Zoe Carides brings Greek to the Pacific

Actor Zoe Carides is doing something right in the largest series ever made about World War II, The Pacific. She talks to Neos Kosmos about her experience as Mama Karamanlis in The Pacific episode 3.

It’s a tough life for an actor in Australia. Well that is, if you’re, “little ol’ Zoe Carides.”

Which is why Carides, who usually “just drifts along, doing whatever comes her way” jumped at the role when news of The Pacific auditions came to Australia.

“There’s not a hell of a lot going on here so when I was offered the role in The Pacific, I was happy to be part of a huge series,” Carides tells Neos Kosmos.

Based on the memoirs of two U.S Marines, Eugene Sledge and Robert Leckie, the Spielberg and Hanks produced mini-series explores the real-life journey of the two authors and Marine John Basilone across the vast canvas of the Pacific during World War II.

Physically and mentally debilitated after their four-month ordeal in Guadalcanal against the Japanese, the comrades are evacuated to Melbourne in the third episode.

This is where Carides first appears as the compassionate mother of Leckie Basilone’s Greek Australian love interest, Stella.

As a leading actor, she has worked in All Saints, Acropolis Now and White Collar Blue. Carides says that it was an interesting transformation to play a Smyrnan-Australian refugee in the 1940s.

“I actually have a very strong sense of the character I was playing as I felt I was channelling my Thia Dina, who was very dear to me,” she reflects.

Carides also draws inspiration from her upbringing as a second generation Greek Australian growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.

Although born to a mother and father born in England and Greece respectively, Carides was surrounded by Greek relatives similar to Mama Karamanlis in that they, “forced you to eat, and smothered people with love and care.”

Carides’ portrayal of Mama Karamanlis is perfect. She has become older and wiser; her greying hair tied back as she prepares a Greek meal for her family, and the guest of honour, the hero and ally, U.S Marine, Robert Leckie.

Her Greek accent is well executed; complemented by the warm smile and affectionate hand squeezes that are often associated with the archetype of the ‘Greek mother.’ Equally  she has the quiet deep pain of having lived through war and being expelled from her home. Now, a refugee.

Her strong maternal demeanour is intertwined with emotional fragility. This is melded with a kindness reflected in her warm, brown eyes.

This role is in stark contrast to her previous role as Pia in Australian soap-opera, Out of the Blue.

One  may think that Carides has let herself go. Not so.

“Trying to stay cool on a boiling hot summers day in a foam fat suit was the biggest challenge on the set,” she laughs. “So it’s not all of me you see in there!”

Carides’ performance is a triumph of understatement. In her one sees the kernel of a mother’s understanding of the horror of war. They are after all refugees from the 1922 sacking of Smyrna by the Turks. She takes in Robert Leckie as a son, knowing that he will again face the irrational brutality of war.

Normalcy is dispensed here.

In a break with the Greek stereotype, scriptwriter George Pelecanos, has created complex and fresh characters. Carides’ mother is aware of the carnal affair between her daughter Stella and Leckie, but pre-war morality is rendered farce in face of the reality of horror of war. As Carides says; “Greek people, are just people.”

Claire Van Der Boom’s role of Stella rings true and Tony Nikolakopoulous as Baba Karamanlis adds gravitas. The Pacific Episode 3 screens on Channel 7 this Wednesday at 8.30pm.