Alexei Toliopoulos: There will be blood

Through his comedy movie podcasts, ABC film critic Alexei Toliopoulos has rapidly built a cult following exemplified by a devotion to his craft that led to him literally bleeding for his art

It’s three minutes just before ABC arts culture TV show ‘The Mix’ is about to go to air for its film review segment. Panel member Alexei Toliopoulos is sitting next to Radio National’s Jason Di Rosso, and program director of Golden Age Cinema Kate Jinx, and is in an agitated state.

While Toliopoulos has been reviewing film as a regular member of the ABC arts program for two years this segment has the Greek-Australian movie expert extremely nervous.

“Most of the time I have been on The Mix (now the Filter) I have talked about movies I have enjoyed or if they have been bad I’ve seen the positive aspect of the film,” he tells Neos Kosmos.

“But before we started filming I was getting into my head because it was the first time I had to do a negative review.”

It’s hard to think of a film critic who is frightened of pulling the trigger on a film they didn’t like, specially as Toliopoulos knows his movies. He studied film for four years at the prestigious Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in Sydney and is the producer of two popular Film Podcasts, The Blank Slate and Mike Check.

After spending time with Toliopoulos at the Golden Age of Cinema bar in inner Sydney’s Surry Hills, the 26-year-old’s happy go lucky personality starts to come out. So, perhaps it’s understandable why the prospect of slating a film on national television would be nerve-racking.

But surely, it’s just a film, right? What’s the big deal? More importantly what movie was it?

“It was the film Mother!” he says.

“I just got stuck into my own head before the review and my nose started bleeding just before we were set to start recording. I had to run to bathroom and sort it out.
“I was scared of doing a negative review because I was worried the director Darren Aronofsky would find out about it. I admired what he had done before, and I wanted to like the movie so much, but I didn’t, and I couldn’t see any redeeming values.
“I’ve heard all these war stories with critics giving a negative review and the director sending them a letter or sending an e-mail, so I was scared that would happen to me.”

While the phrase “bleeding for your art” comes to mind, Toliopoulos admits it was his irrational mind that led to the bleeding episode rather than the artistic pursuit of a tortured artist.

“That a great way to put it because it makes it less embarrassing,” he says.

“But I think it was a stress related nose bleed. It was a combination of the first time I was publicly doing a super negative review about a movie I didn’t like and having to eviscerate it, which I don’t normally do.
“All I could think of was that it was my face on TV and that the words were coming out of my face. I haven’t seen the video since because I am embarrassed, but you can clearly see me holding the tissue as it was like a full-on nose bleed.
“People know that I hate that movie now and my fans of the podcast think it’s funny because I rarely see negative things in a movie.”

Alexei’s mother, Anastasia Toliopoulos, is a well-respected human rights lawyer. She was born in Greece but left Thessaloniki for Australia when she was six and the comedian says his mother didn’t envisage his current career path.

“My mum wanted me to do something like she did, but I never had any interest in it, I always obsessed with movies,” he says.

“I was always a silly, funny kid and it kind of just became a thing that there was nothing else I wanted to do besides study film and do comedy. So, there was no other career I could do.”

Soon after graduating from AFTRS Toliopoulos created the Blank Slate Movie Podcast with fellow comedians Cameron James and Henry Stone. But it was Toliopoulos’ spin-off podcast Mike Check in 2015 that saw him build a rapid following in the comedy world.

“Cameron James and I created that podcast based on a sincere and ironic premise that the movie Austin Powers was an example of great film making,” he says. “We asked the question why is Austin Powers such an important film? It seemed like such a silly thing and we then took it further and analysed all the films of Mike Myers to check in and see if they are still ‘shagadelic’ as we like to say.”

It wasn’t long before Mike Check’s specific niche irony started to form a life of its own. It reached the Top 10 in the Comedy Podcast Charts in Australia.

Then it featured in The Guardian’s best Australian podcast episodes of 2016, a feat all the more impressive as it was the only independent Podcast that featured in that list.

“It blew up,” Toliopoulos says looking back. “Hamish Blake spoke about our third episode on his radio show and said, ‘this podcast is amazing!’ so that got us a whole bunch of listeners and then we did an episode with comedian Wil Anderson. He was a real advocate for us and pushed us out there and he has helped us a lot along the way.
“Then we also did shows with our other heroes Adam Richards (comedian) and Anne Edmonds, she is one the best comedians in Australia and then we got to do a podcast with Rove McManus.”

The moment when Rove McManus joined the Podcast as special guest led Toliopoulos to pause and reflect on how quickly his silly idea had grown to become comedy gold.

“It was very exciting and surreal,” he says. “After we did the episode with Rove I thought okay my life has come full circle. I was worried that I was going to die soon. Where can I go from there? I thought that was it for me.”

But Toliopoulos is still here and on Friday February 16 the comedian will be on Rove McManus’s Popular Experiment comedy show at the Giant Dwarf theatre in Redfern in Sydney.

It’s another opportunity for the 26-year-old’s bromance with McManus and for his comedy film journey to continue taking shape.

“It’s fun to hang out with Rove who is one of my all-time heroes,” he says.

“I have a real muck around with him. He is such a generous performer and I feel like I’m super funny when I am with him. The show includes a panel of guest comedians, talking about their interests.
“There will also be stand ups and then Rove will interview a guest for 20 mins towards the end of the show and next month it will be Richard Fidler the ABC radio presenter of Conversations.
“So, in previous shows I have been talking about my podcasts but this time I will be talking about the Oscars. I did three shows last year and I’m really excited to do it again. I’m the first guest.”

While it may seem that Toliopoulos is living the dream the 26-year-old revealed he is at a cross-road in his career.

“I feel like I am at mid-crisis point where I feel like I have to decide if I am going to pursue film criticism or do film making or film creation,” he says.

“I want to make movies, I love making films, and my dream is to create my own comedy TV show. Something like the genre bending comedy films of Edgard Wright where it’s a genre film like fantasy or horror but also, it’s really funny.
“Hopefully it all works out otherwise I am fucked, because there is no plan b anymore.”