When actor Peter Kalos first met Robert De Niro 19 years ago the Hollywood heavyweight told him “if you want to become friends I’m fine with that, but we’ll never talk acting”. After years of late night martinis, and talking about everything (except acting), Kalos was finally given the privilege of talking shop and calling his famous friend “Bob”.
“I was friends with a guy called Barry Primus, who knew De Niro before they were famous; they met at acting school, and because I was Barry’s friend it automatically brought me to the inner circle,” Kalos says.
“I got to know Bob for a long time. When he first met my wife he got her number and called her up; she asked him if it was a booty call and he said no. When she told him ‘well I’m with Peter’ he said, ‘oh but you just met him’. But I can proudly say she left De Niro for me, and she still reminds me of that,” Kalos jokes.
Last year when filming The Killer Elite in Melbourne, De Niro hung out with Kalos, met his family, ate dinner at Hellenic Republic, and even promised Kalos’ mother he would come over for a home cooked Greek dinner next time he’s in town. “He said I can invite all my cousins. I told him we don’t have a big enough house, everyone would become a cousin if they knew he was coming,” Kalos says.
“He’s a very nice guy, very, very sweet, but very shy. If Al Pacino is in the room he’ll talk to everyone, De Niro will sit in the corner; you won’t even know he’s there.” Melbourne born Kalos first caught the acting bug at a young age, and started out in the Greek Theatre when he was 12 years-old. “The biggest thing I did back then was playing Isaac when they did the biblical Abraham and Isaac story.
We did it at Her Majesty’s Theatre and many of the older generation still remember me as the little kid who did Isaac,” Kalos recalls. “It was a big story, every YiaYia wanted to see it but they also got the kids in with the biblical story, and all the schools came. It was written in ancient Greek and I don’t remember a thing except that I had 202 lines; that stayed with me,” Kalos tells. “It was amazing, I don’t know how we pulled it off. When you do that as a kid you think ‘I have arrived; I’ve made it’.”
After years working with the Greek theatre in Melbourne Kalos, at age 20, decided to follow the path of many before him and head to America, where he spent two decades studying acting in LA. Though the Melburnian was bound for New York during a stop-over in LA he discovered that renowned acting coach Stella Adler, who taught the likes of Marlon Brando, was still teaching.
“I arrived in LA on a Sunday, it was Martin Luther King day, and when I got there Stella Adler was still alive teaching, and I thought she’s going to be dead soon, I gotta get that. I went and started the next day, I was in Stella’s class on Monday night and I stayed with her for five years,” Kalos tells. “Even though I didn’t do anything acting wise professionally in the US, I think it’s because of Stella I started learning script writing, she’s very good at breaking down scripts, then I used to get work as a script doctor.”
For those outside the industry, this is probably an unfamiliar profession, but in Hollywood when a writer is pitching scripts, “script doctors” are employed as neutral critics to write suggestions and changes for the writer. “The big difference between LA and here is not only is it dog eat dog over there, but here in Melbourne they’re not open to constructive criticism, they take it so personally,” Kalos says.
“Writers here think they can do one draft and they’re done. They’re very thick skinned in Hollywood and they look for criticism they can use, they go back and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.” The same goes for actors, he says. “Here a lot of actors want things to happen quickly. Stella Adler used to say acting is harder than brain surgery.
A brain surgeon needs to study for seven years; for an actor, people think you do a couple of weekends and you’re done but it’s ongoing,” he says. When Kalos was training in LA he would attend classes with the likes of Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Bette Midler, who all continually attended acting classes throughout their careers.
“These guys are working around the clock,” he says. “People don’t know how much work it takes to make it. I know actors that are starving, living on couches and then overnight they became big and overnight they became nothing again. It’s the way it goes.
They were starving but they never missed an acting class, they always trained and were always dedicated to it. Good actors find reasons to do the work, bad actors find reasons not to do the work. Good actors just do it, no excuse.” Kalos, who was in the room when Leonardo DiCaprio auditioned for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the film that would later earn him an Oscar nomination, says there are two ways of working a career in Hollywood.
“When Hollywood picks you up they say ‘go train and you’ll last longer or ride the wave and when the wave stops you’re finished’. Leo studied a lot, Russel Crowe did the same thing. Eric Bana didn’t, he had his moment but when was his last film? They get three big movies, then they die down”. Back in Melbourne with his wife and two children, Kalos now teaches method acting at his school the Melbourne Actor’s Lab, in St Kilda.
“It’s going very well and as I remind people it’s for those who want to take it seriously. Acting is probably one of the hardest jobs out there, everyone thinks they can do it but there’s nothing like a trained actor. I can teach you everything you need about acting. I tell my actors stop acting, it’s the worst thing you can do, you have to live it, be it.” Teaching Meisner, Strasberg and Adler acting techniques Kalos describes being an actor as a lonely battle.
“The moment you say you want to be an actor doors slam at you, no one is supportive of it. Every job you get, every job you don’t get makes it difficult to keep going…you can’t do this as a hobby, it costs your whole life and no one understands it.” Kalos is philosophical about the profession though, maintaining that it’s what he loves.
The Melbourne Actor’s Lab is slowly starting to receive more recognition with word of mouth helping it grow, Kalos says. “There’s nights where I could stay up until 5am if it’s a good night and you see the work and think ‘wow it’s amazing’. I love it.”