Interview by Vassilios Nicolaos Vitsilogiannis (iG: @vassiliosvitsilogiannis)
What made you become a writer, actor, and director after a wide span of vocation?
Looking back, I never considered that this life ever intended for me to only have one vocation. What is always important to me is to live a life I can look back on and be proud of living. Never a boring life, but one filled with a loving family, trusted friends, humble service, charity, adventure, excitement, and sweet memories. It was my time to be an actor and director and to further develop and use my given talents, and the ones that were further enhanced from my lifetime of observation, my actions, trials, successes, and failures. For now, I am genuinely enjoying being a thespian, storyteller, and filmmaker, but God only knows what else He has in-store for me during my lifetime, but He has taught me to expect anything.
Why did you study law enforcement, and then study acting and filmmaking?
I realized long ago that real-life experiences are crucial in everything a person chooses to do, including acting and directing. However, I also found that by keeping an open mind, and by adding continuing education, and experiences, to attain the various expertise and knowledge relating to my interests was also essential to provide me with the highest probability of reaching success. That is why even after graduating college, and for years after, I continually sought courses with acting coaches practicing my acting with some other very gifted actors. Also, I earned my Filmmaking diploma at the New York Film Academy in New York City. I continue pursuing my Method education, and also with the experts attending the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute again in the Fall.
From an early age, most of my careers are deeply rooted in community and public service, all starting from being a volunteer with the church, Boy Scouts, various charitable organizations, and my local Astoria Community Volunteer Ambulance Service. Later, I became a professional New York State EMT/ paramedic and began working for the City of New York which developed into the New York City Fire Department; and then onwards into various roles in law enforcement, and investigations. Working in all my early careers aided in finishing my university studies and degree, besides providing a living. However, they also forged in me the true real-life crucial experiences, emotions, dramas, loves, tragedies, stories, and the ideas I strive to utilize in my writing, acting, and filmmaking.
Conversely, my true loves are the theatre and public speaking, which were all enhanced by my original university studies that primarily focused on Government, History, and Philosophy. During these studies, we utilized a plethora of brilliantly authored works to complement what is otherwise the existing and rich oral storytelling, and the public orations traditions many of which find their foundations in Hellenic and Roman conventions passed down by generations.
What are acting and filmmaking for you and what are the skills a writer, actor, and director should have?
“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” Socrates. To aim, and to add some goodness to our world, and also strive to be a good actor or filmmaker, it starts with making some changes within ourselves. We can only move in one time and place and that is now, and “moving oneself” is essential to our effectiveness. To be an actor or director who is given the privilege to contribute the beautiful forms of our art to this world is one who moves forward always seeking to perfect the crafts. No one can do this for us. Besides always moving, we should also take the time to patiently sit, watch, and observe carefully noting the human nature, the environment, and nature, and without any interference or interaction. Always reserve judgment, observe all things as they are, and study how they may artificially and or naturally be influenced, developed, or changed. As an actor, I continue to study how to impactfully utilize my experiences and the varying human emotions felt and try to transform myself back to that very state in my acting, as I was, and had witnessed in the past. To me, these are all key and crucial for being a good actor.
My acting coaches had confirmed, that because of my life, my personal sensitivities, outlook, awareness, and the nature of my previous tempestuous professions, I am an individual that maintains the experiences that compel me to strive to be a talented actor. That is why I endeavor to be the type of actor who can learn to sustain and successfully utilize and demonstrate the various complex human emotions which contain the intimate familiarities testifying to my lifelong experiences. These experiences contain the many painful realities of true individuality, human nature, and humanity. An actor who possesses and who can successfully utilize these skills and attributes is one who is in-demand. I have been told that most actors do not possess any firsthand knowledge of the kinds and or types of extreme experiences and realities which I had. These are some of my competitive differentiators, and some of my strengths, which have been extremely useful. I additionally possess the memory of the events that I needed to navigate that were so dramatic, painful, stressful, as well as joyous, which I utilize in my acting, and also my directing. These are also reflected in my writing which contains the various moderations in mood, intensity, color, and texture utilized in my scripts, story arcs, scenarios, characters, mannerisms, and dialogues.
