When I meet with Elyssia Koulouris in Hawthorn, she is one week into her visit from Los Angeles. The 25-year-old is having a well-earned break catching up with loved ones, after wrapping up filming for Dan Goldman’s Death Squad.
Koulouris earned herself a leading role as tough girl Emily Bennett in the 13-episode television series just eight months after taking a leap to relocate from Melbourne to LA, impressing the panel of judges with her flawless American accent – thanks in part to her acting coaches and immersive classes, learning from the likes of Evan Peters from American Horror Story and Suits star Patrick Adams.
“I was really lucky and fortunate that I got the call for the audition. I auditioned with an American accent and they had no idea I was Aussie at all! Then I kind of relaxed, as you do after a big audition, and they were like ‘oh … you’re Aussie! Cool’,” she recalls.
The script was still being developed at the time, giving her the chance to improvise, which was both liberating and a little daunting.
“I’d never done something action or thriller-y. They were like ‘we have to teach you how to use a gun hypothetically if you get the role’, and I was like ‘okay …’ I’m Aussie,” she says, “we have no idea how to use a gun!”
Not only did she have to learn to use a rifle, but receiving the role also meant being whisked away to Armenia for a solid two months of filming.
“Our shoot days were very intense; I was working 4.00 pm to 4.00 am most days. It was very taxing and exhausting, but in the best way because I love what I do, so it was totally fine.”
As the only female lead, Koulouris had the most hours on set – a challenge the young actress wholeheartedly embraced – making the few breaks she did have to explore Armenia even sweeter.
“Armenia is amazing! I got to go to some monasteries and churches. It’s so different and the people are just lovely,” she says.
Koulouris also had some familiar faces pop in, ensuring any sign of homesickness was kept at bay – but more so to allay any concerns her parents may have had about their daughter’s first foray into Hollywood.
“The protective Greek in them was like ‘no, you’re not going there’. I think because they [the production company] took care of all the flights for me and everything, they weren’t sure. I asked the producer ‘can my parents come just for a week? Just to make sure it’s legit’,” she laughs.
“And he just laughed at me and said ‘of course it’s legit, but yes they can come’. So they were onset with me for about a week. It was really nice having that support.”
Seeing her eyes light up when talking about her parents, or keeping in touch with her yiayia via video call, it’s clear Koulouris shares a close bond with her family. But a move abroad has always been on the cards.
Acting in theatre and film since the age of nine, while pursuing her studies, she consistently undertook training throughout the years at institutions the likes of St Martin’s Youth Arts Centre, NIDA, and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where Koulouris’ passion was truly cemented. In the back of her mind, the intention was to be ready for when the time came to take the inevitable leap so many of Australia’s talent does to the US.
It was after starring in Nathan Dolton’s feature film Quanta in 2018 that she decided the time had come, deferring her Masters in Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing. So far she has managed to slot right into LA, describing the culture as “very positive and welcoming”.
“The Greek culture is warm and giving, and there is a general hospitality from the Americans that is very warm,” she says. “It’s got it’s own little charm, the Hollywood charm. It’s a bit grungy, but I like it.”
The biggest culture shock has been the terrible exchange rate and the traffic, but admits that returning to Melbourne, traffic “back here is just as bad!”
Living away from family has also ignited her desire to upskill in the kitchen, describing herself as “a sad excuse for a Greek girl”.
“I can’t cook at all – my yiayia wants to kill me!” She laughs. “Like pastitsio, where do I start?!”
We agree that developing culinary ability is about more than mere practicality; it’s also about being more aware of what you are consuming, which she is quick to say is “especially important in Hollywood”. While she hasn’t encountered any issues when it comes to body shaming thus far – “I’ve heard it happens,” she says – Koulouris is confident she will be able to face it head on if the time comes.
“I like natural beauty. I don’t really wear a lot of make up, and a lot of girls do – there’s a lot of that there – which is their prerogative. But you don’t have to change your looks,” she says, matter-of-factly. “If you’re unhealthy, that’s a whole different thing.
“You can lose touch with reality,” she admits, “because it’s [Hollywood] a lot, it’s very confronting. But you have to be yourself because no-one else can.”
This confidence and comfort in who she is, is something she brings back to her upbringing.
“I’m lucky I’ve got a really great family. I’ve been super lucky and privileged growing up, and it’s come from that place of you’ve got to work really hard but you also have to get along with people, because if you don’t get along with people, what are you gonna do? So I’d say it’s a testament to my mum and dad for sure.”
The first episode of Death Squad was only recently released in the US on Popstar App, and seeing herself on screen is still something Koulouris is getting used to.
“I struggle to watch myself, I don’t like to,” she admits. “The director gave us rough cuts of the episodes, and I got my pen and was like okay how can I improve? How do I hold my face? I can’t enjoy it.”
After her summer stint in Melbourne, Koulouris is looking forward to returning to LA, where she will hit the ground running for pilot season from the end of January until April, which she pre-empts will be both intense and exciting.
“I really love the art of acting,” she says. “I love putting myself in somebody else’s shoes literally and just seeing how they react to things, how they live life and see how I can contribute to that or how I can explore that. And then I learn from them.
“It’s all about the human condition and what makes different types of people tick or how people deal with emotion and do they shut off, do they not? But if we can make it look easy, then that’s nice.”
Sitting across from her, it’s clear Koulouris is still somewhat in shock that this reality is her life. Time again, she refers to herself as ‘lucky’, so humble that she has yet to realise that it is far more than just luck that she has going for her.