Interview: Akis Gourzoulidis on Stage, Film and Hollywood

Akis Gourzoulidis
Photo by Maria Proios & Lucas Sorotos

Although we often cover the stories of Greek actors and directors who have come to Hollywood, we have rarely spoken to people working behind the scenes in film and TV.

After all, film, TV and theater are all highly collaborative projects, and creative genius is required just as much behind the scenes as it is from those on screen.

We spoke to Akis Gourzoulidis, a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Greece, who has worked as a creative/assistant director at some of the most prestigious theater venues in Athens, and as a casting director for multiple films and television shows. He talked to us about his experience in Greece, his decision to move to LA, and how he sees his career progressing in Hollywood.

How long have you been working, and what exactly do you do?

I have spent 11 years as a casting director, and 17 years as stage manager/assistant director, collaborating with many celebrated filmmakers and theater directors. I was also involved in coordinating some major events such as the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympic Games and of the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens.

Do these roles differ between Greece and the US, in terms of what you’re expected to do?

It’s interesting because the roles of assistant director in Greece and in the US are a little different. In my line of work in Greece, I am in charge of organizing a big part of the production, do all the duties of the stage manager till the premiere, and most importantly, a big part of my job is to work with the actors and run rehearsals on my own, without the director present, to get the best performance out of everyone so the vision of the director can be realized.

Casting directors also take on a few more responsibilities in Greece, especially because many actors in theater and independent film are working without a manager or an agent, so we take on some of the responsibilities of those jobs.

Talk to us a little about your experience working in Greece.

I loved working in Greece, partly because I have had the honor of working in some incredible historic venues such as Epidaurus Ancient Theater and Herod Atticus Odeum and partly because there is a wealth of talent both in directors and in actors.

The first film I worked on was “Alithini Zoi” (“Real Life”), directed by Panos H. Koutras. I branched out to TV by casting “To 10” (“Ten”) by author M. Karagatsis, directed by  Pigi Dimitrakopoulou, and then “4” directed by Christopher Papakaliatis. It was great working with top Greek talent in the entertainment field, collaborating and shaping these amazing projects!

Have you cast anything that’s coming out now?

Most recently, I cast a film by director Constantine Giannaris known as “Spring Awakening” (former title “Kalasnikov”). The film is about a gang of teenage thieves and romantic anarchists hustling their way through contemporary Athens and it is about to premiere at the 56th Thessaloniki International Film Festival 2015. I also did the casting in another film premiering in a few days at the International Competition Section of the same Film Festival in Thessaloniki known as “Silent”, directed by 2011 FIPRESCI Prize winner Yorgos Gkikapeppas. It’s his second feature film and it’s a story about a young, talented soprano who mysteriously loses her voice. After Thessaloniki the movie will be traveling to Goa as the Official Selection for the 46th International Film Festival India!

The Thessaloniki International Film Festival is very prestigious in Greece, so I am excited to see how the films fare during the festival run. I believe they are both top quality projects.

Since projects of all types and styles interest me, I also cast a fashion film called “Mary Wants a Purple Dress” by a young promising director Alki Politi which was selected for the Fashion Film Festival in Chicago in 2015.

Last but not least, I collaborated with another talented Australian writer and director, Antonis Tsonis, for the short film “3000” which will be released in 2016.

On the theater side, I have always enjoyed working with Greek actor and director Dimitris Lignadis. However, my most recent project as casting and assistant director was the very successful Athenian run of “King Lear”, helmed by the highly respected European director Tomaz Pandur.

King Lear
Photo of “King Lear” rehearsal by Aljosa Rebolj

What attracted you to your two jobs?

The main reason is that each new job is a unique challenge and a new experience. I love collaborating with different directors and new casts in a variety of venues, experiencing the various ways we can work together to create a work of art.

I started as an assistant director right after I got out of the military – I went to NYU and did some theatrical studies, then came back and had the opportunity to work with Minos Volanakis, who was a respected and incredibly talented director. Working with him helped to open a lot of doors in the theatrical world in Greece for me, and he was a wonderful mentor who helped put me on the path towards my career today.

Then, during the 2004 Olympics, I met acclaimed casting director Sotiria Marini. She gave me my first opportunity in casting and I can easily say that everything  I’ve learned about the casting profession, I’ve learned from her. We have collaborated on many of my main projects. We work together often and besides that we have a great friendship.

So considering all your success in Greece, what made you decide to move to LA?

Even though I love my work in Greece, the fact is that times are hard for theater and film at the moment. Mostly though, I want to spread my wings and seek new opportunities in the entertainment world. I want to focus on film and TV in the US, so coming to LA to pursue this type of work is ideal since LA is the international center for the film industry.

How have you found life and work in LA so far?

I have been pleasantly surprised by how Hollywood has received me. I have been able to set up quite a few meetings with casting directors and producers here in LA. I find Americans to be very open, and specifically here in Hollywood, they are very willing to work with European talent.

What are the major differences between entertainment in LA and Athens (besides just size and influence)?

Akis Gourzoulidis Sunset
Photo by Maria Proios & Lucas Sorotos

I think it’s very clear that there is no comparison between the film industry in LA and the film industry in Athens. The film industry in LA is amazing. However, I have noticed that jobs are much more specialized here in the US. So certain people work only in theater, others specialize in film and others work in TV productions. In Athens, because the industry is so much smaller, and at the moment the economic crisis has affected everything, people are trying to get by in whatever way they can, so most performers and behind-the-scenes professionals do a little bit of everything. And yet, despite all that, there is very good quality of work happening in Greece.

Are there any US directors that you would one day love to work with?

It’s hard to pick one because there are many US directors that inspire me and I admire. J. Jarmusch, C. Nolan, W. Allen, D. Aronofsky, A. Payne and W. Anderson are definitely a few of my favorites: the latter especially after I saw “Moonrise Kingdom.” Also, I would love to work with a scriptwriter like Aaron Sorkin one day because I believe his work is always intriguing and very well and smartly written.


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