As an individual, and now also as a professional actor and director, I also subscribe to all three of the following Delphic ancient Greek maxims for my work. The first is, “know thyself” γνῶθι σεαυτόν, “nothing to excess” and “certainty brings insanity.” I have always believed that we are each our own greatest enemy, especially if we allow ourselves not to learn from our own mistakes, and we must also be guided accordingly, as we also learn from the mistakes made by others. I believe in the Latin proverb, ‘Fortune favours the bold’ as found in the Aeneid by Virgil. I trust that my life thus far has offered proof that I am bold in everything that I do, irrespective of my failures or successes. This will never change.
Where do your ancestors come from?
I always joke, that by living amongst such a vast but close-knit Hellenic community located across our world, you can probably just ask any of them who most likely know more than we do about my ancestors. Actually, my father and his family come from the third-highest elevated town in Hellas, a historic town of heroes in the misty mountain town known as Magouliana, that is in Gortynia, Arcadia, in the ancient and historic Peloponnese. On mom’s side, her family had come down from the very highest peaks of Laconia, also from Mani, Kalamata, and eventually settled in a town now called Kastri, in Kastori, Serveika, that is situated within the legendary City State of Sparta, located in the Peloponnese. These are all very historic, mythical, and magical lands, as I always encourage everyone to see for themselves and to visit Greece. Further details from my DNA results also conclude that both sides of my family have very deep roots in Morea, including from Argos, and some other key parts of Greece, such as Arta Epirus, Phthia Thessaly, the island of Crete, and also of the South of Italy.
Are you gifted with the Hellenic Greek oral storytelling tradition?
Allow me to leave that answer to the opinions of others since I cannot truly hear if I make any sense when I speak.
What are the differences between the Strasberg style method of acting to any other methods of acting?
Strasberg is like Stanislavski’s system but differs by requiring its actors to go beyond emotional memory and use a technique called “Substitution” to temporarily transform into the character they are portraying. We Strasberg method actors need to be versatile, and we focus on achieving realism, which differs from other classical acting styles, which have traditionally featured exaggerated seeming emotions much bigger than true life. This exaggeration is mostly unnecessary as method actors are taught how to harness and use their imaginations, emotions, and senses to actualize each character with original, unique, and genuine behaviors, to create performances substantiated in the real-life human truth of any role and in every scene.
Tell us a few things about you being a member of UNESCO?
The members of UNESCO Piraeus and the Aegean Islands chapter of UNESCO Greece in New York City focus on celebrating, highlighting, and exhibiting works of art, music, theatre, stage, and film that hold true roots in Hellenic tradition storytelling, and or the creators here in New York City. This complements the official mission and intention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
You were bestowed many awards and honors including for service, lifesaving, bravery, and valor. Tell us about the significance and how do you feel about this?
These things you speak of are all in the past for me. However, I will always seek to help someone in need, as during my life I have always tried to help my fellow human as best as I could and will continue to do so. I may be a fool, but I cannot help myself, as my upbringing and training have me always running towards the dangers many are running away from. I was truly fortunate to be raised with the gifts of witnessing true bravery, compassion, empathy, respect, love, sacrifice, philotimia and philoxenia. To go against these that are my life’s earliest ingrained principles contained in my upbringing and personality, was never even any consideration for me. Nobody can change who I am, or how I act, no matter what they do or say, as I will always act, as I was taught to act, and how I was trained to respond, and that also includes me maintaining and operating under the principle ‘that we are each responsible for all the things we do and say.’ This is exactly how we instruct our children to be.
You are a proud father of four children. What are some of the things you try to instill in them, and what is the importance of family for you?
