this exclusive interview following her latest film’s multiple wins at last year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival and its inclusion in the prestigious Los Angeles Greek Film Festival coming up this October, Elena Panayides learns more about the actor over café lattes and egg whites.
We’re here at the stunning Goulandris Museum of Modern Art in Pangrati and I’m very excited that future generations of Greeks and their children will have access to the masters, art they may have never seen in their lives, and the works here are so exquisite. One of a kind, unique art. Have you had a chance to see the exhibit?
Yes, a few times and I absolutely loved it. Something very exciting is happening in Athens in terms of art, theatre and cinema at the moment and the coronavirus crisis has thankfully not curbed this huge surge of energy and creativity in the Greek capital.
I understand you’ve been in Athens filming in September?
Yes, I’ve been filming a terrific short film, “The First Swim” by Greek filmmaker Alexandros Kostopoulos. It was shot on a deserted beach in Anavyssos, and was a perfect experience from beginning to end. I have to say I was incredibly grateful to be on set doing what I love during what has been a truly shocking year of constant upheaval.
Rewinding a little bit, I’d love to hear more about “The Siege on Liperti Street” about to be shown at LAGFF, and about last year’s experience at Thessaloniki Film Festival.
I loved making this. A brilliant young director who I’ve known forever, Stavros Pamballis, shared the script of “The Siege on Liperti Street” with me and asked me to collaborate. I said yes immediately, the story was sublime. It was filmed entirely on location in Cyprus. It’s a contemporary piece but it feels like a Western: it has the brooding menace, it has that feel of frontiers and asks what justice really is. The house where the action happens is built on the Green Line in Nicosia, the line that divides Nicosia and Cyprus. The line between the Greek Cypriot free areas and the Turkish occupied areas, after the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 by Turkey. It’s a line that’s scarred our island for forty years. The family in our film live in a house on the Green Line. One day they discover that their house is to be confiscated: the story is set in the aftermath of the financial crisis. And then something terrible happens which sets the story running. I won’t say more because I want you to see it fresh. Plus Konstantinos Markoulakis plays my husband: and that was a wonderful chance to work with an actor I have always admired.
How was it working with him?
He’s an immensely charismatic person and performer, and an incredibly kind man. We had a great time, and I learnt lots from watching him. I love and respect his work and hope I’m lucky enough to work with him again.
Which awards did the film win at last year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival, and where can we catch this film?
“The Siege on Liperti Street” won the audience and the Greek critics award, the international critics award (FIPRESCI) and the first and second prize of ERT. It will be streamed amongst many other magnificent Greek and Cypriot films from last year as part of the LA Greek Film Festival (online this year, for obvious reasons) October 1-15 2020. http://lagff.org/festival/tickets/
And you were the only member of the team to attend the Award Ceremony at Thessaloniki?
I was. And we never dreamed we’d have such success with our movie!
So you went up and collected 5 separate awards in a single night?
I did. And I had not written 5 speeches. I had not written a single speech in fact.
It must be a dream to have your name read out and go up to collect an award? How did it feel to have such a special night?
It did feel like a dream. Although my shoe nearly made it a nightmare.
The fifth time we won, when I was already torn between astonishment at our success and terror that the audience had seen quite enough of me, I had a full on footwear catastrophe.
You see what you want is to glide up to the stage elegantly like this sort of success happens all the time and I think I’d gotten away with it so far. It looked like I was going to make it through the night disaster free.
But during this final journey the award ceremony gods decided to test me. My heel tore through the red carpet of the stage and got lodged in a tiny hole in the wooden floor below. I do a lot of yoga so I didn’t do a full on face plant, but I was frozen on the spot. Stuck mid-stage with no script: every theatre actors’ terror.
So I stood there, helpless: Cinderella gone wrong. Time passing in what felt like decades.
The two presenters (the lovely Theodore Koutsogiannopoulos and Marissa Triantafyllidou) saved me: they knelt down and yanked the shoe out.
The audience was in hysterics. But kind ones. No one threw any fruit.
Finally I left the stage holding both an award and a broken high heel as a second and even more unexpected trophy!
Let’s flashback now to the start of your career, you had a very interesting path to becoming an actress, not the usual route.
Not the usual route at all. I did a u-turn early on, and chose the road less-travelled. As a child, I was always fascinated by novels and plays and would record myself reading them out loud, but had gone to a Greek Cypriot state school which didn’t offer many opportunities for artistic endeavours. I followed the law route, like the rest of my family, and got into Oxford University – law really wasn’t for me. The summer after uni, I came across a group of Bristol Old Vic graduates preparing a production of Othello at the ancient Odeon of Paphos. A friend suggested I audition and I got the role of Emilia. I was terrified at first and almost dropped out, but I stuck it out and somehow became certain that this was my calling. It was one of the few times in my life that I knew something with absolute certainty. Even though admittedly I’ve never stopped feeling terrified!
Are there any classical Greek characters that have inspired you deeply and that you’d love to play?
My dream is to do classical theatre in both English and Greek, take part in Greek tragedies and Shakespeare plays. Whenever I find myself at Epidaurus I get goosebumps from the magical energy of the place. I remembered recently, in fact, that the theatre of Epidaurus was built on the site of Asclepios, the god of medicine, of both physical and psychological healing. Theatre for the Ancient Greeks was a spiritual thing, it healed the soul. The name itself means ‘upon aura.’
Who do you look up to as an actor?
Juliette Binoche. She’s absolutely sensational, talented and real. There’s no pretense there and her soul simply shines through. She’s forged strong bonds with the film-makers she has worked with, and these strong collaborations have led to her extraordinary performances. I think it really is the relationship between the director and actor that breeds truly great performances.
Is there another meaningful collaboration that has deeply inspired you?
My husband, James Phillips, is a British playwright and director and we met because I saw a play he’d written at the Hampstead Theatre long before we got together and I fell in love with his work. Over the years we have collaborated many times, in fact he wrote a play inspired by Cyprus, “Hidden in the Sand”, which was shown at Trafalgar Studios Theatre in the West End. During quarantine we shot a “lockdown” film on our roof, just the two of us with an ancient camera and a script called “Lullaby”, about a magical sleep plague that sweeps the world. I will always remember spring 2020 as an unexpectedly creative time.
Do you feel that there are now more opportunities for females in the entertainment industry as a result of the #metoo movement and the need to take our seat at the table?
We’re in a truly revolutionary time for women in all industries and because our industry is so visible, we have the chance and the responsibility to show how the world can be better. And I think we’re starting to do that. There’s a big increase in roles for older women, which is fantastic. They’re finally allowed to shine. I’ve always thought that women in their 50s and 60s are infinitely more interesting than women in their 20s and 30s because they’ve lived: and now we need to see those roles being written and those stories being told. Representation matters.
What advice would you give a young person starting out on their creative path? What have you learnt during your few and filled years on this earth?
The more generosity you have, as an actor and as a human being, the more you’ll receive. Persevere, never give up. It’s an unpredictable path and staying positive irrespective of what happens (covid-19 included) is essential.
There will certainly be more ‘no’s’ that ‘yes’s’’ it must be debilitating. How do you remain upbeat? How do you take that knock on the chin, head or heart?
I try, no matter what, to stay connected to what brought me to this path in the first place, and to never stop learning. Keep the love story alive, as Ann Dowd says. I also try to remember that getting to live more than one life and getting to walk in other people’s shoes is an immense privilege.
The LA Greek Film Festival run from October 1 to October 15. lagff.org
The San Francisco Greek Film Festival runs from October 3 to 10. grfilm.com