Jim Koutsoukos started acting in his early 20s. It was then he was bitten with the ‘bug’, as they say. Through courses at Swinburne University of Technology and short courses through CAE, he was able to harness and grow his skills, finding a love for film making, specifically shorts.

But Swinburne would also provide the place for him to meet fellow actor Greg Pandelidis. The two actors were able to collaborate, keep in touch and importantly keep each other working as it was Greg who lined up the audition for Jim in the Melbourne Comedy International Festival play Heart Thy Neighbour.

After a successful run and sell out performances with the Melbourne Fringe last year, the comedy is back with a minor rewrite and one cast change but the laughs stay the same.

“It’s like watching a sitcom live,” Jim tells Neos Kosmos about the play, “it reminds me of ‘Married… with children'”.

Jim plays the central neighbour Doug who hosts the barbecue the play centers around. He and his wife Eliza try and do the neighbourly thing and invite the new guy on the street Fitzo around for a yarn and a chop, along with other neighbours Rossco (Greg) and Sarina. The play sets out to unearth what really goes on in suburban Australia – are your friends really your enemies? Are your enemies your friends? Or are they just your neighbours?

“I’m part of this dysfunctional couple that live in the suburbs,” says Jim of his character’s relationship, adding his character’s wife is domineering. He says his affable character tries to do the right thing but what ensues isn’t what he expected, or will the audience.

But the road to acting, film and theatre for Jim has been rather rocky. He managed to get a few acting gigs following his studies, made short films but when he turned 40, he decided it was time to go back to full-time work, and be the breadwinner for his family. And know, he says is the patience of his family, and his wife, that have allowed him to succeed with doing full-time work, attend rehearsals and concentrate on his acting life and short film promotion.

“I thought in my mind I wasn’t going to focus on [acting] that much, but this play came about through Greg and having a very understanding wife and family, I’ve been able to work full-time and rehearse this play,” he says.

“To make a living as an actor in Australia, regardless of your background is quite difficult; I think there is another level of complexity when you are associated with another ethnic group but having said that it’s not impossible.”

By having his work, and family he’s able to enjoy and appreciate acting more knowing it’s not his prime driver. And, it also gives him time to devote to the upcoming Greek-Australian Short Film Festival, of which Jim is one third of the curating team along with Stella Dimadis and Katerina Kotsonis.

The festival itself began as a means for Jim and fellow collaborator – actor and director – Ange Arabatzis to screen the short films they had developed. The initial screening was at Loop Bar five years ago – it has now become an iconic part of the Greek Film Festival in Australia, and travels nationally.

“It’s hard when you are an independent film maker to get out there so we thought we’d give film makers another platform to show their work and it’s been building momentum from year to year,” he says of the event.

“It’s more about providing a platform for these artists and putting your work out there.

When asked which medium he prefers – theatre or film – he gives the nod to film.

“I really enjoy making films,” he says. “Theatre tends to be a lot more time consuming, and when you have a limited amount of time it’s hard to commit to it.”
Jim is still making short films with fellow artists, and has plenty of projects up his sleeve. As it stands, the actor and director says “he’s pretty content” with what’s coming up. And so he should be.

Heart Thy Neighbour is on at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute, 270 Sydney Rd, Brunswick VIC. From 9 to 12 April. Tickets: Full $28, Conc. $22, Group (8 or more) $22. For bookings call (03) 9378 8671 or visit www.trybooking.com