To me, this is the most significant question of our interview. First and foremost, I have repeatedly reminded my children, what I am certain they already witnessed, that their father is just a man, who is perfectly imperfect, and that although I prefer to be an angel, I am no saint, and never pretend to be. However, everyone already knows, that my children and my family mean everything to me, as my first loves are them and our God almighty; and also, of this beautiful life bestowed upon all of us by our Maker. We also instruct them by trying to lead by example, and a life filled with the unique Hellenic Byzantine principles of philotimo. We have advised them, that just because life is all a beautiful gift does not mean that we were not promised that we should not expect or experience any pains, suffering, or sorrow. In life, we all need to learn how to take everything in stride. And that each of us, has been bestowed certain talents and graces, but it is up to each, to use our own free will, to find, examine, further enhance, and utilize for the good of humanity, and while we are still on earth. God, nor anyone else promised that any of this would be easy for any of us, or that sadness or that darkness will prevail, but instead, we were promised that the sun will always rise in the East, as no matter how you choose to say or write it, the words that happened were, ‘And God said, Let there be light: and there was light’, aka Fiat Lux, γενηθήτω φώς, יְהִי אוֹר, Yehi or, النور يعبر إلى هناك, – and there is light in all of us. We also believe in all the words that we focus on with my family, and as found in the entire Ecclesiastes 3 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”
You are the co-writer, co-director, and co-producer of the multi-award-winning ‘The Next Generation’ TNG. How proud are you of this concept, and how could it be developed further?
Yes! The Next Generation is a Marvel Avengers fan-favorite series of filmed episodes that will be combined to form at least one feature film. We have been so blessed and fortunate that it has accepted and has won so many awards at film festivals around the world, and we have already been approached to submit it for viewing at Comic-Con conventions around the globe. TNG is co-written, co-produced and co-directed by my very gifted actor and director friend George Kyriakopoulos, and myself. TNG has afforded me to win Best Actor for the third time, and the first time for George Kyriakopoulos. We both collectively share one big proud smile over this common fact. We also share the fruits of our labor, cooperation, and talents by also winning Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best TV Series and Best Web Series. However, all our toils and worries sometimes can be very painful, but it is also truly gratifying the feelings you get when we always try and be bold, to pool our talents, wherewithal, and skills with those few who want to work as hard as we do to accomplish the same goals of great filmmaking. Development of TNG is part of the ongoing items we are examining in pre-production and as we continue to write the storylines and dialogues. “Stay tuned…”
George, tell us about the latest project your Broadway directing debut with ‘An evening with Onassis.’ How were you able to get the play to finally come about in New York City? Describe you being its Executive Producer and the Assistant Director.
This play did not make it to a famous New York City stage easily or on its own, and to answer this requires an explanation of some of the considerations involved. I confirm that with ‘An Evening with Onassis’ is that I functioned as its Executive Producer and the Assistant Director. The play ran from March 3rd and was extended until March 27th at the historic American Theatre of Actors in New York City. As the Assistant Director, I traveled to the rehearsals in Atlanta, prior to our New York debut. The play was a fictitious rendition of the historical figure Aristotle Socrates ‘Ari’ Onassis and his inner thoughts as he had mused across all aspects of his life, from his childhood fleeing his hometown of Smyrna which was later burned by the Ottoman Turks, to his loves, conquests, and tragedies, as he acquired wealth and fame. Prior to me agreeing to be involved with the play, I first needed to satisfy myself by seeing if it not only felt right but that the acting and the play were any good, for me to consider which ones of my backers I could attract; and also examine my own career goals.
Besides being an actor, I am also a producer, and as such, I first needed to quantify key factors that gave my team an accurate gauge of budget, costs, possible attendance, profitability, and establish our overall goals for this project. As an executive producer, I also have the experience to know that not every person or actor that authored a book, play, or screenplay, no matter how good they may think it is, or how talented they think they may be, has the wherewithal, talent, intelligence, influence, contacts, and or the skills to successfully produce any stage, television, or film project. Also, I already know that many try to befriend me just to solicit my expertise, contacts, and support. It is one thing for me to agree to sit, speak, and pay for dinner or drinks for someone who wrote a script, and a totally different scenario to fund or be involved with a project, even one such as this play. Also, you really never know the contents of someone’s character, loyalty, or gratefulness until you experience them under pressure, but with a play, you find out fast.
That being said, what we did know was that the play’s writer, actor Anthony Skordi had previously, and unsuccessfully sought to bring his play to a Manhattan stage several years prior, and ever since he performed a version of it in Los Angeles a decade ago. We also knew that Skordi had a decade to weigh all his options, and examine every conceivable angle to bring his play to New York City but was never successful. During that time, he had continuously made his enquiries, when he finally learned about me, my deep New York City community involvement, extensive industry network, relationships, and my award-winning producing, directing, and acting. After months of spending some time with him, is when he finally asked me to produce, and assistant direct his play. This is when I was required to conduct a more thorough examination of this actor, and the play to present to my team.
