Greg’s neighbours

Greek Australian actor Greg Pandelidis talks to Neos Kosmos about his new play Heart Thy Neighbour and ethnic diversity in the arts

The striking thing for me about Greg Pandelidis’ role in the production Heart Thy Neighbour – the latest play on now at Reaction Theatre as part of the Melbourne Fringe – is that he plays an Australian. As one of the three lead male roles, he plays a regular Joe Blow named Rosco. The play has also cast Jim Koutsoukos in the other leading male role, again, as an Australian named Doug. It’s something that you don’t hear too often – and it’s refreshing to have a Greek Australian play just an ordinary Aussie bloke. He attributes this to his look. He’s more Irish looking, Italian even, than Greek, he says.
But he says it’s the way things are going now, and it might be reported that there are some shows, plays and films that showcase Australia as a white middle-class folk, but it’s not something that really impacts on this actor.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to audition for a number of roles and play some great characters,” Pandelidis tells Neos Kosmos.
Pandelidis has starred in a variety of television shows, often being accused for doing this. He’s had plenty of roles in Neighbours and Stingers, however, he does wonder about a few. He brings up the new Channel Ten show Wonderland, and questions how one apartment block in Australia can have only Anglo Saxon Australians live there, with none of the characters associating with other ethnicities? This modern apartment block is supposed to capture a group of thirty-something Australians, yet where’s the diversity?
Born and bred in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Fitzroy, he knows all too well the diversity of Australia. His parents, both migrants from Greece, worked hard, with his father working alongside his brothers at an inner city pub on Melbourne’s iconic Smith Street. After all, the area was a blue collar, working class suburb. No wonder acting wasn’t a consideration for Pandelidis as a child.
“It wasn’t like a childhood dream,” he explains, “it was something that happened as I got older.” He does remember an interest in the arts at school, where he would involve himself in drama productions.
“I had a liking to drama – it was a part of me,” he says. ” I remember enjoying the aspect of freeing oneself and delving into the fantasy.”
But it wasn’t until later in life that the acting bug well and truly bit. Changing careers is a tough thing to do later in life, but changing your whole direction is one gutsy move.
“I was in my early 30s when I realised I wanted to pursue acting,” he says.
“I had all these jobs – careers – but they weren’t going anywhere. From finance to sales, to me they were just jobs because I wasn’t passionate about them.
He knew his passion had been ignited the minute he decided to take that massive leap of faith into the unknown, one that hasn’t turned out to be bad since. Pandelidis set out learning as much about his craft, his art as possible. He enrolled in a variety of short courses at the VCA, did workshops – anything that was there to be absorbed he would. He describes it as a time when “he found out [he had] a new love”.
With over ten years in acting, he says it’s been a journey – a great one – but especially one that teaches him something every day. He has studied different styles and techniques, but says a book he came to by complete coincidence would be one that would change his craft forever. Written by six working actors, the book A Practical Handbook for the Actor describes the methods and philosophies of their theatre, Goodman Theater in Chicago, with playwright David Mamet.
“It was about this new technique called practical aesthetic, which is looking at the underlying action of your character in a scene and finding ways of personalising that action from your own experiences.”
For him, he says this technique is a reliable method for his acting, one that he uses and still improves on every day. Which begs me to ask, what’s it like for an actor to work alongside others with different techniques and styles. He says ideally it would be a plus for both actors to use the same technique but – if not – it adds an extra challenge to the role itself.
“When you look at a script you try to find a way to resolve the conflict of the scene so it’s good when the actor is on the same page, but if they aren’t, that is your obstacle and that makes for great stuff as you can work with that,” he explains.
Pandelidis had a chance to exercise his technique in the play Oleanna by Greek Australian director Ange Arabatzis. Being a part of this production, he says, is one of his career highlights thus far. He played one of the two lead roles in the three act play that challenged him as an actor. Another highlight was starring in a short film in 2002 that won a finalist award in TropFest the same year.
But for now, Pandelidis is focusing on Heart thy Neighbour. Written by playwright Camilla Maxwell, the play takes place at Doug’s house, where the characters gather for a barbecue. But there’s more to it, with uninvited neighbours popping in.
“It’s a complex comedy with a dark side to it as well,” says Pandelidis of Heart Thy Neighbour.
“There is a bit of tragedy to the characters as well.”
Heart Thy Neighbour will be on at Sketch and Tulip, 364 Victoria Street, North Melbourne from the 18 to 27 September as part of the Fringe Festival. For bookings visit www.melbournefringe.com.au or call (03) 9660 9666.