To all of us, Anthony Skordi was a relatively unknown actor and personality. When we looked him up, could easily read about his acting career containing the acting credits, but most of those whom we asked never heard of him either, or knew nothing about him at all. In fact, he was an actor, who was stating that his naturally organic Hellenic and Greek Cypriot base would provide for the show’s majority attendance, profitability, and success. While taking all this into consideration, we concluded that he not only lacked the bankroll, professional support, the necessary fanbase claimed, the network of friends, and grassroots organizations but also lacked the deep ties which we likewise believed were essential for the play’s financial success. Especially here with the Hellenic and Greek Cypriot communities, he was hoping to attract the popular bulk of his base paying audience that would make the play profitable to all those working or investing to put it on. Nevertheless, I was continuously his strongest advocate.
We took the Skordi, and the play facts in total, and compared them with the levels of talents, capabilities, credibility, and the wherewithal which I already maintained here in New York City. What we concluded was that by us promoting the play this year, it would not only be for creative and entertainment value alone but for us also highlight the tragedies that were perpetrated against Smyrna and the Christian population there in 1922. These goals were paramount and were overshadowing the negating facts which related to Skordi.
Ultimately, we knew that getting the play on stage depended on the strength of me and my team. We maintain all the connections here and possess deep ties with the beautifully diverse communities across the City, and the greater Long Island area we call home. We felt, that to produce this play, meant that we would also have to share our contacts and influences to bolster the reputation, exposure, and also to de facto legitimize Anthony Skordi as a New York City stage performer that theatre audiences would consider the play and his performances to be a must-see! Our personal, professional and community relationships are genuine and dear to us, as we have worked tirelessly for decades to establish and cherish them. It was clear to us, that if I agreed and pulled the trigger to aggregate and furnish the funds as an executive producer, our work was truly cut out for us, and that all of our team had to also tap into, or share our precious time, sweat-equity, expertise, influence, and contacts. We knew that all needed to come to bear if I were to get this play fully funded in just a few short weeks.
However, we considered the play timely, as it highlighted the tragedies that happened at Smyrna. The fact that we could now feature it, and shine a light on the Smyrna massacres at the same time, and on a Manhattan stage, by utilizing Skordi’s acting and monologue script, was appealing. I had diligently laid bare all the facts to my team, and together we made our objectives clear while maintaining their full support and confidence, I had further conversations with Skordi who convinced me to produce this play. On behalf of my team, I gave my word, shook hands, and reached our agreement. My friends know that I love and typically never back down from any meaningful challenge, and this Skordi, and production offered many. My family, friends, and backers also recognize that I have been known to go where even the angels fear to tread, and they have in the past confidently followed me there, and successfully back.
Remarkably, and just in the span of a few weeks, I was able to complete the executive producer function, and provide the entire remaining funding for the play’s New York City operation. Finally, Skordi and the play had all the funding needed to go live! At least in my mind, soon it would be showtime and I could not wait to walk the red carpet and take my well-earned place sitting next to my acting and directing colleagues, special guests, friends, supporters, fans, and my dear family. However, nothing could have been further from the truth, as for the play to go on, so much more needed to be done too long to list here, that was not among my initial responsibilities to complete. However, thanks to our extremely hard work and my resolute team, everything I took responsibility to complete, all came through with flying colors.
Skordi had previously retained the services of a known New York City-based press agent who was proactively seeking news coverage for him and the production. Although we were initially filled with excitement, this eventually proved to be anticlimactic and such a huge disappointment, as they did not garner any meaningful news coverage to successfully encourage a massive audience to rush and purchase tickets to the play. In all fairness, the press agent had repeatedly complained that from early on, and throughout, the journalists were either uncertain, unresponsive, expressed disinterest, were laid-off, or were not covering Off-Broadway at all. I truly felt her pain, and shared in her grave concerns, no matter how bewildering this had left all of us.
However, I was raised and had learned, how to fully harness the strengths which I maintain in my long and proud Spartan and Arcadian bloodlines. I had been taught that any voluntary failure is not an option for me, especially after I had given my ‘word’ to my colleagues, friends, backers, and supporters. It is clear, that this honorable principle of ‘keeping your word’ is not important to many anymore, but it still means something hugely significant to people like me, my closest friends, allies, and my own family. As important, mine and my family’s name and reputation now hung in the balance, as the entire production and play were fully painted with it.
Moreover, at an early age, I was taught about many, but this specific ancient Greek axiom has always weighed heavy on my mind, ‘I’d rather lose my eye than my reputation, as I have another eye, but do not have another reputation.’ Plus, I am not the type to permit myself to crash and burn unless I cannot help it, or because of any other person’s failures. Since failure is not a voluntary option for me, I put my life, and work on hold yet again, and ‘did not stay in my lane,’ and took it upon myself to reach out to the press, as I am armed with the ability, expertise, and contacts to do so. We already know that there is no ‘I’ in the team, but neither is it in ‘George.’
In such a fleeting time, “I” was able to proactively utilize my contacts by arranging more than a dozen high exposure, significantly targeted radio, print, entertainment, webcast, podcast, news, educational and media interviews. These included the much sort-after, New York City top tier, and prime time ones such as Cindy Adams NY Post, WABC Radio, and WOR ‘The Answer.’ This is not being braggadocios, as one must consider the facts that these news media triumphs are the most defining and an added executive producer accomplishment besides me previously supplying the operational funding for the play. In the end, everything boiled down to these media interviews and the successful outreach my production team and contacts were able to secure. It is with these media and my advertising exposure that we were able to attract the majority of the theatergoers that ended up coming to the show.
The facts of the matter remain, that my personal teams operated exquisitely and in harmonious tandem by leveraging
our strong relationships with other influencers, various communities, and prominent fellow financial backers to get the show funded, promoted, and finally showcased on the famous New York City Off-Broadway stage operated by the amazing Mr. James Jennings and his teams. I am sincerely grateful to them, and also publicly thank all our sponsors, backers, volunteers, and audience attendees. Besides my intimate, and personal involvement, the main backers were my good friends Ilias ‘Lou’ Katsos, and EMBCA, Phillip Christopher, the Pancyprian Association of New York, Fiat Lux Pictures and Film Studios, The Russian Tea Room; and AHEPA New York Empire State District Six, of which I am the proudly elected New York statewide Secretary.
During the play’s run, the backers listed above were instrumental in compelling two nights of performances
that were fundraisers which benefitted the not-for-profit entities, the New York Ronald McDonald House Greek Division, Pancyprian Association of New York, and the Queens College Hellenic Initiative. I am also truly thankful, that besides myself, and my Fiat Lux Studios production team, it was my tenacious brother members at my AHEPA Hermes Chapter 186, and our sister members at the Daughters of Penelope Ilion Chapter 135 Astoria based teams who all worked as my trusted and dependable volunteers. They were amazingly instrumental in promotions, managed the ticketing, and also attracted excited, and many diverse theatre audiences. We were honored to be surrounded by the kinds of audiences that had graced us with their attendance throughout, which were theatergoers from all walks of life. Also, our friends owning the prominent New York City landmark The Russian Tea Room not only publicly promoted us, but also pre-purchased over a hundred twenty tickets, and guests from the famous Harlem Chamber of Commerce also blessed us with their attendance.
I also strongly subscribe to the very literal essence of the Louis Brandeis quote, ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ Be confident in knowing, that I will always illuminate the true facts and the entire circumstances surrounding this production and play to all who should ask, as the facts are too lengthy to talk about in this interview. The fact, that together with the hard work of my group, and with each of Skordi’s performances, a light brightly shined, however briefly, on what was also serving as a solemn remembrance of the tragic burning of the Cosmopolitan Greek City of Smyrna. That these horrific events which are no longer taught are all true, as also described in the play, would also serve as public education, and a grim reminder to the verified historical accounts of the longstanding brutality, the systematic and government-sponsored slaughter that happened at Smyrna, and elsewhere.
We sadly live in a world where even armed with these types of verified accounts, we are still forced to tolerate the lies still maintained by certain descendants that are in power who claim to be the proud representatives of the historic perpetrating evildoers, who despicably celebrate the Smyrna Catastrophe as a victory. These still refuse to acknowledge the crimes against humanity, as they vehemently oppose them to be taught in schools, and they also want the entire world to forget. But we Greeks will never forget, and neither will the Armenians, Assyrians, the Syriacs or the Chaldeans. Together, we will keep raising awareness, until the entire world knows, and sooner or later the perpetrating and dishonest boasters will be held to full account.
We are closely approaching September 13th-22nd or the hundred-year commemoration of the tragic Smyrna catastrophe, where more than a hundred thousand innocent civilians were murdered. Now that the play is finally over, we will continue the public education and the planned commemorations. We are now also armed with the confidence and profound pride that we as New York City-based professionals and Hellenic Americans did an excellent job publicly shedding some sunshine on these dark and tragic events in history by agreeing to support, promote and produce this play.
Otherwise, the play was timely, well-performed, and an abbreviated story of the man who rose from poverty fleeing from the purposeful Turkish burning and genocide of Greeks, and other Christians in Smyrna. The story of Onassis is not merely a Hellenic story, but also a very American story of what many of us has hidden deep inside ourselves, and that is the individual excellence, and the ability to exhibit powerfulHerculean tenacity, strength, courage, boldness, fortitude, and maintain the resolve to work hard and strive to overcome every diversity to succeed. In Onassis’ case, he succeeded with fame and immense wealth by becoming the richest man in the world during his lifetime.
For my part, relating to ‘An evening with Onassis,’ I will say that it was also a very New York City story and a costly education. That it was only by the Grace of God, the countless hours we spent, toils, my connections, some crafty maneuvering, and some good luck, we were proudly able to successfully put this play on stage for our New York City theatregoers, as we continue to solemnly commemorate the victims of Smyrna. I remain extremely thankful for my trusted friends, influential backers, and reliable network of decent human beings on which I can always depend. I am especially grateful to God for the opportunity to obtain all my new friendships, and for the hard-fought added experiences, the knowledge I gained that has enhanced my portfolio, my capabilities, contacts, and skills which were fully earned, and now I further maintain for later use.
Now that the play is over, besides acting, are you working on writing anything you want to share?
I am always working on writing, acting, producing, and directing while collaborating with trusted and gifted friends and like-minded partners. While producing the play, it has supplied me with some additional new perspectives. Since before the play began, I had started authoring a screenplay that is remarkably a story about putting on a play in New York City. Most of the stories I author, directly or indirectly relate to a portion of my life’s true experiences.
This brings me back to the story of me, recently producing and assistant directing the play, ‘An evening with Onassis.’ With this play, I also added and closed another very brief chapter to my personal, exciting, and ongoing Ulyssean journey. During the production of the play, I had faced many impossible-seeming personalities, and insurmountable obstacles which I expected, overcame and prevailed. I also met some exceptionally good people. I had great material prior, but since the play is over, you can trust that I have developed some amazing new story arcs and characters. My script is coming along great, as it is entertaining, dramatic, and tragically hilarious to be able to witness the types of toxic and self-destructive personas that come to life on the page, and someday on the stage or screen. My story also focuses on the fact, that if you permit them, these personas can adversely affect and toxify their entire surroundings.
I had appropriately titled the script, ‘Don’t hate the play, hate the game,’ as for us New Yorkers, and in true life, we are a strong and resilient lot, as these types have become commonplace to us, and we deal with them as if it were just ‘another walk in the park.’ And remember, do not hold yourself, or permit any others to hold you responsible, for some of the bridges that burn behind you, especially if they were set ablaze by someone else. And if any of your transgressors start to gossip or complain, just shrug your shoulders, do not even bother to wave back, and continue to walk in any direction, but always move forward into the future, on solid unburnt ground, and without them. Stay tuned…
What are some of your life mantras?
Here are just a few. We must remember that we are all simply human and it is our humanity that binds each one of us and not any differences in opinions that we may each have. I always tell people to move in any direction but always move forward, as just look at the cemeteries around the world, they are all filled with unfinished business and regrets. Live, love, laugh as life is too short to always be in pain. Live your life and be bold doing it, promote yourself and what you can offer humanity and others, and stay away from toxic narcissists who do not seek the best for you and your family- only of themselves. Live a good life, strive to be successful, be kind, and have no apologies or regrets for always doing so.